10 November 2010

150 (118-120)

118.  "Out of my straits I called upon the Eternal, He answered me in the wide-places."  From narrow to vast is an image that prevails in much of the psalms and is a classic trope of the Biblical spiritual mindset--the strictures and oppression of Egypt yield to the parted waters of the Red Sea to expanses of the wilderness and on into Eretz Yisrael.  This historical theme can be understood on the individual level as well, marking an identification or acknowledgment of personal suffering--a restricting, limiting, even imprisoned depression--broken by Eternal light.  "Hashem li--The Eternal is for me, I will not fear; what can man do to me?  The Eternal is for me as my helper; and I shall gaze upon them that hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Eternal than to trust in man."

This kind of giving up of "oneself" is a paradox.  It creates a distancing on one hand from one's fellow human being, a potentially dangerous and isolating maneuver; while on the other hand, in giving oneself over to a greater power in the universe, one submits to what one cannot truly control, thereby freeing oneself to truly live.

"The Eternal is my strength and song, God is my salvation."  The Source of Life is the animator of existence and it lasts forever.  In this there is no death.  This is the gate.  The chief corner-stone.  This is the day.

119.  Let's be honest:  how many poems do you know about the Torah at all?  What we have here is something that is simply no longer done.  But when you consider its scope and construction, it stands as the greatest poetic expression about Torah learning that has ever been written.  An acrostic, constructed of each twenty-two stanzas, each beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alef-bet, it's a thing of beauty.

I have decided to share with you, in order, the opening lines of each of the twenty-two stanzas.

"Happy are they that are upright in the way, who walk in the law of the Eternal."
"How will a young man keep his way pure?  By taking heed according to Thy word."
"Deal bountifully with Thy servant, that I may live, and I will observe Thy word."
"My soul cleaveth unto the dust; quicken Thou me according to Thy word."
"Teach me, Eternal, the way of Thy statutes; and I will keep it at every step."
"Let Thy mercies also come unto me, O Eternal, even Thy salvation, according to Thy word."
"Remember the word unto Thy servant, because Thou hast made me to hope."
"My portion is the Eternal, I have said that I would observe Thy words."
"Thou hast dealt well with Thy servant, Eternal, according unto Thy word."
"Thy hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments."
"My soul pineth for Thy salvation; in Thy word do I hope."
"Forever, Eternal, Thy word standeth fast in heaven."
"Oh, how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day!"
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
"I hate them that are of a double mind; but Thy law do I love."
"I have done justice and righteousness; leave me not to mine oppressors."
"Thy testimonies are wonderful; therefore doth my soul keep them."
"Righteous art Thou, Eternal, and upright are Thy judgments."
"I have called with my whole heart; answer me Eternal; I will keep Thy statutes."
"See mine affliction and rescue me; for I do not forget Thy law."
"Princes have persecuted me without a cause; but my heart standeth in awe of Thy words."
"Let my cry come near before Thee, Eternal; give me understanding according to Thy word."

120.  "Eternal, deliver my soul from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue."  This is an appeal to God, to our conscience.  Who are you going to believe--Me or your lying eyes?  If we can hear the truth, we can know the truth.  Our challenge in life is often to be able to hear that truth and live in it, difficult as that may be at the beginning.  There is the torture of the small lies we tell ourselves on our way to living a greater sense of wholeness and purpose in life.  "My soul hath full long had her dwelling with him that hateth peace."  Here we see an acknowledgment of the tortured soul.  But then, with time and faith, there is a guarded resolution, while battles yet rage all around:  "I am all peace, but when I speak they are for war." 

For some, this is their tortured spiritual reality--always doing battle.  You can see it in their eyes.  Soldiers of God.  It is powerful.  Refining.  But lonely.  And not for everyone.

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