Psalm 1: An elegy to deal with difficult times - opinion

During these troubled times, the Book of Psalms possibly provides us with a playbook to guide us forward.

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with representatives of energy companies last week. If your country encompasses more land than any other in the world, do you really need another tree? (photo credit: Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with representatives of energy companies last week. If your country encompasses more land than any other in the world, do you really need another tree?
(photo credit: Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters)

This week, Passover, Easter and the mid-point present us with a confluence of religious observances of the children of Abraham. During these troubled times, the Book of Psalms possibly provides us with a playbook to guide us forward.

Happy are those that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.

A cursory examination of the political (dis)functioning of many Western democracies today elides a depressing mosaic of people who seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to remain in office while concomitantly unwilling to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue with those with whom they disagree.

The strength of the democratic system used to be that after a vote, those who were in the opposition, for the good and welfare of the society as a whole, would support the result. Today, those on the losing side often immediately begin to work to undermine any chance of success on the part of those who emerged victorious. It would seem that in the convoluted society in which we live, more often than not the scornful prevail.

Greek Psalms and Cantica, ca 1504. (credit: THE HOLY MONASTERY OF ST. CATHERINE AT MOUNT SINAI/VIA NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL DIGITAL COLLECTION)Greek Psalms and Cantica, ca 1504. (credit: THE HOLY MONASTERY OF ST. CATHERINE AT MOUNT SINAI/VIA NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL DIGITAL COLLECTION)

But, their delight is in the law of the Lord; and in that law do they meditate day and night.

The confluence of the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths this week reminds us in bold terms that there is indeed a higher power influencing our lives. Furthermore, this higher power may not be so happy with what we have done with the capabilities and judgments entrusted to us.

How else to explain the weekly onslaught of severe weather in North America; the regular destructive flooding this past year in Europe, South Africa and the Indian sub-continent; the unprecedented eruptions of volcanoes that have been dormant for centuries; or a worldwide pandemic that has disrupted our lives for more than two years and has accentuated the vast disparities in the world between the haves and have-nots? Perhaps we should stop now and listen to that voice.

And, they shall be like trees planted by streams of water, that bring forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever they doeth they shall prosper. Not so the wicked; but they are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Sounds idyllic does it not? Simply plant our roots in the soil of the land and we will prosper. Idyllic, yes, but also full of wisdom. The psalmist is telling us to be satisfied with what we have, as it will sustain us. There is no need to attack other “trees” as one tree is all we need.

Relating to today’s world, if you are the head of a country that encompasses more land than any other country of the world, stretches cross 11 time zones, has achieved financial stability and is recognized internationally as a world power, do you really need another tree? Isn’t one enough?

In addition, if you seek other “trees” the psalmist opines that you will not be successful. No surprises there at all. Ultimately, you will be driven away like so much chaff. It has happened in the past and it will happen again unless, of course, the leadership shies away from its responsibilities to do the right thing. After all the Lord did give us each some semblance of free will.

Therefore, the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

In short, the wicked do not have the qualifications that make them fit to be in the presence of the just and holy Judge. They have no external righteousness to recommend them: Naked and guilty then, they cannot stand before a just and holy Judge, but must fall with shame and blushing confusion. King David, in writing these verses, uses a broad brush to mark those who are clearly guilty and have not earned the right to be judged otherwise. The accusatory finger is then pointed at those who, whether out of ignorance of hubris, choose to use their wickedness to conquer and exterminate others.

For the Lord regards the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked shall perish.

Yet, there is hope. The three faiths come together this week to jointly renew their acknowledgment of the One above and pause to consider the significance of what it means to be a free people. The message of this week is clear. Freedom is not a gift to be taken for granted. It is a value to be fought for each day and to be acknowledged regularly, as many of us did at the Seder this year once again.

Let us hope that our actions will respond to the admonitions of the psalmist and that the way of the wicked shall perish. May the holiday week be a blessing for all of us and a harbinger of better days yet to come.

The writer has lived in Israel for 38 years, is CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy, former national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, immediate past chair of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and president of Beit Knesset Ohel Nechama in Jerusalem.