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PRAYER PINGS #18

Sometimes we place our trust in people, and wind up disappointed. And sometimes we place our trust in God, and wind up disappointed. This is why Psalm 146, the one that follows Ashrai every morning, requires closer analysis.

The Psalm's third verse implores us to not rely on human beings, even upon נדיבים , meaning either "notables" or "generous ones". Why not? Not because people are generally unreliable, rather because people are not generally immortal. "Their spirit will depart; they will return to the earth; on that day their promises vanish". The Creator of heaven and earth, by contrast, "safeguards truth for eternity". True enough, but is the Psalmist asserting that by extension, placing trust in God never results in disappointment? Is this by itself sufficient to justify the Psalmist's proposition, "Happy is the one for whom the God of Jacob is his help"?? Millennia of Jewish and human experience, of Jewish and human heartbreak and sorrow, would beg to differ. Trusting that God will always come through for us in our hour of need, is also an uncertain proposition.

The true intention of the Psalm, the religious message that it intends to convey, is captured its moving closing verses, which describe God's actions in the world. "God achieves justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry.... Straightens the bent, and loves the righteous....watches over the stranger, encourages the orphan and window, disrupts the path of the wicked." This breathtaking list of actions is borrowed from the catalog of Mitzvot that throughout the Torah and the Prophets, God repeatedly commands us to perform. It is the list of actions that people perform in the world. Actions that are made possible only by the wisdom, insight, courage and compassion that flow from God continuously.

The binary that the Psalm sets up for us is not that of relying upon man versus relying upon God. It is rather relying upon man ( בטחון בנדנים ) versus partnering with God (אל יעקב בעזרו ). The former, when embraced as a way of life, constitutes a negation of our own unique life-sprit, an abdication of our own responsibility. The latter, when embraced as a way of life, enables us to forge a path of determined moral courage and ever-renewing kindness. And it enables us to withstand the periodic disappointments as well, as our Partner continually reminds us that the goals never change.

Happy is the one for whom God is his help. Halleluyah.

~Rav Yosef

Sun, November 17 2019 19 Cheshvan 5780