Rabbi KrishefRabbi David J.B. Krishef grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Hebrew and Jewish Studies.  Following a two year stint as a program director at the University of Minnesota Hillel Foundation (serving students at Carleton and Macalester colleges), he entered the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he received ordination in 1994.

Read more about Rabbi David J.B. Krishef

 

Psalm 140

Let slanderers have no place in the land … (140:12)

I write a weekly column for a Michigan-based website and my local newspaper titled “Ethics and Religion Talk.” Each week I publish three or four responses from different religious traditions to reader questions on ethical or religious issues. I enjoy writing the column and many people enjoy reading it, including a group of people hostile to anything religious who read the column “religiously.” Each week they post sarcastic or just plain hostile comments belittling those who take religion seriously. Worse, they post anonymously. My multi-faith panel of clergy work hard to carefully craft their responses. They stand by what they write, in public, under their own names. It is painful for me and for them to be subject to the criticism of people who make no effort to understand why we say what we say or to find anything positive in our words and hide behind pseudonyms, lobbing verbal grenades.

The difference between gossip and slander is that gossip my be true or false, but slander is a false statement about another person. The literal translation of the Hebrew phrase is “a person of the tongue,” but the translations/commentaries I consulted all agree that the intent is a slanderer. The thing about people who slander anonymously is that they don’t have to worry about thinking deeply and being careful with facts so they can dash off quick comments, while those of us who care about accuracy and stand behind our comments publicly spend more time crafting our words. If I controlled the platform, I would not allow anonymous comments (“have no place in the land”), but alas I don’t. So I choose to rise above their slander and hope that the nature of their communication speaks for itself.

Sometimes, like the Psalmist, the best we can do is hope for a better future. In the meantime, all we can do is model excellent behavior and comport ourselves with dignity.

Psalm 139

It was You who created my kidneys/conscience; You fashioned me in my mother’s womb. (139:13)

When your conscience tells you that you have done something wrong, where is the feeling located in your body? For me it is usually deep in my belly, but I can image that it is sometimes deep enough that it could be considered to be within my lower back, approximately around my kidneys where the Biblical writers imagined it to be. The human body is a miraculous organism. We are neither solely body nor solely mind, but a complex interaction of both. While Judaism absorbed the notion of an eternal soul, it never gave up on the sanctify of the embodied human being.

Being both soul and body, resurrection became a central tenet of Jewish thought. A body without a human soul is less than an animal, incapable of communication and emotion and connection to the world around it. A soul without a body could not exist. The Zohar envisions supernal bodiless angels dressing themselves in flesh as they descend into the world because things in this world need flesh to function.

At conception, a midrash teaches, the soul is placed in the fertilized drop. Over the next 40 weeks, the container for that soul is slowly built until it can survive independent of its mother. Over the next 25 years it continues to develop, first body and then finally brain, until it is physically mature. Over the next 60, 80, 100+ years the body slowly ages but the soul continues to grow. Sometimes the progression of death blocks the expression of the soul and sometimes body and soul continue to nurture each other right up until the moment that the heart stops beating, the lungs stops breathing, and the body “gives up the ghost,” to use the King James expression for the soul departing from the body.

Your body may be yours alone, physically disconnected from all others, but your soul is a part of the soul of all humanity. Lead a soulful life and when humanity is in pain, you will be in pain. Nourish your body with good nutrition and nourish your soul with an intellectual and spiritual life. Exercise your body and challenge your soul by struggling to understand something completely new to you. Lead a soulful life and when any portion of creation is shining brightly your being will shine as well.

Psalm 138

All the kings of the earth shall praise You, Adonai, for they have heard the words You spoke. (138:4)

No person is too powerful or too important to be above cultivating the character trait of humility. Religious leaders, business leaders, politicians, media figures, sports figures, and celebrities can all benefit from learning what it means to be humble. One of the most important lessons that a religious life should teach its followers is that no matter how powerful or famous one might be, ultimate power resides with the Blessed Holy One.

Donniel Hartman argues in “Putting God Second” that religion itself contains the potential to sow the seeds of arrogance. He calls it “God Intoxication” and “God Manipulation.” God-infused people who believe that they know God’s will and are personally charged with carrying it out can be dangerous. Certain that they know God’s desire, they act with no regard for others’ spiritual paths.

Our verse suggests that the result of hearing (or reading) the words of God should first and foremost direct a person to praise God. To acknowledge God is to cultivate a posture of humility. Only within humility can a person take wise action.

In fact, the very act of hearing God’s words takes humility. More often than not, we hear what we want to hear because our ego interferes with the pathway between the ear and the brain. In order to hear what is actually being said we need to focus on the text or the person speaking and set aside our instinctual response. When we truly hear God’s words, we hear words not only directed towards ourselves, but also towards others as well. And when we put others’ needs alongside our own, we have begun to understand what it means that no matter how powerful, one is always less powerful than God.

Psalm 138

All the kings of the earth shall praise You, Adonai, for they have heard the words You spoke. (138:4)

No person is too powerful or too important to be above cultivating the character trait of humility. Religious leaders, business leaders, politicians, media figures, sports figures, and celebrities can all benefit from learning what it means to be humble. One of the most important lessons that a religious life should teach its followers is that no matter how powerful or famous one might be, ultimate power resides with the Blessed Holy One.

Donniel Hartman argues in “Putting God Second” that religion itself contains the potential to sow the seeds of arrogance. He calls it “God Intoxication” and “God Manipulation.” God-infused people who believe that they know God’s will and are personally charged with carrying it out can be dangerous. Certain that they know God’s desire, they act with no regard for others’ spiritual paths.

Our verse suggests that the result of hearing (or reading) the words of God should first and foremost direct a person to praise God. To acknowledge God is to cultivate a posture of humility. Only within humility can a person take wise action.

In fact, the very act of hearing God’s words takes humility. More often than not, we hear what we want to hear because our ego interferes with the pathway between the ear and the brain. In order to hear what is actually being said we need to focus on the text or the person speaking and set aside our instinctual response. When we truly hear God’s words, we hear words not only directed towards ourselves, but also towards others as well. And when we put others’ needs alongside our own, we have begun to understand what it means that no matter how powerful, one is always less powerful than God.

Psalm 137

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour. (137:5-6)

I love Jerusalem because it is the center of the Jewish world. I love Jerusalem even though the religious perspective of many Jerusalemites is anathema to my world view. I love Jerusalem because that is where I was introduced to the power of Torah. I love Jerusalem even though to many of its residents I am a complete puzzle whose religion bears little resemblance to Judaism. I love Jerusalem because it is a thoroughly Israeli city built on top of 3000 years of Jewish history. I love Jerusalem because it is also a city built on top of 2000 years of Christian history and 1400 years of Moslem history.

Jerusalem is religiously complicated, historically rich, at once ancient, medieval, and modern. I love Jerusalem both for what it represents and what it is – Judaism deeply rooted in Torah and a diversity of Jewish practice unimagined by ancient Israel. In a perfect world, Jerusalem would be the center of all religious practice. All people, of all faiths, would make pilgrimage there to offer of themselves to God. In a not-yet-redeemed world, the “city of gold” is a place of great joy and also a symbol of an imperfection and brokenness.

In the Bible, the right hand symbolizes strength. In Kabbalah, the right side symbolizes love. Without Jerusalem in my life, I would be weakened and my love of God and Torah would be less developed.

Psalm 137

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour. (137:5-6)

I love Jerusalem because it is the center of the Jewish world. I love Jerusalem even though the religious perspective of many Jerusalemites is anathema to my world view. I love Jerusalem because that is where I was introduced to the power of Torah. I love Jerusalem even though to many of its residents I am a complete puzzle whose religion bears little resemblance to Judaism. I love Jerusalem because it is a thoroughly Israeli city built on top of 3000 years of Jewish history. I love Jerusalem because it is also a city built on top of 2000 years of Christian history and 1400 years of Moslem history.

Jerusalem is religiously complicated, historically rich, at once ancient, medieval, and modern. I love Jerusalem both for what it represents and what it is – Judaism deeply rooted in Torah and a diversity of Jewish practice unimagined by ancient Israel. In a perfect world, Jerusalem would be the center of all religious practice. All people, of all faiths, would make pilgrimage there to offer of themselves to God. In a not-yet-redeemed world, the “city of gold” is a place of great joy and also a symbol of an imperfection and brokenness.

In the Bible, the right hand symbolizes strength. In Kabbalah, the right side symbolizes love. Without Jerusalem in my life, I would be weakened and my love of God and Torah would be less developed.

Psalm 136

Praise Adonai; for God is good, God’s steadfast love is eternal. (136:1)

An honest theology acknowledges that God, creator of a world in which both good and bad happen to every person, perforce must be the cause of both good and bad things. As Detero-Isaiah says, “I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil.” (45:7) Nonetheless, we also tend to believe that ultimately, the sum of our life experience, with all of its trials and travails, is beneficial. To put it another way, better to be born than never to have existed. Despite the suffering that we experience, the majority of our lives are pleasant, enjoyable, fulfilling, and peaceful. For this, we should be thankful.

The lesson embodied in this verse is to be grateful for the good, even if the good is not complete. Do not be the kind of person who looks for what is missing. There is always something missing. You can always find the imperfection if you look hard enough. If you are the kind of person who does this, ask yourself why you have this compulsive need to find the faults. If you choose, you can be the kind of person who looks at a bad situation and finds something positive. What lesson can I learn from this difficult situation? How can it make me a better person? How can I avoid getting entangled in this difficulty in the future?

Who would you rather spend time with – the person who finds the silver lining in the storm clouds, or the person who obsesses about the one cloud on an otherwise perfectly sunny day?

Psalm 136

Praise Adonai; for God is good, God’s steadfast love is eternal. (136:1)

An honest theology acknowledges that God, creator of a world in which both good and bad happen to every person, perforce must be the cause of both good and bad things. As Detero-Isaiah says, “I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil.” (45:7) Nonetheless, we also tend to believe that ultimately, the sum of our life experience, with all of its trials and travails, is beneficial. To put it another way, better to be born than never to have existed. Despite the suffering that we experience, the majority of our lives are pleasant, enjoyable, fulfilling, and peaceful. For this, we should be thankful.

The lesson embodied in this verse is to be grateful for the good, even if the good is not complete. Do not be the kind of person who looks for what is missing. There is always something missing. You can always find the imperfection if you look hard enough. If you are the kind of person who does this, ask yourself why you have this compulsive need to find the faults. If you choose, you can be the kind of person who looks at a bad situation and finds something positive. What lesson can I learn from this difficult situation? How can it make me a better person? How can I avoid getting entangled in this difficulty in the future?

Who would you rather spend time with – the person who finds the silver lining in the storm clouds, or the person who obsesses about the one cloud on an otherwise perfectly sunny day?

Text Size

Jewish Date

Facebook Twitter RSS Feed 

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Please wait