Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Psalm for Wednesday: Psalm 94, verse 3
Until when [will the] wicked, O God, until when [will the] wicked rejoice?
In looking at this verse, I was struck by two things: the repetition of the phrase "until when" (עד מתי) and the claim that the wicked are rejoicing, and will continue to rejoice (יעלזו).
Of course, analyzing the psalm as a poem, the repetition of "until when" with the name of God in between makes sense structurally. But, I am not interested in the poetic structure at the moment (with apologies to the other poets out there).
From a mindful perspective, the repetition of "until when" reminds us of how long we can get stuck in our narratives, even (or especially) when they might be destructive to our serenity or our relationships with God, humanity and the world. How long will we allow our anger, hatred, pettiness, revenge, etc. to exist and control us? From a non-judgmental point of view, I hesitate to label these emotions or thoughts as wicked. For they are not inherently so. However, because they lead us away from the unity wih God and others, then they are wicked, in a sense.
In the Passover seder, when we read about the four children, the one who is labeled "wicked/רשע" is the one who separates themself from the community. It has always seemed unfair to me that child is labeled as wicked. However, in this moment I am borrowing from the teaching of that text in order to say that I view the "wicked ones" in the psalm not as people, but the thoughts, feelings, desires, and passions within us that separate us from the world and from the Divine.
But if the wicked ones are not people, how and why are they rejoicing? And how do we get them to stop?
I believe that these things that pull us away from a sense of unity and connection have their root in our ego. The ego is that part of us that tries to prevent connection to God and others and to instead focus only on the self, or the illusion of self. Each time the ego and its emissaries, the thoughts, feelings, etc. succeed in separating us from God and the world and convinces us to focus only on ourselves and our percieved needs, desires and passions, then it is as if they are rejoicing. They are rejoicing because they have succeeded in their task.
But until when will the "wicked ones" exist? Until when will they rejoice? The words "until when" are written twice because there are different answers to each question. They will always exist. The ego and the thoughts and beliefs it creates are always there within us. That is why we always need to mindful and aware of their existence.
But how long will they be rejoicing? Until the moment when we recognize them for what they are and let go of the stories they tell us. Until the moment when we turn away from the self and turn towards unity and God. When we do that, they cease rejoicing, for they have failed. Just remember, that they are still there waiting for an opportunity to drag us into their trap again.
And what is it that helps us in our quest to avoid the pitfalls of the ego and keep ourselves connected? The answer is simple, and it is the word that is at the center of the verse. God. It is the Divine within us, the source of unity and connection to all, that gives us the clarity of mind and the strength of spirit to turn away from ego and separateness towards connection and unity. We each may have a different definition of what God is or is not. But I believe that the essence of God is the Divine energy that flows through all of humanity and the entire created world that reminds us that all is One, everyone and everything is connected. And that knowledge is what enables all of us to truly rejoice in each moment.
Posted by Rabbi Steven Nathan at 5:29 PM
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