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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Psalm for Wednesday: Psalm 94, verse 6

אלמנה וגר יהרגו ויתומים ירצחו׃
They shall kill the widow and the stranger; they shall murder the orphans. 

The ego can not only crush and oppress the soul, as I wrote in last week's commentary (May 26), but left unchecked the ego has the power to truly destroy.  When we let our ego take over and believe that the self is the center of existence, that I am all that I need, then our spirit can easily be annihilated.  But we can also destroy others.   Those with egos that are out of control can prey on those who are most vulnerable, represented in this verse by the widow, the stranger and the orphans.  However, the ego can also destroy the vulnerable pieces within us as well.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible we are commanded to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.  In Biblical language, the stranger is not simply someone unknown to us.  Rather, the stranger is most often someone from a different nation who has come to dwell within the Israelite camp.  Even though they are technically "other" we are commanded to treat them as we would our own, even to the point where they are also commanded to observe the laws of the Sabbath and other customs.  The stranger is part of the people, yet not quite.

If we look at verse 6 as speaking not of other people, but of parts of the soul, then the three types take on a different meaning altogether.   In the community, the widow must be cared for because women were to be taken care of by the men in their lives, first father, then husband.  To be left without a man, meant being left vulnerable and reliant upon the community.  Widowhood could also be seen as representing the feeling that it was as if a piece of that person was missing.  And the missing piece was that which provided certainty, stability and security.  

The orphan, or literally the fatherless, was vulnerable for similar reasons.  However, they were even more vulnerable, for they were not yet adults.  In this way, they could be seen as even more vulnerable than the widow.  

However, the stranger is different.  For the stranger needed to be protected, I believe, not so much because they were without a parent or spouse, but because they were ultimately seen as 'other.'  Even though they chose to be a part of the community, they were still not truly of the community and therefore could be subject to prejudice and violence at the hands of others.

As pieces of our soul, I see the widow as that piece within us that never totally feels secure.  It is the part of us afraid that  we are ultimately alone, without support or community.  It is the part that feels partnerless in the world.

The orphan represents the part that wants to be dependent on others and then feels abandoned when they realize that you can't always be dependent. It is the piece which believed that there  is, was and will always be a person bigger and stronger to watch over us and now realizes that this is not true.  The orphan is afraid and feels alone and helpless.

The stranger is simply the part of us that feels it doesn't really belong. Even in a room full of family, friends and loved ones, the stranger within may acknowledge that we are physically present with others, but spiritually it feels separate, disconnected and vulnerable.  The stranger fears attack at any moment from hostile forces, even when everyone and everything around may feel warm and welcoming.

I believe we can all relate to these pieces within us, whether we want to or not.  However, it would be easy to label them as "negative", "bad" or "dysfunctional."  On the contrary.  For on some level they are the most functional parts of us.  When kept in balance (and that is always the key), these are the pieces of our soul which remind us that life is fleeting, that there is no true certainty and that we must live in and cherish each moment for the next one is unknown.  In balance, they are the parts that also help us realize  that what allows us to face all of these fears and uncertainty is a belief in interconnectedness and in the Oneness that we call God,  though it goes by different names in different traditions.

That is why the ego wants to rid us of these pieces of the soul.  The ego wants us to believe we are in control and that the universe is at our beck and call.  It is the existence of these vulnerable pieces within, that remind us that this is not the case.  It is also the vulnerable pieces within that allow us to be compassionate towards others, as well as ourselves.  And so the ego seeks to destroy them.

But what struck me was the fact that the verb used concerning the widow and the stranger is from the Hebrew root h-r-g    ה–ר–ג which means simply to kill, whether intentionally, murderous or otherwise. It simply means to end another's life. But the verb used regarding the orphan is r-tz-ch ר–צ–ח , which means to murder, or to intentionally take another's life.  What spiritual lesson, I wondered, could the use of these two different verbs provide?

Perhaps it is this.  The stranger and widow represents pieces within us that are vulnerable and uncertain, but they are pieces that of our "adult" selves.  Just as we have hopefully matured through the years, so too have these parts of us.  And so the ego can kill them more gently and subtly.  The ego can almost lull them into a never ending sleep by convincing them that things are really better than they are, that we are firm and secure and that the world is unchanging. It is death through a sense of complacency and a belief in the obsolescence.

However, the orphan is part the child within the soul.  This piece also feels unsafe and uncertain, but it has the energy of a child.  It is powerful, even as it feels helpless.  It can take control of the soul, just as we have all seen young children take control of their parents or all the adults in the room, by simply doing the equivalent of throwing a tantrum.  Therefore, this piece within us is much more dangerous to the ego.  

The scared orphaned child within cannot so easily be lulled into complacency and then simply die a peaceful death.  No.  For it sees what the other parts do not see.  It feels what they do not feel.  It fears what they don't fear.  And it doesn't have the filters or the internal censors of the other parts.

And so, the orphan within threatens at any moment to throw a tantrum to remind us that there is danger and uncertainty in the world.  It seeks to remind us that we can't simply rely on the illusion of self-sufficiency the ego tries to create.  It knows on a primal level that we need others, we need to feel connected, we need to be at one.  And so, to rid us of this piece of the soul, the ego must not simply kill it or let it die, it must murder it.  It must be certain that it will not return.

The ego wants, with all its being, to make certain that the orphan, the scared child within is silenced.  Otherwise it could ruin the ego's entire plan of self domination.

As we look into our souls any given moment, let us remember to pay attention to these pieces within.  Let us remember the vulnerable, frightened pieces that recognize the ultimate uncertainty and ephemeral nature of existence.  For they are the parts of our soul that lead us to that place of compassion and connection.  For it is compassion and connection to the One which are keeps these pieces ultimately calm and in balance.  

Then, when we start to feel a little too secure or smug, a little too certain of our own power to control ourselves and the world,  we must listen for those voices in our soul.  We must especially listen for the screams and cries of the orphaned, lonely, scared child within beginning to throw a tantrum.  For these voice are what will ultimately bring us back to reality, to each other and to the One.

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