Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Psalm for Wednesday: Psalm 94, Verse 7
ויאמרו לא יראה־יה ולא־יבין אלהי יעקב
They said, "Yah (God) shall not see and the God of Jacob (elohai Yaakov)shall not understand."
In my commentary on verse 5, I wrote of how the forces of the ego (the "they" of which the psalmist writes, in my interpretation) tries to destroy the pieces within us that are seen as "weak" or "vulnerable." These are the compassionate, merciful caring parts of us.
In verse 6, the psalmist begins by writing that Yah יה (God) will not understand. Yah is an ancient name for God which some believe is simply the sound of breath. It is also the first two letters of the tetragrammaton, the four letter name of God י–ה–ו–ה pronounced by some as Yahweh or simply adonai (my Lord). According to a midrash (rabbinic legend or commentary) in Shemot Rabbah (a collection of rabbinic tales on the biblical book of Exodus) this four letter name represents God's qualities of compassion and mercy.
Therefore Yah can simply be seen as breath, but it also incomplete. It is missing the last two letters. It is true that the breath is viewed in meditative practice, and elsewhere in tradition, as connecting us to the Divine within. However, if it is incomplete, if we are not fully present (ie, breathing completely), then we also cannot access the full compassion and mercy of the Divine within us, as represented by the full four-letter name. And we must be fully present to the divine quality of compassion within us all in order to resist the ego.
The name of God used in the 2nd half of this verse is elohai yaakov אלהי יעקב. This is a contraction of Elohim and the name Jacob. The midrash I cited above teaches that whenever God judges people, then god is referred to as Elohim אלהים. So, one could read this name midrashically as "the judging God of Jacob."
Now, if you go back to the Torah's stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, we find that Jacob's name was rooted in the Hebrew word for heel עקב, because at birth he grabbed the heal of his twin brother Esau trying to usurp his place as first born. In the end, Jacob was able to do this anyway, as he convinced Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew and then tricked their father Isaac into giving him Esau's rightful blessing.
Jacob, the heal grabber, can be seen as ego running rampant. All he cared about was himself. He manipulated, cheated and stole (sometimes with his mother's help) to get what he wanted. It wasn't until he struggled with the angel and was injured that he finally woke up to the reality that life was not all about him. When this happened, the angel bestowed upon him a second name, Israel ישראל - the one who struggled with the Divine.
But in this psalm it is the God of Jacob, not the God of Israel. It is the quality of judging within the egotistical deceiver before he discovered compassion. When we are judgmental and caught up in our own needs, desires and wishes we don't understand that it is our duty to show compassion and to protect the caring and vulnerable parts within. All we can feel is the need to judge self and others and not to be compassionate and caring. When we are in this place it is easy for the ego to win, for it able to fulfill all of these desires.
This verse can then be read as a warning. If we are not fully present to ourselves, God and the world, then we are unable to see the tricks the ego is trying to play. If we are only concerned with judging others or with getting what we want, then we also play right into the egos hands. In that way we are not yet the Children of Israel, but the only the children of Jacob. And Jacob without his other name, his other half, Israel, is incomplete. And so are we. And that is exactly what the ego wants us to be. And so we must do what is necessary to present, complete, compassionate and caring to all within the Oneness of God. If we do that, then the ego will have a much harder time grabbing hold.
Posted by Rabbi Steven Nathan at 11:07 PM
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