Monday, December 13, 2010
Psalm for Monday: Psalm 48, verse 10
דמינו אלהים חסדך בקרב היכלך׃
We have compared (thought of) your overflowing love in the midst of your palace.
This verse is often translated simply as “we have thought of your loving kindness in the midst of your Temple.” However, the root of the phrase translated as “we thought” דמינו has its origins in the word דמה, which also means, “to compare.” The word חסד (hesed) tends to be translated as “loving kindness” since the Coverdale Bible translation of 1535 used this term to translate the Latin misericordia. However, I find that this translation almost trivializes the word.
Loving-kindness is a wonderful thing. It is something that we all desire to give and receive. However, hesed is something much more profound. In terms of human interaction, acts of hesed is one of the three pillars upon which the world stands, according to Pirkei Avot (The Chapters of our Fathers), a compilation of rabbinic ethical aphorisms completed around the year 200 CE. Without hesed, Torah (learning/study) and avodah (worship) the ancient rabbis believed the world could not exist.
The essence of hesed is that it is performed for no reason other than it improves others lives and the world. There is no ulterior motive to hesed. Hence, only the purest form of love towards all motivates the actions. Of course, as human beings, it is often difficult to exhibit true, complete hesed. However, it is the primary modus operandi for God. The kabbalists/mystics envisioned hesed as the overflowing love that emanates from God to humanity not in response to our actions, but simply because loving us is what God does.
In my translation, however, we are not merely thinking or pondering God’s hesed, we are comparing it. But to what? Perhaps we are comparing it to our own actions, which pale in comparison. Perhaps we are stuck in the place where we feel nothing we do is quite good enough. Everything or everyone else is better, holier, and more complete. “Comparing mind” is one of the ego’s most popular traps. For the more we compare ourselves to others, the more likely we are to feel inadequate. And this sense of inadequacy often leads us to create a façade of excessive pride, which is ego, to cover what we believe to be the truth. We must stop comparing ourselves and simply accept ourselves as we are, flaws and all. If we don’t do this, then we cannot escape the ego’s trap.
How can we do this? Well, it is simple if we remember we are in this moment. The psalmist writes that we are in the midst of God’s palace. We are not merely within the palace, but we are deep within its bowels. We are surrounded by the glory and beauty of the Divine presence. We are embraced by the flow of energy that we call God. This is true of us in every moment, if we only open our soul and open our eyes to the reality. If we remember this, then we can put things in perspective.
Rather than comparing ourselves to others, when we acknowledge that we are within the palace, that we are part of the Divine, we can connect with true hesed. We can connect with the Divine flow of love and compassion that connects all of humanity. In realizing that this is flowing through us, as well as everyone else, we no longer need to make comparisons. We can accept who we are. We can accept each other as we are. Once this occurs, we can then re-translate the verse in the more “conventional way” to read that we are thinking and paying attention to God’s hesed, rather than comparing ourselves to God or to other human beings. When we do this, we are truly within the palace of the Divine, the walls of which are built moment by moment with human-Divine love, compassion and kindness. All of which are rooted in ultimate hesed of God.
Posted by Rabbi Steven Nathan at 7:02 PM
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