Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Psalm for Wednesday: Psalm 94, verse 12
אַשְׁרֵ֤י הַגֶּ֣בֶר אֲשֶׁר־תְּיַסְּרֶ֣נּוּ יָּ֑הּ וּֽמִתֹּורָתְךָ֥ תְלַמְּדֶֽנּוּ
Happy is the one who is chastened by God, and those whom You teach from Your Torah.
In my commentary on Psalm 94:10 (two weeks ago), I discussed the issue of “chastisement.” In that Psalm, God was referred to as the One who chastises the nations. In my commentary I wrote that chastisement was simply punishment for its own sake, whereas rebuke (also used in that verse) had the greater purpose of educating as well.
In this verse, it seems strange at first that those who are chastised should be happy. However, it also seems that the psalmist is also in some way connecting chastisement with learning. That is what leads to happiness. But, it's not just any teaching, but God's teaching, or Torah.
However, in reading this verse it is also important to note which name for God that is used. The Psalmist here does not use the full tetragramaton (4 letter name of God), but only the first two letters, יָּ֑הּ , which simply reads as “Yah”. There are those who teach that this name of God represents the breath, both of God and humanity. God is not only the source of breath, but God is breath itself. And so that which chastises and teaches us is simply the breath. This is an essential teaching of mindfulness. For in mindfulness practice we return over and over again to the breath. When our mind wanders, we return to the breath. When we obsess on our thoughts, we return to the breath. And in doing so, we are returning to God. In the process, we learn about ourselves, God and the essence of existence.
However, unlike in the verse, there is no punishment involved. As a matter of fact, the essence of being mindful is being non-judmental and non-punishing. So how do we reconcile that with verse 12? The answer is simple. We change the translation. After all, translation is itself a form of commentary and every word has a myriad of meanings. Just because I understood the same verb as meaning chastised in verse 10, does not mean that it needs to mean that here. For the root of the verb can also mean “to discipline.” Therefore, I will change my translation to “Happy is the one who is disciplined by Yah, and those who are taught from God's teaching!”
For it is the discipline, as in instruction, of returning to the breath, and to God, that is the teaching. It is God, the breath of life, who teaches us with each breath, if we pay attention. This is the discipline that we must learn. In some moments we get it and in other moments we don't. But that's fine, for there are an infinite number of moments for us to find the discipline. With each breath we do our best to find God in the breath of that moment. From each breath and from this Divine discipline we continually learn how to pay attention to life in the moment, and how to be compassionate, caring and loving human beings. That is the ultimate teaching and the ultimate discipline that will bring about happiness and contentment in each moment.
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