I never could relate to Psalms. "The Lord is my Shepherd" seemed to evoke Christianity -- its popularity in secular movies and novels a diminishment of any potential power. I couldn't relate to the women I saw at the Western Wall, wrinkled, hunched over, sobbing over their tiny book.
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where comes my help?" What did any of it have to do with me? The words were stilted and alienating, the meaning obtuse.
And the struggles of King David? Well, we all wish the high and mighty to have struggles (Schaedenfreude having recently come into vogue) -- but how could they possibly touch my life? I'm not fighting for my throne, warring with nations, coveting someone else's spouse or battling traitorous children (does put my parenting issues in perspective!). And while we like to think of our house as a palace...
They left me cold. I recited them only when obligated. And never with feeling.
Until the Gulf War. Until I personally felt threatened and attacked. Until I felt vulnerable and exposed. Until I felt my family and my people to be at risk.
At that time, some of the leading rabbis suggested that everyone -- the whole Jewish people -- recite three particular Psalms everyday.
Unwilling to separate myself from the crowd, feeling a little more exposed and frightened than anticipated, and not wanting to take any chances, I went along. I recited the specified Psalms every day -- come rain, sleet, snow or scud. Every day no matter what, for those two months.
And skeptical as I was, it began to make a difference. The Psalms began to seep into my soul.
Psalms need to be experienced emotionally, to be internalized.
Although poetic, they are not poetry, not to be subjected to literary analysis. Although imbued with deep meaning, I think Psalms are meant to be felt. A purely intellectual approach is ineffective. Understanding and insight are always good. But not enough.
Psalms need to be experienced emotionally, to be internalized. It's not a one-shot deal, but the day-in, day-out repetition that leads to their absorption. And their power.
Thank God, the war ended. But life brought new challenges. And I turned to my new tool -- no longer an alienation, but a friend; a source of comfort and strength.
It's been almost 17 years since then. I've continued to say those three Psalms every day. I've even added more along the way -- with fervent wishes for so much good for my husband, my children, my people.
In some small way I've become like those women at the wall, wrinkles and all, sobbing over my prayers. And feeling at peace. I can skip breakfast in the morning and have a good day. But if I forget my Psalms, there is a sense of loss, a blurring of focus.
Life poses my challenges, frequently and repeatedly. Rabbi Pliskin once wrote that we shouldn't pray for a life without struggle but rather for the strength to deal appropriately with these opportunities.
Just as water slowly erodes a rock, the recital of Psalms is making a (slow!) impact on my ego. I know I can't do it alone. And when I lift up my eyes, I recognize the true Source of my help.