Praying the Psalms

Psalm 1, Tehillim Mizmor Aleph

Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
   Or stand in the path of sinners,
   Or sit in the company of scorners;

Rather, in the Torah of the Lord is his delight,
   And he meditates in his Torah day and night.
He is like a tree deeply rooted beside streams of water,
   That yields its fruit in season,
   Whose foliage never fades,
   And whatever it produces thrives.

Not so the wicked;
   Rather, they are like chaff that wind  blows away.
Therefore, the wicked will not survive judgment,
   Nor will sinners, in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord cherishes the way of the righteous,
   But the way of the wicked is doomed.


This kepital/chapter opens the book of Tehillim by pointing us toward righteous living.  And how does it do that?  By telling us what to avoid.  Hmmm.  Right away I begin questioning.  Why start off  Tehillim with what we are NOT to do if we want to be happy?  Initially I felt that this was a rather negative beginning to Tehillim.  Wouldn’t it be better  instead to begin this book by outlining steps TO DO to be happy?  Upon further study and reflection, however, I realized that this is indeed what we need TO DO.  Before we can walk in righteousness, before we can be happy, we must separate ourselves from that which ultimately brings about unhappiness, that which is evil, or at the very least, unholy.

More specifically, the happy person does not walk, stand or sit in the ways of the wicked, the sinner, or the scornful.  Note that “walk,” “stand,” “sit,” marks a progression as we move deeper and deeper into worldly ways.
   To WALK in the counsel of the wicked (hear their words of advice.)
   To STAND in the presence of sinners (spend time in their company.)
   To SIT with the scornful (share their viewpoints,  absorb their attitudes.)

How we think about things really does matter.  Our thoughts are what guide us in our choices.  Thoughts lead to words lead to action lead to words lead to thoughts, repeatedly making complete circles. In order to change our actions, we must remove ourselves from those influences that negatively affect our thoughts.   As a parent, I know how essential it is to guard our children against negative influences.  While we want our children to grow up to be compassionate, caring adults, we know that if they spend their leisure time with, or have a steady diet of unethical, immoral or unkind people and ideas, the likelihood of becoming mature, responsible adults is minimized.  We care about those who suffer the consequences of having made poor life choices .  We will most certainly pray for people who have chosen the worldly over the holy.  But to walk, stand or sit in their presence will eventually hinder our own spiritual growth and happiness. The sad part is we are not aware of its negative effects on our lives and spirits until too late.  Then the climb back to a holy, healthy place is arduous, if we attempt to regain spiritual ground at all. (However, as long as we live, teshuvah/repentance is possible.)

When we choose not to walk, stand or sit in the presence of the wicked, the sinner, the scornful, then we are able to focus with a clear mind and pure heart on G-d.  With clarity, we focus on the Torah, and delight in its words.  Now, as we move forward from this place, we will walk, stand, sit in the presence of righteousness.  By filling our minds and hearts with holy thoughts, we become like a tree planted by a stream.  I love this metaphor.  Years ago, one of my favorite spots was to sit by a beautiful, large willow tree that grew beside a gently flowing stream.  I often snuck away to that place when I needed to be alone, to pray, to nurture my spirit.  The tree was strong, sturdy, and very comforting.  The willow branches hung down, gently blowing in the breeze, it’s fronds skirting the surface of the water.  I felt like I was cradled in safety sitting by that tree, leaning up against its thick trunk.   When I read that we shall be “like a tree deeply rooted beside streams of water…,” this is the picture that comes to mind.  Devoting our thoughts and actions to spiritual things, makes us like those trees of strength and refuge, deeply rooted in Torah, our fruit coming to fruition b’sha’ah tovah, in good time. 

So, let us gain happiness as we begin praying and singing Tehillim, by putting all that would distract us behind us, clearing our minds of all that hinders our spiritual growth, and devote ourselves to Hashem and to meditating in Torah as we go forward.


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