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Psalm 1 – An Elegy to Deal with Difficult Times

As we approach this weekend, which marks the onset of the Festival of Passover (Pesach), Easter and the mid-point of Ramadan, a confluence of religious observances of the Children of Abraham during these troubled times, the Book of Psalms possibly provides us with a playbook to guide us forward.

Happy are those that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.

A cursory examination of the political (dis)functioning of many western democracies today elides a depressing mosaic of people who (a) seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to remain in office while (b) concomitantly unwilling to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue with those with whom they disagree.

The strength of the democratic system used to be that after a vote, those who were in the opposition, for the good and welfare of the society as a whole, would support the result. Today, those on the losing side often immediately begin to work to undermine any chance of success on the part of those who emerged victorious. It would seem that in the convoluted society in which we live, more often than not the scornful prevail.

But, their delight is in the law of the LORD; and in that law do they meditate day and night.

The confluence of the holy days of the three Abrahamic faiths this weekend, reminds us in bold terms that there is indeed a higher power influencing our lives. Further, that this higher power may not be so happy with what we have done with the capabilities and judgements entrusted to us.

How else to explain the weekly onslaught of severe weather in North America; the regular destructive flooding this past year in Europe, South Africa and the Indian sub-continent; the unprecedented eruptions of volcanoes that have been dormant for centuries; or a worldwide pandemic that has disrupted our lives for more than two years and has accentuated the vast disparities in the world between the haves and have nots? Perhaps we should stop this weekend and listen to THAT voice.

And, they shall be like trees planted by streams of water, that bring forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever they doeth they shall prosper. Not so the wicked; but they are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Sounds idyllic does it not? Simply plant our roots in the soil of the land and we will prosper. Idyllic yes, but also full of wisdom. The psalmist is telling us to be satisfied with what we have as it will sustain us. There is no need to attack other “trees” as one tree is all we need.

Relating to today’s world, if you are the head of a country that encompasses more land than any other country of the world, stretches cross 11 time zones, has achieved financial stability and is recognized internationally as a world power, do you really need another tree? Isn’t one enough? And if you seek other “trees” the psalmist opines that you will not be successful. No surprises there at all. Ultimately, you will be driven away like so much chaff. It has happened in the past and it will happen again unless, of course, the leadership shies away from its responsibilities to do the right thing.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

In a word, the wicked do not have the qualifications that make them fit to be in the presence of the just and holy Judge. They have no external righteousness to recommend them: Naked and guilty then, they cannot stand before a just and holy Judge, but must fall with shame and blushing confusion. King David, in writing these verses, uses a broad brush to mark those who are clearly guilty and have not earned the right to be judged otherwise. The accusatory finger is then pointed at those who, whether out of ignorance of hubris, choose to use their wickedness to conquer and exterminate others.

For the LORD regardeth the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked shall perish. 

Yet, there is hope. The three faiths come together this weekend to jointly renew their acknowledgement of the One above, and pause to consider the significance of what it means to be a free people. The message of this weekend is clear. Freedom is not a gift to be taken for granted. It is a value to be fought for each day and to be acknowledged regularly, as many of us will do at the Seder meal this year once again.

Let us hope that our actions will respond to the admonitions of the psalmist and that the way of the wicked shall perish.

May the holiday week be a blessing for all of us and a harbinger of better days yet to come.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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