The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem (one of my many alma maters) has been publishing an online commentary to the greatest of the biblical books for spiritual care -- the Book of Psalms. Today, they released their commentary for the ultimate of the psalms of comfort, Psalm 23, that so-very brief work that opens with lines famously translated as "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want." Benjamin J. Segal, the author of the commentary, labels this great psalm simply as "With Me," reflecting his claim that the psalm revolves around these words from the middle of its fourth verse. But, while Segal says that the simple concept that "God is with me sits at the core of the psalm, he also claims that the psalm treats the concept in a very complex way, with a progression that could reflect one that many of us go through in our journeys in life and in faith. At the beginning, the psalm expresses a simple faith in the presence of God -- God as a source of physical sustenance and protection. But, as the psalm progresses, this faith changes -- into a faith in God as a source of spiritual sustenance, a sustenance that can support us even in the darkest of times. Even in the dark shadows cast by evil, injustice, or even death.
This kind of spiritual sustenance is what can not only comfort us, but also inspire us to do things that would have seemed not only impossible, but even miraculous. I am reminded of how Nelson Mandela was able to find this kind of sustenance in another very short work, the Victorian poem Invictus -- something that helped him find not only the courage to survive decades of bitter imprisonment, but to be able to emerge from it unbroken: still able to love other human beings and unbelievably still able to move past anger to profound forgiveness and reconciliation. (Minna and I this week watched the brilliant Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, which documents one small part of what Mandela did after his imprisonment.)
Jews everywhere have been reclaiming the Book of Psalms as our own in recent years and finding comfort and wisdom within its ancient words, traditionally credited to King David. I am so grateful for this free contribution Schechter is making to this movement of reclaiming!