27 August 2020
By Rabbi Lauren Tuchman
Psalm 27, which we traditionally recite twice daily from the beginning of Elul through Hoshana Raba is one of my favorites. It is emotionally complex and multi-faceted. I wish to be in Your Presence, the psalmist calls out. I desire, I yearn to know You, I seek you, I want to be in relationship. Please show me the good and proper path for my life. I want to dwell in the land of the living, give me strength and a courageous heart. Because so many of the Psalms give us ample opportunity for individual meaning-making. Our reading and resonance with this psalm changes because we change and the circumstances of our lives change.
Our liturgy includes this beautiful psalm, I believe because our tradition in its wisdom understands that we human beings often set lofty goals for transformation this time of year, but when we return to our ordinary lives, we aren’t so good at follow through. I believe that the Book of Psalms has had enduring relevance and power because it is so in touch with the full spectrum of human emotional expression. Psalm 27 is no exception.
I invite us to allow ourselves to fully inhabit all that is arising for us this year, particularly as we daven this psalm. I am struck by the psalmist’s constant yearning for the Divine. In a world that feels like the absence of the Divine Presence is far more tangible than not, this is a spiritual challenge to me certainly and perhaps to many of you as well to allow ourselves to uncover and encounter the Divine’s indwelling presence. Elul is a time when our tradition teaches that G-d is in the field, accessible to us more immediately—perhaps better understood as more viscerally. And yet, so many of us are entering this season of teshuvah feeling disconnected, numb, apathetic, unable to imagine a spiritually authentic and honest way forward. Yet, as Rabbi Nachman, a beloved early Chasidic master famously taught, we must never give up hope or give into despair. I invite us, as we experience the full spectrum of the yearning of this psalm to allow ourselves, as hard as it is, even just for a moment, to pause and feel into that which we are truly feeling, not wishing it away but allowing for it to manifest within. By so doing, we are able to be more honest with ourselves. Our inner work this time of year is aspirationally intended to transform our own souls and the way we show up for the people dearest to us as well as all beings we encounter. How we treat our own soul shows up in the way we treat others. We are witnessing the systemic, intergenerational and structural impacts that discrimination, racism, and all forms of oppression not only have upon a person’s material and social positions, but also the ways in which the mistreatment of others corrodes a society at its very core. May the work we do this time of year not merely lead to our own spiritual growth. May it show up in how we connect with others as well. After all, we were all created in the image of the Divine. We all possess a spark of the Divine within, and we can choose to allow that holiness to be revealed or concealed. May we witness far more acts of genuine care, concern and honoring of one another in the year to come.