1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The philosophy of Psalm 1 is the philosophy of all the psalms, and all the Bible and every faith — good has an edge over evil in the universe. This is not a belief that evil is illusory. It is a belief that goodness has an edge over evil. This is not a belief nothing bad will ever happen to you. It is a belief that you have a way to overcome its effects. This is not a belief that evil will be overcome immediately. It is a belief that evil will be overcome eventually.
Let us learn:
1: Our best defense against evil doers is to stay away from them. By extending the advice to not walking, standing or sitting with people doing bad things the psalmist is teaching us to stay away from them in every possible setting. Thinking that their ways will not rub off on us is naive and wrong.
2: Simply avoiding evil is not enough. We must also engage in the practice of and the study of the good. To do good things we must know what they are and to know what they are we must study the ways of life that God has set before us.
3: The tree is the perfect metaphor for the life of the righteous in a wicked world. The tree has deep roots that seek out life-giving water. A righteous person is rooted in faith that is hope. The tree metaphor is a bridge to these verses in the Book of Job (14:7-9), "For there is hope of a tree, that if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and its tender branches will not die. If its roots are old in the earth, even if the trunk dies in the ground, at the first scent of water it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant."
4: Another plant metaphor. During the ancient process of sifting and winnowing harvested wheat, the chaff is the outer husk of the wheat kernels that blows away in the wind, allowing the heavier and nutritious wheat kernel to fall back into the basket. Such is the fate of evil. It is spiritually empty, so it cannot nourish us. It blows away because it has no moral fruits.
5: Like the chaff, the wicked cannot survive the judgment of their evil deeds. This judgment is not the judgment of God. What this verse implies is that in time the evil ones will be judged and rejected by their peers. Society will eventually cleanse itself of its predators.
6: God knows that the eventual triumph of goodness is a law of life. It is like the physical buoyancy that brings a cork to the surface of the water even if it is pushed down by a wave. So too, goodness will eventually triumph, and evil will be judged to be nothing. This is not the consequence of God's intervention, but the result of God's natural law that was woven into human existence at the Creation.
We must now ask the most important questions about God and faith in Psalm 1. Do you think any of this is true? Do you think that evil will eventually be overcome and righteousness triumph? There is so much evidence of perduring moral evil and so little evidence that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. believed, the universe arcs toward freedom.
I believe in the ultimate triumph of goodness. I see so many examples of kindness and sacrifice, particularly in this last COVID-19 year. Such little acts of grace are not featured on the news, probably the last place you should look for faith. I think the world today is more healthy, free and hopeful than it has ever been in the history of our time here on planet Earth. I believe this is from God and our natural goodness. I vote yes on Psalm 1.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.