In this time of fear and uncertainty, I have turned my column's focus to the one thing that is certain. We need to sustain hope and reduce panic. My first resource for hope is the revealed Word of God in the Bible. What we need to know, what we need to believe and what we need to heal is there waiting for our need.
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the first biblical component to the spiritual vaccine, the fourth verse of Psalm 23: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
This verse taught us that God's promise in this life here on Earth is not a promise of lives free of suffering but a promise we will never suffer alone. God is always with us.
Last week, I reached into the Book of Isaiah 45:7 for the striking prophecy: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."
This component of the spiritual vaccine is the mature belief that we worship a God who makes everything, including evil. Some evil results from mismanaged free will, itself God's creation and given so we can grow to choose life.
This week, I add a third verse to our spiritually therapeutic vaccine, the 23rd Psalm's first verse: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
The Bible is written in Hebrew, and history has given us wonderful translations, from the Greek (the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE) to the Latin (the Vulgate in the 4th century) to Martin Luther's German translation in 1522, to the King James Version of 1611, to the excellent recent translation of Robert Alter. Yet the problem with all translations is best expressed by an old saying, "Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing through a veil." It is a kiss, but it lacks a necessary intimacy.
We encounter the problem of reading the Bible in other than Hebrew in the 23rd Psalm's iconic first verse, which ends, "I shall not want." But the Hebrew word echsar does not mean "want"; it means "lack." The verse should more accurately be translated, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not lack anything." This is profoundly different.
The answer to the question, "What do you want?" is endless; some things we want are silly, some are legitimate. If the Psalmist is trying to limit desire, the 23rd Psalm is futile and foolish. If, however, the verse intends to ask, "Is there anything you really need that you lack now?," it becomes a profound psalm built on a profound belief. The point is that if we look upon our lives right now, even amid this pandemic, we lack nothing we really need. We do not lack the capacity to starve the virus by hibernating. We do not lack the capacity for being healed by the love of family and friends. We do not lack the capacity for hope. Everything we need we have. We hope for healing, an end to this pandemic and for medical breakthroughs; in the heart of things there is nothing we truly need that we do not possess.
The belief that we lack nothing puts a brake on runaway wants. Advertising and the incessant pressures of a materialistic culture do not help us return to the biblical certainty that because God is our shepherd we will not lack anything necessary for salvation, life and health.
Knowing we are not alone, that God is the creator and guarantor of everything, and that we lack nothing we truly need to live and love each other — these three verses compose the spiritual vaccine against the panic of this pandemic.
Next week, the fourth verse of the vaccine. In the meantime, stay safe and hopeful. We will soon emerge from darkness and live our way into the light.
God bless us, one and all.
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.