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The God Squad: Rabbi Marc Gellman offers Psalms for troubling times

A vintage Bible opened to the 23rd Psalm,

A vintage Bible opened to the 23rd Psalm, one that Rabbi Marc Gellman often writes about. Credit: Dreamstime / TNS

What is your Psalm of comfort during these uncomfortable times?

I love the Psalms. The most soaring and sensitive parts of the Bible, the Psalms constantly reveal to me new ways that hope can triumph over despair. I have written about the 23rd Psalm often and recently wrote about a reader's love for Psalm 91. I asked you, dear readers, to share your comfort Psalms and many did, thank God. Keep those comfort Psalms coming!

T wrote: " 'Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.' Psalm 55:22

This is my favorite Psalm because it reminds me I am never alone. We often feel alone when we are burdened with troubles. The Scripture says God will take my problems AND sustain me. What better comfort to not be alone and not be afflicted."

(MG notes: So important to remember that faith is not a bunch of beliefs about God. Faith is trust IN God.)

This was from MJ: "Psalm 100 has always been my favorite because even if it is short, it is true for all circumstances. This Psalm gives me comfort at any distressful time.

Psalm 105 (translation from: "Psalms/Now," by Leslie F. Brandt [Concordia Publishing, 2004]): 'Through trials and errors, failures and successes, my God has cared for me. From infancy to adulthood He has never let me go. His love has led me — or followed me — through the valleys of sorrow and the highlands of joy, through times of want and years of abundance. He has bridged impassable rivers and moved impossible mountains. Sometimes through me, sometimes in spite of me, He seeks to accomplish His purposes in my life. He has kept me through the stormy past; He will secure and guide me through the perilous future. I need never be afraid, no matter how uncertain the months or years ahead of me.

How great is my God, and how I love to sing His praises!" — B in Jupiter, Florida

(MG: The most frequent phrase used in the Bible is "Be not afraid." Faith calms fear and that above all other reasons is the foundation of faith.)

J, one of my oldest and dearest students, reminded me of how some years ago when we were in the Rocky Mountains together for my daughter's wedding I taught an outdoor class about Psalm 121:

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore." (KJV)

(MG: Faith can offer up very complicated and obscure reasons to believe, but Psalm 121 distills the reason to believe into the most simple proposition, "Mountains are big, but God is bigger than the mountains.")

P wrote to me about Psalm 131: "During the pandemic, try Psalm 131 for a means of comfort and trust in God.

'Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.'

I substitute my name instead of Israel to make the prayer meaningful to me."

(MG: This is my own favorite Psalm as well, dear P, and it all comes down to the phrase, "like a weaned child."

This very short Psalm is, to my mind, very perfect. It begins with a plea for humility, a foundational virtue for the spiritual life. There is just so much that we cannot know and we must be fine in not knowing everything. The KJV phrase, "like a weaned child" is a metaphor for the single most important transition in all our lives. It is the move from utter dependence upon our parents to independence in a world informed by our own choices. To be a weaned child can be traumatizing or it can be comforting. This Psalm urges us to be comforted in the knowledge that God will suckle us and protect us in a manner that no human parent can provide. Go ahead and substitute your name for Israel. God won't mind and neither will Israel.

SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.

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