What is the nature of God and the starting point of wisdom? Such are the topics of Psalm 111, presented as an acrostic: using alphabetical phrases to enable memorization, suggest that wisdom is gained progressively, and to convey completeness. Its best-known line is its closing, giving context to all that came before: “Beginning of wisdom is awe of Adonai.” The Talmud (Shabbat 31a-b) in discussing “awe of Adonai” will say that it is an attitude of wonder evoked by observing creation. We might think of that mindset as seeing each component of creation as an unsigned artwork.
Rabbi Eliezer of Worms (Germany, 1176-1238) lived during the trauma of the Crusades. His wife and two daughters would be murdered and he and his son severely injured and yet, he emphasized in his ethical writings the need to honor the good in life. His best-known book is Sefer HaRakeach, The Book of the Perfumer. Rabbi Eliezer commented that when our tradition speaks of “awe of God,” the Hebrew word chosen for God is Adonai (the intimate name of God identified with compassion), rather than Elohim (identified with the power of judgment). He explains, our awe of God is primarily evoked with recognition of God’s love and the fear of losing that intimate bond with God.
Join me on Wednesday at 9:30am for a close reading of Psalm 111.
Our study of Psalm 111 is dedicated to Hunter Kaplan.