“Let us go sing joyfully to Adonai” is how we begin our Friday night services. This is the opening line of Psalm 95. In its own context, the Psalm appears as a pilgrimage Psalm, with words by a leader to a group going up to Jerusalem. For us, our Shabbat is a weekly journey. Indeed, the six Psalms that form Kabbalat Shabbat are prompts for the six days of the work week. Shabbat is the promised land, a time of celebration, reflection, and exultation. Kabbalat Shabbat emerged among the mystics of the 16th century of Safad who echoing a line of the Talmud (Shabbat 119a) when before sunset on Friday night, sages would declare, “Let us greet the Shabbat queen.” And so our Kabbalat Shabbat leads to Lecha Dodi, with a mystical composition that welcomes Shabbat into our midst as the Shabbat bride and queen.
The second half of Psalm 95 is quite different in tone. God speaks of the Israelites in the desert, proclaiming, “Forty years I loathed a generation and I said, ‘A people of straying hearts are they and they did not know My ways.’” The commentary in our siddur, Lev Shalem, composed by Rabbi Ed Feld, understands the pilgrimage leader as exhorting the people to stay focused on God’s goodness and not to get distracted by the challenges of the journey. This is also true for our own lives. We are cautioned in the face of hardships to keep the bigger picture in mind and the resting-place ahead.
In that light, there is much commentary on the bridge phrase between the two sections (verse 7b): “…today, if only to [God’s] voice you would listen.” The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) tells a tale: One day, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi met Elijah the Prophet at the entrance to the cave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
“When will the Messiah come?” Rabbi Yehoshua asked.
“Go and ask him yourself,” Elijah replied. “He sits at the gate of Rome among the lepers. The Messiah distinctly wraps his bandages one let at a time, lest he be called into action, he is ready to immediately respond.”
Rabbi Yehoshua found the Messiah and asked, “When will you come?”
“Today!” the Messiah answered.
When the day ended and the Messiah failed to make the much awaited appearance, Rabbi Yehoshua sought out Elijah and told him of his encounter and asked, “Why did the Messiah not come?”
“When the Messiah said, “today,” he was referring to the “today” of Psalm 95: “today, if only to God’s voice you would listen.” On that day that the Jews listen to the voice of God collectively, the Messiah will come.
Each Shabbat, as guided by Psalm 95, we are called to appreciate the goodness of lives and not enter into the mindset of complaint. The Psalms that lead us into Shabbat are purposeful guides of weekly pilgrimage.
Psalm 95, honoring the second yahrzeit of Lee Brockett and the upcoming birthday of his wife, Marion Brockett.
My beloved teacher and friend, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski passed on Sunday in Jerusalem. In my teaching this morning, I spoke about this Hasidic Psychiatrist. I share below some opportunities to learn more about him:
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a 2020 interview. Click here to hear the interview
To read Rabbi Twerski’s obituary, click here.
To hear the interview with Rabbi Golub, L’chaim, click here.