Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Portrait of Metaphysical Fortune

A successful poem will sometimes enable you to close your eyes and envision the message in your mind. You conjure up the idea with your own palette, style and background. In so doing, the poet becomes your partner in conveying a shared truth. The importance of the mental picture is high on King David's list as he dedicates the third and fourth verses of Psalms on such a picture which sparks our imagination. After praising the 'Ish'(average individual), he begins the portrait as follows:

והיה כעץ שתול על פלגי מים אשר יתן פריו בעתו ועלהו לא יבול וכל אשר יעשה יצליח לא כן הרשעים כי אם כמץ אשר תדפנו רוח "And he shall be like the tree firmly planted by the banks of the river whose fruit come in the proper season and whose leaves never wither and all he does he will succeed.
Not so with regard to the wicked for they are like the chaff that flies away in the wind."

The insertion of the simile (a comparing of two unlike objects) reflects the importance with which the poet wanted to enforce the notion of the reward of the righteous versus the punishment of the wicked. This fits in to our theme that the psalm is about the average individual who is struggling to avoid the temptation of the wicked, as there is no better stumbling block than the unsettling vision of the righteous suffering while the wicked succeeding. The writer must convince us that this equation is ultimately false before expecting our adherence.

For this reason we are asked to imagine the corollary to righteous living. Picture in your mind a large cedar tree entrenched by the bank of a river. Consider its roots which find a constant supply of nourishment from the fertile earth and its luscious, sustaining fruit always appearing in their proper time. On the one hand we are awed by the presence of this tree and we appreciate its longevity and consistency. On the other hand we must note that in order for the tree to reach its impressive state it requires years, decades, and even generations. Once it achieves its grandeur it will endure and provide shade, fruit, life for centuries to come, but one still needs patience and perspective until one arrives at that gets there.

Now consider a grain of wheat. It it planted, harvested and turned into a scrumptious donut in months. Its reward is almost immediate, the waiting time is next to nothing. However, while it delivers the product, it loses itself during the process. The chaff is lost in the wind, the wheat is crushed down, and one needs to start the process all over again in the next season. The chaff is useless, the pleasure from the wheat, ephemeral.

When you contrast a stalk of wheat with a magnificent tree you begin to realize there is no comparison and while one requires patience ultimately it is worth the wait. The same applies to one's life and pursuit of meaning and fortune. Sure there is a quick route to physical pleasure, but what of a long lasting consistent sense of purpose and enrichment?

A righteous person builds, develops and consistently shapes his life and his family so that the next generation will emerge strong, vibrant, confident, fortunate! They will have been sustained by the simple but consistent river nutrients and will appreciate the deep roots of their tradition and their mission. In this context the end of the simile presents us with an interesting turn--it switches back into the individual.

"And everything he does he will be successful".

It seems as if the poet wanted us to enter the surreal for the dramatic effect of the picture and then seamlessly have us return to real life as if to say our dreams can turn into a consistent, protracted, generational, reality. NOT so with the wicked. For they revel in the moment, but the moment will be their only consolation.

For the average individual who struggles with good and evil, this psalm presents for him a powerful intellectual and mental picture of the true rewards of a righteous life. He is rest assured by the psalm and willing to make the sacrifice, to live a meaningful existence, a spiritual existence and ultimately a fortunate one!