Monday, September 21, 2009

The Portal

1 A Psalm of David. To David, Mizmor, The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants.
2 For He founded it upon the ocean, set it on the nether-streams.
3 Who may ascend the mountain of God and who may stand in His holy place?
4 He who has clean hands, and a pure heart; who has not taken My name in vain, and has not sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall carry away a blessing from the Lord, a just reward from God, his Deliverer.
6 This is the way of the generations who search for God, Jacob, selah.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in.
8 “Who is the King of glory?” God, strong and mighty, God, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O gates, yea, lift them up, everlasting doors; that the King of glory may come in.
10 “Who then is the King of glory? God of hosts; He is the King of glory.” Selah

Psalm 24 is recited quite often throughout the liturgical year: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with great passion, as well as every Sunday morning and when we return the Torah to the ark.
What is so remarkable about this psalm that it warrants such a unique position in the Siddur?
The psalm should be divided into three distinct sections, each one focusing on another fundamental dimension of praying to God, certainly during the high holidays.

Section one should be titled: God. Plain and simple, it requires no additional components, but asks us to realize that the focus of our lives begins and ends with our creator. Hence, "To God belongs the heaven and earth, land and all its inhabitants".

Section two changes course entirely. It should be titled: Man. After all, when asking who will rise us to the mountain of God and what qulities they need you are really trying to discern the ideal traits of man.
Interesting. The first theme leads us to believe that we are reciting a psalm about God. This would be quite appropriate because isn't Rosh Hashana about God, creator of the heavns and earth? But then the second theme seems to contradict the first--it's really about us!
Which one is true?

Enter, theme three! As I gave this class I asked the group to describ the sections in one word. When I reached the third section one man hit the nail on the head and exclaimed that the third section is about the portal between God and Man. In truth, if we wanted to use one word to describe the psalm, it might be the portal. What is that gateway between human beings and the divine? What is the catalyst which engenders the heavenly relationship here on earth? Gates life up your heads the the heavens and call out that God is the Lord, King of glory, Creator of all.

Judaism is about the extreme of the extremes. Where one extreme is a theocentiic existence, devoid of physicality and human compnents, the other extreme is believing in anthropocentric--everything revolves around man, the here and now, the physical and mundane.

The psalm and the Judaism it aims to represent presents the extreme opposite of the two radical poles--effectively the center! IT is about the perfect balancing of God and Man in our world, the admixture of sacred and profane, the synthesis of physical and metaphysical.

This idea is manifest in a presentation of both God and Man, but then a conclusion with a reference to the portal--the gateway towards man developing a proper relationship with God.