Monday, November 23, 2009

The Desire to End on a Happy Note

Psalm 94, commonly known as 'wednesday's shir shel yom (psalm of the day) is generally considered as having an upbeat message. It begins with a request that God appear and take vengeance upon the psalmist's enemies. He then turns to the wicked themselves upbraiding them for their hubris and their denial of God. But then the psalmist reveals his fears, his pain and his incomprehension of the suffering he must endure.
This message, though is not fully digested by daily daveners, as the custom of many Jews who pray daily is to skim the body of the psalm during prayer (especially those who are running out of Shul towards the end)and to just focus on the strong beginning and the final verse at its end.
But this time the ending is curiously lengthened with an addendum from the beginning of psalm 95, fondly sung as 'lechu neranena...'. The rabbis invoked a tool often used in choosing Haftara endings and applied it to Wednesday's post prayer message. What is the tool? To always find a way to end us off on a happy note.
If we were to truly recite the final verses of 94 and internalize them we would conclude our tefillah with the following thought:
God, I have tried many ways to eradicate the wickedness from my life. I have turned to You first in fervent prayer in hope that You appear in a burst of vengeance. That never happened. I turned to my aggressors with rebuke or reason but to no avail. I have attempted to justify my affliction, but I emerged unsatisfied. Instead I endure, suffer, nostalgically recall a time of respite, but in the end, I turn back to You God with one final message--smite them, smite them, smite them.
Not a particularly cheery finale, yet, sometimes a very realistic one.
But our Sages prevent us from leaving Shul on that sour note. Instead look forward to Shabbat as it is just around the bend. Perhaps that optimism will help you maintain the struggle and help you endure the current crisis.
In the end, post prayer psalms force us to consider our predicaments, struggle with our crises, but when we seem to be falling into despair to try to find some silver lining, some happiness in our lives so that we may continue to sing, dance and rejoice with God despite troubling times.