Interfaith Collaboration with United Parish Church
Remarks delivered by Rabbi Jen Gubitz on the occasion of a Shabbat service in which the choirs of United Parish, Brookline, and Temple Shir Tikva enriched the service with the singing of psalms.
In great distress, the once strong King Saul lay in his bed and begged his servants for comfort: “Find me,” he yearned, “find me a man who can play well and bring him to me!” (1 Samuel 16:17). In the 1st Book of Samuel, David - Ben Yishai Beit Halachmi a son of Jesse from Bethlehem - David, the keeper of sheep, ruddy with beautiful eyes and goodly to look upon, is brought from the pasture to pastor to the distressed Saul. With lyre in hand it came to pass, the prophetic text describes, that when distress fell upon Saul, David’s music calmed his soul.
Such is the effect of psalms on the Soul: they bring us comfort; they bring us calm; they allay our fear; they console our tears. At the bedside, at the graveside, and in times of joy, the poetry and prose of these ancient songs narrate the story of humanity in our quest to connect to one another and to that which is Divine.
The psalms in Jewish tradition are the liturgy that help us welcome the Sabbath Day. They fill our mouths with Hallel, praise, Halleluyah, Praise to God, on our Holy Days, and they help us bid farewell to our loved ones in their final days. Ranging as they do in context and content, the Psalms offer us ways to pray when our experience in life is effable, inarticulable. When we are at a loss for our own words, we let the Psalms fill our mouths.
From our beginning to our end... A new baby is born: “esah Einai el heharim, I lift up my eyes unto the hills. From where will my help come?” the parents recite from Psalm 121. And a loved one ceases living: “Adonai ro’i lo echsar,” Psalm 23, “the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Our lives are bookended with psalms: “where will my help come from?” the new mother wishes to know; “God is Our Shepherd,” she hears the reply a lifetime later…
As we lift up our eyes around this sanctuary looking to one another, listening to one another, can we not feel these psalms so alive? The notes of the Shepherd’s lyre protecting us, connecting us, leading us and comforting us as we walk through the sometimes dark shadows of modern living? As flock at pasture, where beyond every hillside there are those who would wish to devour us, those who would wish to devour what it is we stand for and live for and pray for.
But we shall fear no evil for we walk in this world together united and hopeful and surely two flocks are stronger than one alone. Though at times traversing different fields and paths, is it not so that God as our Shepherd brings us all home?
And together we are nourished by green pastures and calmed beside the still waters.
“I lift up my eyes unto the hills, from where will my help come?” the parent, the friend, or the Psalmist cry. Some will wait a lifetime to hear a reply. And sometimes that is what it takes. And sometimes the answer comes far sooner, when looking our brothers and our sisters, though from different fields, deeply in the eyes. When we see their goodness and their mercy, we see God’s image, and our Cup, it runneth over.