by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
As Rosh haShanah comes around with its emphasis on repentance, it is well to heed the message of the 1st Psalm.
A major factor in character development is the choice or choices of the influences to which we expose ourselves. The 1st Psalm addresses this: “Happy is the one who has not walked in the advice of the wicked…”. The verb used here, “halaq”, meaning walk or go, occurs in the perfect tense, a tense that sees the verb as one point on a timeline, making it very decisive. Add the negative “lo” and one gets the sense that one never walks in the path of “r’shaim”, the wicked, people who have a definite and determined bent against the ways of God. The more one avoids the “wicked’s” voice, the better. We have already been affected by their influence- let’s avoid more of it.
Verse 1 continues: “Uvderek chataim lo amad”, “or stand in the path of sinners”… Notice the progression here; one begins walking in the wicked’s counsel, then comes to a standstill with the company of sinners. The verb root “chata” used here is the most generic word for sin, literally meaning to “miss the mark”. It is equivalent to the Greek word “hamartia”. After listening to wicked advice from wicked people, one ends up “hanging out” with people whose lives are off target. The implication clearly is that our lives will suffer the same fate.
The verse goes on sadly: “Uvmoshav letzim lo yashav”, “or “sat in the seat of scoffers”. “Yashav” can also be translated “dwell”. After listening to ungodly counsel, one’s life comes to a standstill; all momentum has been lost. Stay there in those influences and you will make your home with the scoffer, one of Scripture’s most tragic character, so soured on life that his only happiness is to make fun of any that have hope of any meaning or joy in life. “Scoffing” has now become home.
Verse 2 gives an alternative choice: “Ki im b’Torat Adonai chaftzo”, “but his delight (or pleasure) is in the Torah of Adonai”. The approach to the Torah, or, instruction, of the Lord is not merely ceremonial or religious duty, but hungrily searching out the treasures of divine life and wisdom. “B’torato yehgeh yomam valaylah”, “in His Torah he meditates day and night”. “Hagah”, “meditate”, at its root means to “mutter” or “muse”. It involves interacting with the text, allowing it to continue speaking instead of a possible “one and done”. Allow the Scripture to work its way deeply into the spirit, soul, conscience.
The result is a wonderful one: “He will be like a planted tree over streams of water, producing its fruit during its season. Its leaf never droops- but in all he does, he succeeds.” The referred to tree is a cultivated one, purposefully planted by God in a place where he can put down strong roots receiving nourishment and support. That soul will flourish.
Verses 4-6 give the sad result of the opposite choice: “The wicked are not so. They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand during the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Adonai knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” The verb “know” used here is “yodea”, the imperfect tense of “yada”, a verb that carries a sense of more than mere cognitive awareness, but, instead, deep familiarity, paying constant parental, loving, attentiveness. Who could ask for more?!
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.