Psalm 92

Rachel Rosenthal

Text

2It is good to praise the Lord,

to sing hymns to your name, O Most High,

3To proclaim your steadfast love at daybreak

Your faithfulness each night,

4With a ten-stringed harp,

with voice and lyre together

 

5You have gladdened me by me your deeds, O Lord;

I shout for joy at your handiwork.

6How great are Your works, O Lord,

how very subtle your designs

 

7A brutish man cannot know,

a fool cannot understand this:

though the wicked sprout like grass,

though all evildoers blossom,

it is only that they may be destroyed forever

                                          

9But you are exalted, O Lord, for all time.

 

10Surely, Your enemies, O Lord,

surely, Your enemies perish;

all evildoers are scattered.

 

11You raise my horn high like that of a wild ox;

I am soaked in freshening oil.

 

12I shall see the defeat of my watchful foes,

hear of the downfall of the wicked who beset me.

 

13The righteous bloom like a date-palm;

they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon;

14planted in the house of the Lord,

they flourish in the courts of our God.

15In old age they still produce fruit;

they are full of sap and freshness,

16attesting that the Lord is upright,

my rock, in whom there is no wrong.

 

 

Interpretive Commentary*

 

2It is good to praise the Lord,

to sing hymns to your name, O Most High,

3To proclaim your steadfast love at daybreak

Your faithfulness each night,

4With a ten-stringed harp,

with voice and lyre together

 

Lord, did you hear her?  Did you hear her lips finish the prayer, sing hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz in unison with me?  Did you see my RebeccaÕs lips move, working her way around the vowels and consonants in the same loving and caring away she picks out her pajamas, her prized possessions?  And her eyes?  Did you see her eyes light up, as bright and luminous as the Shabbat candles themselves.   She recited it with such love, such dedication, that it seemed as if the candles suddenly shone brighter, reflecting her eyes, the wine tasted sweeter, and the challah had never been so crunchy on the outside, yet light as air on the inside.  Even though this was her first time to recite Hebrew, I imagine that she has been working on it every day, every day since her first Shabbat after that first seizure.   Things take her longer than the rest of us.   She canÕt add or drive a car or even write her name.  But she just praised you, O Lord.  And because she has been working on it for so long, it sounds even more meaningful than when we do.  She has been internally glorifying you every day, waiting to get it perfect enough to externalize.  As we should all do.  Our hamotzi sounded like robots were singing it.  My three teenagers were rushing the prayer so they could go out afterwards.  My wife was sending an e-mail underneath the table-- as if I couldnÕt see.  And even I was more concerned with whether it would be nice enough for golf tomorrow.  She was fully engaged.  And tonight, her engagement bought us back to the meaning of the Sabbath. 

 

5You have gladdened me by me your deeds, O Lord;

I shout for joy at your handiwork.

6How great are Your works, O Lord,

how very subtle your designs

 

Lord, only you can truly understand the love my wife and I have for Rebecca.  You loved her as well, Òknit [her] together in [her] motherÕs wombÓ (Psalm 139, JPS Tanak).  With deft hands, you sculpted her cunning little chin, flecked her brown eyes with the color of your sweet grass, and bestowed a smile that shines with the strength of the sun.  We named her after Rivkah of old, described as, Òvery fair to look uponÓ and filled with goodness and generosity.  She not only provided Isaac with water, but his camels as well.  That is the same Rebecca we know.  She never gives just a hug, always a hug and a kiss.  Without prompt, she will say ÒI love you DaddyÓ.  And then she will repeat it.  Because she has so much love to give that saying it once is never enough.

 

7A brutish man cannot know,

a fool cannot understand this:

though the wicked sprout like grass,

though all evildoers blossom,

it is only that they may be destroyed forever

 

Some people canÕt see.  They think that caring for her would be all giving and no receiving.  They canÕt see past having to get up a little earlier to get her dressed or not being able to watch your movie, to watch Toy Story for the thousandth time.  They canÕt see past the tiny inconvenience of these tasks to uncover the great rewards underneath.  In the long run, it is well worth it.  Caring for Rebecca makes all the trivial matters just fade away.  She takes you out of the world into her world.  There, everything is a little fuzzy and disconnected.  But, because of its fuzziness, itÕs beautiful.  ItÕs filled with Raffi and pajamas and her favorite foods.  IÕm not expected to be perfect.  To her, I am perfect.   I feel sorry for people who donÕt understand this. 

 

But there are other people.  People I donÕt feel sorry for.  People who are afraid of what they donÕt understand.  So they try to fix what doesnÕt need fixing.  I quake with rage when I hear people describe the most trivial things as retarded.  My daughter used that word once and I was shocked.  She who cared for her sister since she could walk, first by giving her leftover cheerios and now driving her to the park and to doctorÕs appointments.  I was angry.  But I calmed down.  I knew it wasnÕt my daughterÕs fault.  She was just repeating what she heard from cowards around her.  I donÕt calm down when I hear stories of their cowardice.  People who threw relatives into institutions.  Hitler, who targeted the disabled along with the Jews.  My Rebecca would have been the first in line. 

 

9But you are exalted, O Lord, for all time.

 

I admit, Lord, there was a time when I was scared.  Not of her illness.  But for her.  I was terrified for her health.  One second she was smiling at her mother, amused by her socks.  And then she wasnÕt smiling anymore.  Her mouth was slack.  Her eyes were lost in her face.  We were starting at her but she didnÕt see us.  There was no flicker.  And her little arms and legs thrashed like limbs in a rainstorm.  There was a storm going on inside of her body and we were powerless to stop it.  The books that covered potty training and burping didnÕt cover this.  Finally she stopped, but she wasnÕt the same Rebecca.   The flicker didnÕt return to her eyes.  Her socks were no longer funny.  The storm of her body left terrible wreckage, like a great hurricane or flood.  But, like the earth after a storm, we rallied.  The sun shone again in her eyes, drying the rain of her mother and my tears.  It shone differently, but just as intensely.  The doctors predicted that she would never talk.  They were wrong.  Rebecca proved them all wrong.  She proved me wrong.  I confess, Lord, I had my doubts.  I was confused.  Why had you done this to us?  I understood only after we took her home from the hospital, when we watched her sleep in her own bed again.  I understood that she was still our daughter.

 

Every day, she has proved your goodness—when she said her first word at six, put on a shirt correctly at seven, tied her shoes at fourteen.  And tonight, she proved even more that you, O Lord, fashioned her in your image.   And then you proved your further goodness when you blessed us with three more daughters.  I was scared then too.  Afraid that my wife wouldnÕt make it or that we were bound for more seizures and sleepless nights.  Could we handle two disabled girls?  Three?  Four?  I think we could have. But we didnÕt have to.  You blessed us with three other daughters that praise your name as they care for their sister, teaching her and learning from her as all sisters do.  Lord, through our daughters, you prove your infinite wisdom and compassion. 

 

10Surely, Your enemies, O Lord,

surely, Your enemies perish;

all evildoers are scattered.

 

Because of all your wisdom, I know that my rage is Your rage when faced with ignorance.  I know that Your insides burn at the prejudices against the disabled.  These sinners threaten your creations.  They call some of your greatest works deformed, crippled, worthless, even damned.  They donÕt stop with words either.  Helpless innocents have been tortured, gassed, raped, beaten, or left to wither away in institutions with only walls for companions.  Hurting a mentally disabled person is on a different level than hurting another human.  They donÕt understand what is going on and why.  Rebecca would not understand that her harmer, (O, Lord I pray with all my being You never let this type harm come to her) was pure evil.   She would not know that that person was a waste of oxygen.  She would not know that she had done nothing wrong and that this person, this terribly wicked person, had never done anything right.  Inflicting pain on this level is beyond despicable.  You understand, Lord.  I see it through Your works.  Institutions are gone.  Stigma is slowly, but surely, improving.  We sent Rebecca to schools and camps, even one that teaches her and other disabled people to ski.  These havens did not exist fifty years ago.  There is lots of work left to do, but on your earth, under your gaze and guidance, the evildoers are silenced, stopped, and their evil replaced with good. 

 

11You raise my horn high like that of a wild ox;

I am soaked in freshening oil.

 

Seeing Rebecca thrive over the years has filled me with unparalleled joy.  The first day we could put her art project on the fridge next to the masterpieces of my other three daughters, my heart swelled.  Every day that I take her bike-riding and we are met with smiles, I know that I have you to thank.  I praise you every night that she goes to sleep and wakes up, sometimes surprising us with by doing yet another thing the doctors had decreed impossible.  Every seizure has desisted, allowing her to feebly stir and smile again, because of Your watchful gaze.  I thank You for stopping the storm in her body and cultivating her mind.  I thank You for giving her the gift of life and providing us with the gift of Rebecca.  And I thank You for seeing Your enemies, flee this earth, providing Rebecca with the life she deserves.  Tonight, when her voice joined the five of ours, I felt as if I was lifted up to the heavens.  I was at the table with her, entranced by her voice, but I was also with You as we smiled down upon her.  At that moment, I felt closer to You than I had in years.   By caring for my daughter I am confident that I am carrying out mitzvoth and your divine will.

 

12I shall see the defeat of my watchful foes,

hear of the downfall of the wicked who beset me.

 

This evening, as I put Rebecca to bed, I told her why about her name.  We told the Rabbi we wanted a name from the Torah.  A good Jewish name.  We wanted a name that reflected the love my wife and I have for each other and the love we would have for our daughter.  One that would merely have to say to understand.  He looked us over and he said, Rivkah.  Rebecca.  He explained that in Hebrew, it meant to bind.  He opened a Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary and explained this definition: Rivka = "a yoke used to join two animals of the same species together, to fulfill a purpose or work together in the fields" (Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary, Even Shoshan).  Before she was diagnosed, Rebecca bound us together as any child would bind parents.  But since that first seizure, the bind has new meaning.  That day, she bound us together to Òfulfill a purposeÓ that she helped us realize.  Together, we array ourselves against RebeccaÕs, the LordÕs, and our enemies.  We have been leaders of great organizations; ones that help children with disabilities live a full life.  We have donated to worthwhile charities, all of our efforts in her and Your name, Lord.  Our three other daughters have gone, of their own volition, to volunteer with kids with disabilities, opening their hearts to kids as if they too were their siblings.  And just by showing her constant love and care, we drive away the stigma that has perpetuated for far too long.   I donÕt know how much she understood.  I can never tell what she picks up on and what she doesnÕt until she decides to show us.  But I would be a fool not to convey as of our love as possible just because she might not understand.  I would be enabling her enemies, giving their prejudice a green light.  I didnÕt realize until tonight that she had been listening to our Shabbat service every night for eighteen years.  Yet, tonight she sang with us.  So, I will told her about her name, for I believe that she was listening and understanding. 

 

13The righteous bloom like a date-palm;

they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon;

14planted in the house of the Lord,

they flourish in the courts of our God.

15In old age they still produce fruit;

they are full of sap and freshness,

16attesting that the Lord is upright,

my rock, in whom there is no wrong.

 

When I look at Rebecca, I see evidence.  She is living proof that in GodÕs world, good ultimately trumps evil.  Sometimes, the path to this is long.  But ultimately, it is there.  She, the many others with epilepsy and disabilites, and those who are committed to their cause, are all living proof.  In proverbs, the Torah claims itself to be the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life.  It is one of GodÕs gifts to us in his covenant.  The Torah is bound by history, poems, and the immortal stories of our ancestors.  It distills our entire tradition in a sacred text you can hold and read with your own eyes.  The Torah is truth, knowledge, and meaning.  Rebecca is another gift from GodÕs covenant with us.  She is another Tree of Life.  I cling to her as I cling to the Torah, renewed with hope and vigor in GodÕs perfect and Holy ways.  She is one of my reasons for getting out of bed in the morning, to wake her and seek shade in her world.  Her roots are in Judaism through her ancestors and her branches reach out with hugs to all her loved ones.  Our other daughters are Trees of Life as well, but Rebecca requires more care—more watering, more sunlight, more company.  She will continue to thrive soaking up knowledge as if it were nutrients from the ground.  And as she learns more every day, I will see her grow before me.  Like a tree, she will grow upwards, growing closer to the Lord in the Heavens every day. 



* My father has just finished putting my sister,  Rebecca, a mentally retarded twenty-five year old, to bed.  She was born healthy, but at six-months old suffered a seizure.  She was diagnosed with infantile spasms (a form of epilepsy) and has been mentally disabled ever since.  The doctorsÕ prognosis for her capabilities was weak—they predicted that she would be non-verbal and always be in diapers.  She has advanced in leaps and bounds ever since.  She will always require constant care, but has developed far past anyoneÕs expectations.  I remember one Shabbat, when she was eighteen, when for the first time she recited a few words with us as we sang hamotzi.  I imagine his thoughts as he reflects on the immense progress she has made, the love for his daughter, and the unseen rewards that come from having a mentally disabled child.