Part of being a Yid means hearing what is said, accepting and learning from what is heard. The Sfas Emes pointed out this lesson from the fact that the ear of the eved Ivri, the Jewish slave, was pierced if he refused to go free after six years. Our Sages tell us that the ear was pierced because even though the Jewish slave heard Hashem proclaim, “They are My servants,” on Mount Sinai, he opted to stay in servitude to a human. Thus it is considered as if the ear failed in its purpose.
But isn’t the ear just a vehicle that transfers information to one’s mind? asks the Sfas Emes. Shouldn’t we somehow mark the heart or the mind instead? In answer, he explains that people hear a lot of things, but if they don’t absorb their true intent, it is as if the lessons remain stuffed in the ear, never really entering the listener’s mind.
I well remember the pithy Yiddish saying, Eir hert, uber eir dehert nisht, “You hear, but you don’t really hear!” There is a tremendous difference between hearing superficially and really hearing with one’s entire being.
I had the pleasure of discussing some communal matters with the esteemed Harav Daniel Levy of Zurich. He told me something that rang so true, yet can seem so far from one’s experience. He said that when he was a young man, he had heard the following line from a great exponent of mussar: “Don’t make your mistakes into a philosophy of life.”
Yidden, this is a powerful message! We see so many otherwise fine people living through terrible difficulties that are caused by their own foolishness. They take a position on a subject and make it into the paramount focus of their lives. Often, they just can’t get past this one mistake. It takes over their whole existence. Life becomes colored by this misconception, and friends and relationships stand or fall by the measure of this false impression. Life passes them by, wasted by missed opportunities, useless anger, and hurt feelings. All this pain they experience over one conceptual mistake!
Much of Tehillim was written on the background of huge and dramatic events that affected subsequent generations. Most dramatic and tragic of them all was the sad and disastrous jealousy that raged within Shaul against David. So much blood was spilled and families were ripped apart, all for the sake of one mistaken observation.
Shaul was convinced that David sought to do him harm, and from this everything else flowed. All the wars, the years of hiding, occurred because of this one delusion. It was as if Shaul was caught up in a hurricane, the winds spinning him around into darker and darker anger. At one juncture, it was within David’s power to kill his pursuer. Instead, he cut off a piece of Shaul’s cloak as proof that though he could have destroyed him, he was totally loyal to the one who had been consecrated as the king of Israel.
Imagine what went on at that moment of decision. David’s aids told him to end the strife once and for all. Slay the man and be done with it. But David decided, No. That would be an eternal mistake. People would see it as proof that King Shaul had been right all along. Instead, let me do the right thing. I will make my mark on his cloak so he will know what I could have done, and maybe, just maybe, he will be shaken from his mistaken thinking regarding me.
We must admire David’s wisdom. He saw the tragic situation for what it was: a huge mistake due to Shaul’s distorted perception of reality. Shaul was convinced of one thing, and he made everything else fit that mold. David wanted to break the cycle and destroy the faulty conception. From this noble desire came the strength and courage to act as he did.
David tells us all this in his psalms. He shares with us his feelings of fear and trepidation when acting upon his decision. Yes, even when we do the right thing, it doesn’t always mean we don’t feel frightened of its consequences. David cries out for us all and gives strength to those who seek it.
Have mercy on me, God! Have mercy on me because I placed my hope in You, and I take refuge in the shade of Your wings until the evil passes. When we are terror-stricken, we may not be able to think straight. Simple answers seem so easy, and it is tempting to just strike out blindly. But those who are connected to Hashem stop and ask for His mercy. They seek refuge close to Him, on His terms. Don’t worry, David tells us; the wickedness will pass, for it has no real basis in reality. However, the soul our eternity will be safe only if we seek Hashem’s graciousness.
I call out to the Supreme God, to God Who will bring about my complete salvation. In tense moments, when we are faced with danger, it is easy to let others push us into actions that are not in keeping with who we should be. Such action is called “shooting from the hip,” and it means just that. You act instinctively, without aiming your actions at any pure purpose. If we accept that Hashem rules this world, we will always be mindful that His will is all that we should desire, and that is our purpose in this world.
He will send them from Heaven and save me despite those who seek always to kill me selah. God will send His kindness and His truth. True deliverance is Heaven-sent. Our betrayals are made by those who are living in a world that is nothing more than a façade. Theirs is not the reality; it is a mirage caused by their own mistaken understanding. There may be those who would swallow us up in their excessive zeal to find self- justification, but kindness and truth comes from Hashem, and they are forever.
Lions surround me. I lie among violent men their teeth are a spear and arrows, and their tongues are like a sharp sword. Rashi explains that the lions mentioned are Shaul’s generals, Avner and Amasa, who were noted as lions of Torah scholarship. David was no simple fellow, nor were his enemies. But even the greatest of men can fall when their egos are involved. Once they decided that David was a wrongdoer, they were inflamed with the “righteousness” of pursuing him.
Rise up to Heaven, God. Display Your honor over the whole world. When circumstances are driven by egocentric motives, then those in the wrong consider their actions as inspired by God Himself. The words leshem Shamayim, “for the sake of Heaven,” are found on many a wrongdoer’s lips. David asks that Hashem’s honor be visible on high to all. My heart is steadfast, God; my heart is steadfast, so I will sing and praise. The hardest thing to do is to remain focused on Hashem’s will. The storm brews all around you; the waves lash at your very being. Remain steadfast, says the psalmist. Pray, concentrate, and don’t lose faith!
Rise up to Heaven, God. Display Your honor over the whole world. We can get through it all; we really can. Those who live in their mistaken script of what life is are only here in this moment. But ours is forever, in Heaven and throughout the entire existence of this world.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Torah.org.