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Psalm 17: Prayer Resung for the sake of Friendship [Tzedek/Justice]

Shhh. Listen. Ahhh, yes. You are just, right

now come still closer to hear the melody. Lend your ear

to this barely audible prayer, from heart to heart

that we may bypass these fallible self-serving lips

and their words, wayward and hedged.

In your presence, the need to speak and sentence flees.

You see the right through me, truly

probing my heart-and-mind, prompting me

to revisit each day in the cool, quiet clarity of the night.

Help me, friend, reseal the bonds between

divine intention and human action,

realign aspiration and articulation, deed and impact.

This is the road to justice.

It’s slow going. Together, we carry on, warily,

down circuitous pathways. Pushing forward, I pray

that today these legs will not give way, that these lips

will call out to you, connected, and unprotected

from so many unknowns, and allow the words to come:

“May a just love tip the scales. May you hear what I cannot say.

May this devotion find and fill you as the illuminated world fills the pupil,

that dark, fertile-womb-center of your eye, bat-ayin[1] bathing in blue.

May it sparkle and shine on you as sunlight dances on nearly stillwaters,[2]

revealing from below a latent beauty hiding in the folds of your magnificent wings.

Keep me there, safe, and I will keep you safe, there –

safe from self-imposed shame that serves only itself,

safe from incessant worries surrounding nefesh-soul,

safe from a fatty, false pride that obstructs the arteries of love,

safe from dry, unfounded fears that purse and parch lips meant for moist kisses.”

Still, happy carefree steps are hemmed in

by eyes askance scanning the land.

In the face of fears lying in wait like a hungry lion to tear us down,

let us wield courage like a sword! Bring the beasts to heel,

free the nefesh-soul from perceiving self as prey.

We mortals, in vain we war against our mortality.

The enemy of life is not death but delusion.

The legacy of Enduring Love is at hand,

a steadfast star shining in the north,

a limitless sustenance that satiates

the higher yearnings of this generation

and the next and the next.

Now I see you, behold your face

in the beauty of justice, just as you imagined,

waking, waking into a dream, with you.[3]

[1] This oft-cited verse is usually translated as ‘the apple of [Your] eye.’ It is certainly a term of endearment, and vulnerability, referring, I believe a fragile part of the eye (or vision/ideal) such as the pupil or cornea. The original Hebrew employs the phrase ‘daughter of eye [or wellspring]’ suggesting the image of a maiden by a well, guileless, vulnerable, and deserving of protection.

[2] Reminiscent of Psalm 23 with maag’lot and tzedek, ‘pathways’ and ‘righteousness’ and ‘shadows’

[3] As noted by Robert Alter, in “The Book of Psalms” (p. 50), the “sensual concreteness of this last clause is so striking that it lead Judah Halevi, the great medieval poet, to adopt it for a homoerotic poem in which the speaker awakes and sees his beloved friend’s face by his side.” In each of these evocative fifteen lines, the psalmist paints a moving, personal portrayal of a passionate partnership with justice – just speech, just action, and just desserts (accountability and consequences) – infused with the care, commitment, and affection of love and friendship.

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