Finding Your Spiritual Center

by Rabbi Elyse Winick - Director, KOACH/College Outreach Posted on April 29, 2013
Rabbi Elyse Winick

There are moments in time in which we feel utterly alone. They may appear, unbidden and unexpected, or they may build slowly and we can see them coming towards us. They may be the product of the work of our own hands, their origin may lie at the hands of others or they may be the result of nothing at all.

Our instincts are to squirrel ourselves away, to hide from one another, even to try to hide from ourselves. And that hiding can be a place of great healing — to a point.

The psalmist knows this. Over and over his song lifts him from despair to hope:

How long will you forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Look, and hear me, O God: lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for God has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13)

It’s a remarkably short journey from the start of that psalm to its end, but if we walk step by step alongside the psalmist, we join the walk from darkness into light. For generations Jews have turned to the words of the Psalms to hear their own heartache echoed and find comfort, companionship and hope.

Because, simply put, we are not alone. In the darkest hour, when we feel most alone, support and love surround us. That’s not only about the ‘Footsteps’ poem you may have heard. The words of the psalms can be our ladder to safety, lifting us just high enough to see the hands reaching out to pull us from the abyss.

A friend once told of a Rosh Yeshiva approached for guidance towards meaningful prayer. To that student the Rosh Yeshiva said, ‘Take a single psalm, any psalm, and meditate on it. When, after days and weeks of concentrating on that psalm as part of your prayer, you feel that you have fully internalized it, move on and do the same with another, until you have filled yourself with all 150 psalms.’ On hearing this wisdom another student approached the rabbi for guidance. ‘You,’ the rabbi said, ‘you must learn all 150 psalms by heart, till you can recite them like a mantra to enrich your prayer.’

Each student walked away satisfied, on a path to greater meaning. To each the rabbi had given a personal gift, though to each he had given the gift of psalms.

150 psalms. How many moments in your life might be captured by the sentiment in one of them? How many of their melodies might lift your heart when you are feeling downtrodden? Which one will cast just the right amount of light to help you find the way out of the darkness?

May the words of our hearts and the meditations of our lips be acceptable before God and may they be the paths which help us find one another in times of need and in times of celebration.

Tamuz 5773

Denominational Judaism