Adon Olam: God is with me, I will not fear.

12 11 2008

הוּא אֱלִי וְחַי גּוֹאֲלִי
He is my God and my redeemer.

Every day that is not the absolute pits, God merits the moniker of “my redeemer.” On my better days, I think that God has actually permanently redeemed me from the depression that grips my soul. On worse days, I hope for the day that God will have redeemed me. In any case, redeemer or not, he is אֱלִי, my God, the only God I could ever believe in.

מְנַת כּוֹסִי בְּיּוֹם אֶקְרָא.
He is the portion of my cup on the day that I call out.

I don’t know about the first part here, but I love prayer imagery about calling out to God.

Another favorite piece from the prayer service on this theme is Psalms 145:18, where it says “God is close to all who call out to Him, to all who call him in truth.” I like the emphasis on the calling out rather than the answers from God, since we all know that we call out more than God answers. And I am okay with that, usually. I sometimes think that the calling out is what’s really important, not the answers that we do or don’t receive. That’s why I am particularly sad that I have been unable to pray on any regular basis for the past five years or so. I miss calling out to God and feeling closer to God through that regular contact.

I also like the emphasis on “calling out to God in truth” in this verse from Psalms. It doesn’t say, “Calling out to God with a minyan at the godforsaken hour of 7 am” or “Calling out to God through the formal structure of canonized prayer” or “Calling out to God through ritualized penitential prayers that are in lovely, fancy literary Hebrew from medieval Spain that I don’t understand.” It says “to all who call out to him in truth.” My truth is just as good as your truth. I believe that, and am glad to see it reflected in Psalms. This does not negate the importance of quorum-based prayer or of canonized prayer. I actually think that both of those are very important and have their roles. But not for me, not all the time. And I think we lose out when we only use those methods of calling out to God. I think we may lose out on the truth, actually, when we limit ourselves to that formalized kind of calling out to God.

בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי
Into his hand I leave my soul…

So often! We think that we have full control of our bodies, of our destinies, but anyone who has been depressed knows otherwise. Especially at the beginning, the depression seemed meaningless and random, and if I did not feel that I could entrust that God was holding my רוח, my soul, in his hand, I don’t know how I would have made it.

This image is so comforting. I am beating the crap out of my soul, my soul is being crushed, I want to disappear from this world. But, instead, I hand my soul over to God and say, “Here, you created this, you hold onto this for safekeeping until I can get my shit together.” I say, “You know what to do with this more than I do at this point.”

I also love the verb chosen here for the idea of “leaving” or “handing over”: “אַפְקִיד.”  “אַפְקִיד” has the same root as “פיקדון,” which in Jewish civil law refers to collateral, or something of value that you give to someone to hold onto when you owe them money. It can also refer to any object entrusted to someone for safekeeping—like my soul, when I am depressed. And the verb “פקד,” from the same root, means “remembered.” God remembered Sarah in her time of hardship using this very word. God will remember me, too. Eventually.

בְּעֵת אִישַׁן וְאָעִירָהּ.
At the time when I am asleep and when I am awake.

It’s easy enough to understand entrusting your soul to God while you sleep. What else are you going to do with it? Other religions share that belief with us (viz. “Now I lay me down to sleep”).

But what does it mean to entrust your soul to God “אָעִירָהּ,” when I am awake? It means that your soul is in God’s hands at all times.

You don’t need to be depressed to understand this. You just need to have lost someone in a senseless tragedy to get over the notion that you hold your soul, your well-being, in your own hands. Actually, I like to think of it as a partnership when things are going well. Letting God hold your soul “בְּיָדוֹ,” “in his hand,” without your hands being involved at all only works in a sub-optimal situation, as a last resort, when you know that you can’t trust yourself with your own soul, so you hand it off to God. That possibility always exists, and I explained above what it feels like to believe in that possibility.

But all things being equal, caring for our souls is a joint human-Divine endeavor. We entrust our souls to God and he entrusts them to us. We are responsible for our own moral well-being, but God ultimately pulls the strings and decides who will live and who will die, or, in my current mindset, who will recover from depression and who will commit suicide. Our part of the bargain is to do our best to safeguard and nurture our souls so that they can reach the full potential that God gives to each and every one of us.

This sounds a little sappy, but these kinds of beliefs provide great comfort and strength to me. And that’s why I believe in God and religion—for just those moments when it makes all the difference.

And, finally,
וְעִם רוּחִי גְּוִיָּתִי, אֲדוֹנַי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא.
When my soul is with my body, God is with me; I will not fear.

I try to embody this every waking second of my life. I struggle with fear a lot. Feeling, or trying to feel, that God is with me every second that I am alive, brings me a bit closer to overcoming that fear. I often don’t feel God’s presence. At other times, I feel it but sense that it can’t protect me against my fears. Nonetheless, sometimes it is important to say things that we don’t believe, but want to believe. Sometimes, saying something enough times can really can make it so.

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Postscript: I wrote this nearly three years ago, but it means as much to me today as it did then.