In times of distress, people have turned to the Psalms. It’s all the truer for the Jews whose King, David, after all penned them fearing his own life as those around him conspired for his fall.
Fast forward a couple of thousand years and the pop group Boney M swayed to the reggae rhythms of a song “By the Rivers of Babylon”. Its words of course, came from psalm 137 and Jews through centuries of pain, have been encouraged to sing them as a sign of humility too.
Yet, read that psalm and its message for our politically correct world today is worrying. It speaks of a Jewish People, exiled by Babylon tormented after the destruction of their temple capital, Jerusalem. The sages say David wrote it in a vision as those events, of course, occurred well after his death.
But the worry comes at the psalm’s end. Blinded by the horrors they’d seen, it records the Jews’ absolute hatred of the Babylonian Empire. And it concludes with an ultimate wish: that the Babylonians themselves be “violated”; that Babylon’s children be “dashed against the rocks”.
Yesterday, 11 Jews were murdered in their Pittsburgh synagogue at Sabbath prayer. Its doors were open in welcome as is the norm. And today, the world’s Jewish communities are shocked, saddened and undoubtedly angry at their peace’s betrayal.
But the catch is this: Judaism is not a religion of hate. It’s a faith built on forgiveness whose holiest day, Yom Kippur, founds this mindset. Jews are required to ask God for divine forgiveness, but they must first seek forgiveness from the humans they’ve sinned against.
“By the Rivers of Babylon we wept”, is the message Psalm 137 tells of the anger among the Jews who seethed for revenge. Yet, the rabbis of the Talmud explained this psalm, not as a call for hatred rather, as a vehicle for Jews to mourn and forgive. For their tormentors would indeed suffer but it would come “self-inflicted”, at the hand of God.
So, to all Jewish people saddened and seething 24 hours after the greatest hate crime inflicted on their religion in US history, the message of Psalm 137 is simply hope.
Belief is the essence of religion.
© 2018 Adam Parker.