By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
King David has so many challenges and so many requests in the Book of Psalms that it is sometimes difficult to focus on the message he is trying to give over.
This morning, I was reading Psalm 40 and, being a writer, a strange scenario began playing out in my mind:
I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. I had a terrifying dream that I entered a huge hall full of people. All of us were waiting for trains to different destinations but the ticket booths were mayhem, clogged with people yelling for attention. As I struggled to find a place in line, I heard what they were yelling and it confused me.
“My daughter is sick,” one yelled. “I need to get to Schenectady.”
“I’m poor and can’t feed my family,” another yelled. “Get me to Boston.”
“My enemies are rising up against me,” a red-headed man shouted. “Take me to Jerusalem.”
I was shoved to the back of the line. Finally, in despair, I picked up my suitcase and walked to a quiet corner of the hall. A custodian who was sweeping the floor stopped and looked me up and down.
“Are you new to traveling?” he asked.
I nodded mutely, sure that I was about to become the victim of ridicule or some scam making light of my desperate predicament.
“Where are you headed and what’s your problem?” he asked.
“I don’t really know how to put it into words,” I said. “I am a Jew and I have been wandering around for so long. I want to go home but I am not really sure anymore where that is. I just want to go home.”
“So you need a ticket home?” he asked. I nodded. “I think I can help you with that. Follow me.”
He led me to a door hidden behind a column off to the side. We stepped in and I suddenly found myself standing behind the ticket agents, staring out through multiple windows at the teeming crowds of travelers. The ticket agents sat on tall chairs, scribbling away at tickets, writing personalized notes for each traveler. The line seemed to go on forever, fading into the distance. But as I looked, I realized that all of the agents were the same old man with frizzled white hair. Despite the shouting crowds, the man seemed calm and not in a rush, carefully writing out each ticket.
The custodian stopped one incarnation of the elderly ticket agent as he walked past.
“Do you think you can help my friend here?”
The elderly man smiled. “Of course,” he said. “Where are you headed?”
“He doesn’t really know,” he answered. The custodian repeated my request and the ticket agent sat down and began to write.
There are a lot of Psalms (150) and they cover a lot of ground. David must have been scribbling away night and day, wearing out a lot of quills and parchment. He lived an interesting life with a myriad of challenges.
But there is one element that is common in every single Psalm. The solution to every difficulty, the source of every joy, the creator of everything in the world, good and bad, is God. Prayers take infinite forms but the address is all the same.
Paganism had a pantheon with a different God for every need. But Abraham rejected that, smashing his father’s idols and following the one true God; the ultimate “one size fits all”.
What King David is showing us in Psalms is that since there is one God, the destination is almost irrelevant. Instead, the most important thing is the process; crying out to God.
Rabbi Meir Leibush, a 19th-century Torah commentator known as the Malbim, wrote that “those who truly love Hashem do not mind the advent of misfortune, for it provides them with an opportunity to seek out His mercy and to witness His salvation, an event that adds to God’s prestige and magnifies His name”.
Or, in the words of King David:
But let all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You; let those who are eager for Your deliverance always say, “Extolled be Hashem!” Psalms 40:17
The Talmud (Berachot 21a) writes, “Would it be that man would pray all day.” This seems difficult as I have very different needs as my busy day progresses, and this changes from day to day and year to year. But it is possible to pray all day because one thing remains constant: the address where I am sending my prayers.