War and Peace: A Meditation on Psalms 27

From the beginning of the month of Elul until the end of the festival of Sukkot, we add Psalms chapter 27 to two of our daily prayers:

A Psalm of David. God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

God is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh,

Even my adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.

Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;

Though war shall rise against me, in this will I trust.

One thing have I asked of God, that will I seek:

That I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life,

To behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His temple.[1]

The Psalms are the foundation of our prayer books. We also recite Psalms whenever the opportunity presents itself, above and beyond our regularly prescribed prayers. In the Psalms, King David gives the soul that prays to God its voice,  providing it with inspired words to connect with its source. David was not just another individual who lived in the past. He is a general, all-inclusive soul. Hence, everyone can identify with him. The Kabbalists explain that David is the archetypal soul of the sefirah of kingdom. Every person has a small kingdom in his heart, his own point of David in himself with which he or she prays and sings to God.

Warrior

In the verses above, David describes the experience of war. A camp of enemies surrounds him, they pursue him, and he is filled with trust in God. David is a “man of war.” For that reason, he did not have the merit to build the Holy Temple. True, David’s wars are just. But a man of war and an era of war are not appropriate for the Temple, which expresses world peace, therefore we need to find a more spiritual interpretation for David’s image.

In the personal-soul dimension, being a man of war means being in a constant state of internal conflict. Each and every one of us is in a constant war; the good inclination against the evil inclination, the Divine soul against the lowly, egotistic tendencies of the animal soul. If you think that all is lost, you are certainly mistaken. You are not a consummately righteous person, and you are also not a consummately evil person. In fact, you are not consummately anything. You are standing smack-dab in the middle of a battlefield. You have not yet triumphed and you have certainly not been defeated. Time and again you have to beware of the enemy. Time and again you have to smite him. You are standing in the middle—between the good and the evil.

We are all David, constantly at war and never allowing despair to creep in: “In this I will trust,” as he says. Will you have the merit to complete your mission, to see your victory with your own eyes? Not necessarily. It was King David’s son who built the Temple. But you have done your part.

Three Souls

The holy Arizal teaches that King David is part of a trio of souls that encompass all of human history: Adam, King David and the Mashiach. In Hebrew, the first letters of their names spell “Adam.” Their story is the story of all humanity.

Prior to his sin, Adam lived in the Garden of Eden. He was supposed to nurture the Garden, without being required to directly battle with evil, without the need to separate the good from the evil. The persona of the Mashiach represents a future peaceful state when “Nation shall not lift a sword upon another nation.”[2] Adam is the beginning of the story and Mashiach is the happy end. They are the bookends.

But King David senses and experiences everything that happens in the interim, in the here and now, after the rosy beginning has been forgotten and before the future, positive outcome is possible – when the redemption still seems quite distant. In the interim, between Adam and Mashiach, the world is full of machinations, plots, and wars. We have to be present and take action in this arena, without imagining that we can return to the beautiful beginning or quickly skip to the happy future.

War, however, is not the ultimate goal. King David spells it out very clearly: “One thing have I asked of God, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His temple.” True, I am currently preoccupied with war, with no illusions. But my soul remembers Adam’s Garden of Eden and senses the messianic future. Battles are sometimes necessary, but our aspiration is for personal and world peace.

Which is greater: Adam’s Garden of Eden, or Mashiach’s peace and Holy Temple?

It is very nice to live in the pre-sin Garden of Eden. It anchors us until this very day. To climb out of the depths and ascend again after a fall, however, is much, much greater. We descended into the world of struggles and clarifications. But it is a descent for the ultimate purpose of a greater ascent, which will bring us to a higher place than our starting point. The peace and serenity that follow the wars are much sweeter than the lost Garden of Eden. It is certainly worth our while to cling to King David, and descend into the battles of the present in anticipation of the promised good of the future.

 

[1]. Psalms 27:1- 4.

[2]. Isaiah 2:4.

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