During the next few weeks leading up to Israel's 60th Anniversary, I am interrupting the pattern of examining the vocabulary of the siddur to highlight aspects of our liturgy that emphasize our connection to the land. With so much misrepresentation being made about us, most especially these days by the United Methodist Church, I thought it would be valuable to illustrate for you how Israel has remained central to our aspirations from Biblical times to the present. No document is better suited than the prayer book to make the point. The selections are not in chronological order, but presented to make the point.
The excerpt for this week's consideration is from a familiar source – Psalm 128. "May God bless you from Zion, and may you see the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And may you see children's children and peace for Israel." Some years ago, those words were the lyrics to a winner of one of the popular Hassidic Song Festivals that Israel sponsored in the 1970s. But the psalm itself is part of the roster of psalms of wisdom and inspiration we read each Shabbat afternoon.
If you read the Bible faithfully (that is, from a faith perspective), the Book of Psalms is primarily under the authorship of King David, which dates this inclusion very early in our people's history. But most critical scholarship of the Bible dates this book to about 200 years before the Common Era. 2200 years is still pretty deep in our history.
What is the message of the psalm? It is that the presence of God will rest over the Holy Land – Zion, Jerusalem, Israel – and provide blessing. The Land of Israel is a place of blessing for us, and the specific blessing promoted by this psalm is one of longevity and permanence in the land itself. Of course, it is silly to speak of a modern nation-state in this context, but compared to other psalms that bemoan our exile (for example, Psalm 137), it should be obvious that the blessings flow from a land under Jewish autonomy and authority.
And in case there is any question, the central verse of the psalm, which immediately precedes our excerpt, clears it up: "This is the blessing of the one who reveres God." The reward of our faithfulness to God and God's promise is goodness, generations and peace in our homeland. The psalm that was once recited in the Temple became a part of our liturgy during the reverie of Shabbat afternoon and has been recited each week for thousands of years to remind us of the place from which our blessings emanate and how they are expressed.