My Reality is God, Not Man
King David’s Psalm 27
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Why do we read this Psalm in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanna? This can be deduced from the Rosh Hashanna prayers which focus on reality: recognizing God as creator and king of the universe. Throughout the year our desires and accomplishments, our relationships and our career advances and successes create a myopic view of ourselves. But this focus on the self, this value system of wealth and status obscures our true purpose: growing in our wisdom of God through Torah, mitzvahs and studying nature. Ultimately, our lives are in His hands, not in our hands or others. Ultimately we leave Earth. In Psalm 27, King David’s overarching theme is precisely his value of God over all human threats, but he offers keen insights.
God is my light and my help; whom should I fear? God is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread? (Psalms 27:1)
King David opens this Psalm by praising God for His mental, psychological and physical assistance, which covers all man’s faculties. “Light” is metaphoric as God provides no illumination. Rather, when one says that another provided “light,” he means that he received greater wisdom: he was imbued with proper ideas and considerations to better guide his path, as if his path was made easier through sunlight. “My help” means God literally saved King David from many precarious situations.
“Whom shall I fear” contrasts God’s omnipotence against man’s feeble attempts to harm others. King David’s mindset was unconcerned with man’s plans against him. God was his full security, his “stronghold.” And about immediate close-at-hand threats, King David felt no dread.
When evil men assail me to devour my flesh, it is they who pain and attack me who stumble and fall. Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear; should war beset me, still would I be confident (Psalms 27:2,3).
Despite a threat’s magnitude, the world operates under God’s reward and punishment. God’s providence is reality. Enemies posed to King David no doubt that his righteousness would defend him. Most people focus purely on interpersonal relations and are frightened when victimized; God is not part of the equation. While King David viewed all events as subordinate to God, and thereby he was calm in his trust of God.
One thing I ask of God, only that do I seek: to live in the house of God all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of God, to frequent His temple (Psalms 27:4).
“One thing I ask of God,” means King David valued this alone. We ask only one thing, when all else is irrelevant. Ibn Ezra says, “to gaze upon the beauty of God” refers to King David’s wish that God reveals to him the fundamentals of His actions. King David’s sole focus—“the one thing he asked”—was God’s wisdom. This is true love of God.
This attitude epitomizes what we strive for as we approach Rosh Hashanna. For all year we are misled that we must attain more than what we physically need, that we must accept society’s values of wealth and honor. We continue to deny our mortality and believe that happiness is attained as the masses erroneously fantasize. Rosh Hashanna’s prayers seek to correct our corrupt philosophy, that instead, we focus on the reality of God as creator, as ourselves as clay in His hands, and His plan for our true happiness and eternal life of our soul. This culminates on Yom Kippur’s final Neilah prayer when we say, “That we abandon the oppression of our hands.” Temporary Earthly success is not why God created us. But the world views fame and success as the ultimate good, and it’s difficult to reject the masses. Abraham is the example of a man who did just that, and opposed the world’s beliefs. He is the forerunner of Torah and the true role model for mankind. In the High Holiday prayers we refer to his perfection of sacrificing Isaac because this is the greatest degree of valuing God.
So, as we repeat Psalm 27 daily, we must take to heart King David’s prioritized value of God over man, and perhaps with its repetition, we start to release our attachment to man and live more by intellegent values than by an emotional need for peer approval. God designed us to be happier when we do so.