“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I .” (Psalm 61,verse 3)
Since I was ten years old, Psalm 61 has been a favorite of mine.
In those days we read a Psalm each morning in public school. I am glad that practice is now unconstitutional, but I am also glad the experience taught me the beauty of our people’s first prayer book.
Today, one of the mainstays of my personal spiritual practice is to study a Psalm each (well almost each), morning. I move progressively through the book’s 150 chapters from day to day. Sometimes I spend two or three days on a given Psalm if the Hebrew is difficult or I want to ponder it further.
Since I retired as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, I have been making my way through the Book of Psalms and starting over when I finish
When I was a ten-year-old camper at the New Jersey YMCA Camp Minnisink, we had Cabin Prayers every night before lights out. Our counselors or one of the campers would lead the prayer, saying anything he wished. I really admired our bunk’s senior counselor. His name was Ray. But through the summer, Ray never led the cabin prayers … until the very last night of camp.
Then he explained he would read his favorite prayer, Psalm 61.
When, in front of the whole congregation at my Bar Mitzvah three years later, Rabbi Avraham Soltes asked me what my favorite Psalm was, I answered, Psalm 61. Then he asked me to quote it from memory, and I did.
Because it has remained my favorite, I think it more than a coincidence that as I face rotator cuff surgery tomorrow morning, Psalm 61 has come up once again in my rotation.
My favorite line is:
B’tzar ya-room mi-meni tan-cheri – Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61, verse 3).
When I was ten, the main reason I liked Psalm 61 was because the counselor who I looked up to liked it. Now it speaks to my heart, especially the prayer of verse 3.
To me it expresses the hope that if I try my best to do what is just and right, God will lead me to a higher level of ability to do just that.
As I face surgery tomorrow, I pray, perhaps selfishly, as the Psalm begins:
“Hear my cry, O God, attend unto my prayer.”
- Let this surgery be successful.
- Let me be pain free
- Let me rehab successfully and return to the tennis court
- But most important, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Let me continue to learn, grow, serve our people and do what little I can to make a more just caring and compassionate society on earth.
If each of us strives — in whatever way our talents and interests dictate –- toward that goal, we will have a better world.
And, “Make a better world, ” has been, I believe God’s most important charge to all of us since the time of creation.