“The essence of trust is that the trusting person will possess inner tranquillity, and that his heart should rely confidently on He in whom he places his trust, that everything He does for him in that regard will be good and correct.”
This is a key principle — a Jew should live with calm and tranquility, stemming from his trust that everything that every happens to him is all from G-d, Who only wants what is best for him.
A tangible example to this can be seen in David Hamelech’s (King David) wonderful attitude towards his own life’s suffering, portrayed in his famous psalm (Tehillim 23), said customarily every Shabbos: “Mizmor L’David, Hashem roi lo echsor…” — A Song of David. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
A zemer is far more powerful than a shir. A shir — a song — is sung by all, and anyone can join in. But the zemer — a tune — emanates straight from the heart, and its roots go far deeper. King David breaks out in Zemer – “Mizmor l’David”.
What has happened? What is the cause of his ecstasy? We see from the words of the psalm, that David Hamelech didn’t compose it when he was king, but long before that, while still being pursued by Shaul. As he says there: “Gam ki elech begei tzalmaves…” — even when I walk in the valley of darkness…
David, the fugitive, explains: “Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not lack” — because Hashem is my shepherd, and I am like a simple sheep who has no opinion of its own, clearly — I shall not lack for anything. For I know with a certainty how this “Shepherd” behaves. “Bineos deshe yarbitzeini…” He causes me to lie down in green pastures – the word Yarbitzeini is derived from the word revitzah — to recline — He shall put His sheep out to lie down in the best possible area, where there are grassy meadows. “Al mei menuchot yenhaleini…” — He leads me besides still waters… — He shall bring me to places where the clearest, purest waters spring forth.
“Nafshi yeshovev” — He restores my soul — A restored soul is a happy, carefree soul, to the extent that it breaks into dance from within. “Yancheini bemaaglei tzedek” — he leads me through (circular) paths of righteousness — all the circles, all the twists and turns we are led through during our lifetime, they are all paths of justice paved according to what is correct and good for me. And they are all acts of kindness on my behalf, “leman shemo” — For His name’s sake — even if I am underserving of such bountiful goodness.
And then Dovid Hamelech continues to describe harder periods: “Gam ki elech begei tzalmaves” — even when I walk in the valley of darkness, akin to a grave, with the danger of death hanging over my head, “lo ira ra!” — I shall fear no evil! — I am not fearful that evil shall befall me. Shaul Hamelech, with his army, is running after David and seeking to kill him. David is fleeing for his very life, traversing mountains and valleys, in flight by day and by night. What a frightful experience! And it is of this period in time that David Hamelech says: “Even should I walk through the valley of death I shall not fear evil” — even during these difficult times, I am not scared.
Why is this? “Ki atah imadi” — For You are with me. “Shivtecha umishantecha hema yenachamuni…” — Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me. A Shevet — a rod, is a wooden stick. A Mishenet — a staff — is also made from wood. The difference between them is that the rod is used for beating, whilst the staff is used for leaning on. David Hamelech says to Hashem: The rod that you use to beat me with, and the staff that you extend for me to lean on — are both equally comforting in my eyes.
What kind of a comfort can a rod provide… a rod that beats you?
Let us imagine a flock of sheep plodding along a dirt path strewn with gravel. Suddenly, one of the sheep spots the forest in the distance. He knows there is plenty of green grass in the forest, and having had enough of the gravel, he strays from the path and takes off towards the forest to satisfy his hunger with fresh, succulent, soft grass. The shepherd spots the deserting sheep from the corner of his eye, and realizes that he is heading for the forest where he may be devoured by wild beasts! He immediately beats the sheep back into place with his rod. The sheep bleats irritably, but — left with no choice — he returns to the flock.
What does the sheep feel in that moment? Where he to be able to voice his own opinion, what would he say?
He would probably complain: “This shepherd is annoying. All I want is to nibble grass, what does he want from me? Why is he beating me?” And were he to possess an intellect, he would also understand that the forest he so yearns to reach, is full of savage beasts, wild wolves and lions, ready to devour him in an instant. If he would own that level of comprehension he would thank the shepherd for the beating he had lovingly given him in order to bring him back to the path.
This is why David Hamelech says: “Your rod and Your staff”. Even the beatings you give me — “They comfort me”, for they give me to understand that there is Someone Who cares for me, Someone Who has my back at all times, even though I don’t always recognize, the moment it happens, what kind of good that beating delivers.
Adapted from ‘Man and His Universe’ by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Coming to you soon in English