Faith and Doubt in Psalm 27

Sept. 6 2018

In many Jewish communities, the 27th psalm, which begins with the words “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?,” is read daily in the month before Rosh Hashanah and continues to be read until the end of Sukkot. It opens, as some modern commentators have noted, with expressions of the speaker’s unshakable faith in God and the confidence it gives him. A few verses later it abruptly changes tone, while switching from referring to God in the third person to addressing Him directly, as the speaker pleads that God not abandon him. The final verses return to expressions of faith, but this time in a hopeful—albeit not confident—key. Benjamin Sommer tries to make sense of this progression:

The movement from faith to doubt is the opposite of what many readers might have expected of a religious text. Our worshiper does not grow into a more conventional piety over the course of the psalm, casting aside doubts to take up the armor of faith. Rather, the worshiper sets aside a seemingly ideal faith to take on a more realistic one. . . . While the faith of [this] section seems on the surface to be stronger, the truth is that in that section, the worshiper speaks of God—always in the third person—as something he knows about, but not someone Whom he knows. . . .

It is precisely when the worshiper first speaks directly to God that doubt becomes prominent. God is no longer something the worshiper claims to know all about; now God is a partner (though of course the senior partner) in a relationship, and relationships are slippery and unknowable in a way that does not conform to the simplistic faith of the first stanza. . . .

The direction of the psalm’s movement is crucial, because it models the maturing of an authentic relationship with God. A simple faith that asks no questions and admits no anxieties is not the most religious faith. . . . A faith that allows no doubt is hubris: when it claims to know for sure what God will and will not do, it denies God’s freedom and invests far too much in the believer’s impregnable security. . . . The wavering faith of Psalm 27 is humbler and more honest. It . . . is realistic about the fact that God seems absent at times.

This form of faith is quintessentially Jewish in ending neither with fear nor with complete confidence but with hope. Its final verse, [“Put your hope in the Lord! Be strong and courageous, and put your hope in the Lord.”], recalls the Pentateuch, which does not conclude with entry into the Land of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises but the death of Moses. It is significant . . . that the Torah ends on a note of hope rather than fulfillment. That tendency made it natural that the anthem of the Zionist movement and later of the state of Israel is ha-Tikvah, “The Hope.” Hope rather than perfect confidence characterizes the most mature Jewish faith.


More about: Faith, Hatikvah, Hebrew Bible, High Holidays, Psalms, Religion & Holidays

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada