As we begin the Hebrew month of Elul and begin the countdown to the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, many congregations have the custom of reciting every day that extraordinary Psalm, Chapter 27, “Ledavid Hashem ori veyishi”: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
If a person can say, with absolute feeling, “Hashem ori veyishi mimi irah,” that “G-d is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid?” then he or she will be filled with the courage and optimism of youth. And don’t we all seek that elixir of youth?
When we are young, all possibilities are open, and it is almost impossible to imagine the world without light and hope. As we say this psalm, we recapture that awe and, young or old, begin to see the world as a place of possibilities.
As the late Robert Kennedy once said, “There are people who see the world the way things are and ask, why? I see things that have not yet been and I ask, why not?”
When you have the courage of knowing that “G-d is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid?” you really can go through your day with emunah (faith in G-d) and without fear. And the world opens itself to you, so that possibilities you did not see yesterday are so obvious, it is impossible to believe you did not see them before.
It is with this attitude that we can go forth in the world and reclaim its wonder. There is nothing we cannot do! This is the new year 5778, when anything can happen! (Inspiration from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks)
King David, the author of this psalm, wrote something so beautiful in “ledavid Hashem ori veyishi” that is one of the most important lines in all of Scripture: “Ki avi veimi azavuni veHashem ya’asfeni.” David imagines G-d as parent who discerns his child favorably and sees the greatness that is possible.
Perhaps we don’t believe in ourselves. Maybe others don’t believe in us. Maybe even our parents don’t believe in us, but the Almighty always believes in us because he has given each of us the gift of life. “G-d will hold me close, gather me in.”
I’m sure you have heard the story of the diamond thief. This thief would hang around the diamond district to see who was purchasing a gem, so that later he could steal the diamond.
One day he saw a well-known diamond merchant purchase the jewel he had been waiting for all his life. It was the most beautiful, the most perfect diamond in existence. He wanted that diamond, so he followed the diamond merchant down the street and boarded the same train.
He got into the same compartment as the merchant, and he began trying to steal the diamond. He spent an entire three-day journey trying to pick the merchant’s pocket and searching the merchant’s things, but every time he tried to steal the diamond, he ended up empty-handed.
Finally, when the journey had ended, the diamond merchant got off the train. The thief, exasperated by the three days he had just wasted, confronted the merchant.
“Hey, mister!” he called after the merchant. “I am a diamond thief, the best out there. I saw you purchase a beautiful diamond, so I followed you onto the train. I used every trick in the book: I searched your things, I tried to pick all your pockets, but I couldn’t get the diamond. I just have to ask you, out of curiosity, where did you hide the diamond?”
The diamond merchant smiled. “I saw you hanging around the diamond district, and I realized you were a thief. I watched you follow me down the street and onto the train. I needed to find a place that was safe, where you wouldn’t think to look, so I hid the diamond in your pocket!”
The merchant then reached into the thief’s pocket and pulled out the diamond.
Like that diamond thief, so many of us are walking around with the precious diamond of life in our own pocket, and we never realize its value. Instead, we look with envy at those around us and wish for what they have.
This is a season of courage and emunah, of new beginnings and hope. Reach for that precious gift that G-d has given you, realize how valuable it is and make the most of it in the year to come.
On behalf of Congregation Or VeShalom, I extend to all readers a shana tova, a joyous year of health and happiness. May this be the year in which all our dreams come true for good, and peace is upon the world and Israel. Amen.
Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or VeShalom.