Confronting Spiritual Anxiety

L’David Hashem Ori
This past week, we experienced that annual mixture of incredulity and fright that comes
every Rosh Chodesh Elul, as the sounds of the shofar's initial salvo obliterate whatever little bit
of summer remains. s the shofar subsides, we rush to recite the passage that Cha!al have
selected for the month of Elul, "salm #$, L'David Hashem Ori. To be sure, the dominant themes
of this psalm, including the threat posed to %avid by his enemies, his need to find refuge in the
lmighty, and his longing for intimacy with &ashem, are hardly uni'ue to this particular "salm.
(hy, then, did Cha!al choose this psalm as the official "salm of the month of Elul, our month of
introspection and preparation for the &igh &olidays)
* believe that the answer to this 'uestion lies in the last two verses of the "salm, which
also happen to be the most confusing. %avid declares, 'had * not believed that * would see the
goodness of +od in the land of the living. ,earn unto &ashem, be strong and &e will embolden
your heart, and yearn unto &ashem.' t first glance, the penultimate verse appears to have been
cut off in the middle. 'uestion is posed, but there is simply no answer. '&ad * not believed that
* would see the goodness of &ashem in the land of the living,' then what)
-ysteriously, the opening word of this verse, lulei, is written with encoded dots above it,
a biblical device used to in.ect ambiguity into the text. Commenting on this special form of
biblical code, the -idrash tells us something remarkable/ 0a teaching in the name of R. ,osi/
why are there dots above the word lulei) %avid said to +od, '-aster of the 1niverse, * know that
in the future you will reward the righteous handsomely in the (orld to Come, but * do not know
whether * will be counted amongst the righteous.' 2-idrash Tehillim, 3uber edition, "salm #$4
Cha!al are teaching us that whilst %avid appeared to have been spiritually confident, he
was actually profoundly anxious. %avid, in a moment of confidence, begins to write that what
gives him strength is a belief that he will be counted amongst the righteous, such that he will 'see
the goodness of +od in the land of the living.' Right then, he wonders, am * truly a righteous
person) &is doubt stops him mid5sentence.
,et, that is not where the "salm ends. %espite all of the misgivings that %avid has
regarding his own religious integrity, %avid refuses to give up on himself. &e cries out, 'yearn
unto &ashem, be strong and &e will embolden your heart, and yearn unto &ashem.' The final
passage of the "salm is a testament to %avid's conviction that whatever his failings may be, that
if he yearns for &ashem, that he will find &im. nd if, for whatever reason, that first yearning
falls short, %avid knows what his response will be, as the psalm concludes, he will yearn unto
&ashem once more.
To my mind, these last two verses encapsulate the very essence of our experience of the
month of Elul. (ho amongst us cannot identify with %avid's sense of self5doubt, of 'uestioning
our own righteousness) 6ike %avid, even as we try to think confidently about our prospects for
spiritual restoration and rehabilitation, we stop dead in our tracks, unable to complete the
proverbial sentence. *t is to address this anxiety that Cha!al prescribed L'David Hashem Ori
every morning and evening of the month of Elul, as nothing short of a mantra. 7or, we must find
the strength to conclude as %avid himself did, by believing enough in our own moral and
spiritual potential to 'yearn unto &ashem,' whatever lingering doubts about ourselves we may
harbor. (e do so confident that &e to whom we strive will meet us halfway, hand extended, and
'embolden our hearts,' so that we may embark on a path of meaningful teshuvah.