Psalm 94

Moral outrage is Divine. Psalm 94 calls on God of Vengeances. We rightly tend to view vengeance as a lower emotion, usually self-servingly and unproductively hurtful. And yet, context matters: evil justifies Divine judgment. The evil-doers in this Psalm speak falsehoods and glorify themselves (verse 4); crush and even murder the weak (verses 5-6); and assert that there is no God who watches or cares about their conduct (verse 7). The moral outrage then shifts to a description of God’s benefit for the righteous, “With so many of my upsets within me, Your comforting soothes my spirit.” (verse 19).

The Talmud designated reading Psalm 94 each Wednesday. In my Psalm study, I have consistently found that the middle phrase is a core teaching. Here at the center of our week is a prayer-poem positing that God cares deeply about injustice and will respond to the call to punish those who engage in immorality. By extension, human responsibility entails partnering in justice-making.

A Jewishly learned person once said to me that she skips this Psalm, because she found it upsetting. No doubt, it is painful to consider evil in the world and the need for moral vengeance. Judaism offers comfort and yet has at its center the duty of addressing injustice, even when uncomfortable to do so.

The following is verse 19, with a bit of variation in the translation, set to music by Shefa Gold:

This morning’s study is dedicated to the yahrzeit of Simon Birnbaum and to his daughter, Elise Pottick.