Psalm 23: A Psalm to Inspire and Support Social Justice Activists

PSALMS HAVE A unique place in Jewish tradition. They are used to comfort us in a variety of situations, including when sick and at funerals. A different psalm is recited each day of the week to add to our prayer and experience of the flow of the week, and they are used to inspire us. Yet one area where psalms have not been traditionally used is in the area of social justice, which is surprising given the fact that Jewish theology and the Torah are filled with ethical teachings and lessons on the need to stand up to the powerful and to empire, that the world can be fundamentally transformed (i.e., that slaves can be freed), and that God calls for your participation in changing and transforming the world and freeing yourself and others. I embarked on a project to work with one psalm and explore how to translate that psalm in a way that can be used by social justice activists to inspire them in their work. It is my hope that this psalm can be used at marches, protests, and meetings to provide a meaningful and spiritually connected context to our work. Let’s explore a new translation of Psalm 23.

The Tibetan unrest, 2008 Adam Jones, Ph.D. | Global Photo Archive | Flickr

Psalm 23

A Messianic psalm

  1. YHVH, the Loving Transformative Power of the Universe, is my shepherd—my guardian

    I shall not want

  2. Its energy causes me to lie down in green pastures, out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

    Guiding me to restful waters

  3. Its compassion renews my soul’s life

    Its call for righteousness encircles me and guides me on pathways of justice to what ought to be

    For the sake of Transformation

  4. Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death

    I fear no evil for You are with me

    Your rod and Your staff—like a grounding stick—they comfort me and give me strength

  5. You spread before me a table in front of my enemies—those I’m bound up with—so we can break bread together

    You anoint my head with oil, comforting me

    My cup overflows

  6. Let only that which is life giving and loving kindness pursue me

    All the days of my life

    And I shall dwell in the house of YHVH

    for many long years

How might activists use this Psalm to nurture and comfort them in times of fear and challenges? How might it empower and inspire them to continue on the long path of working for a just world? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love,” and in his book, God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel argues that God is seeking man’s participation in the world to bring about tikkun olam (the healing, repair and transformation of the world). How might Psalm 23 help those who are partnering with God on this moral path towards justice, to tikkun olam? And are there aspects of this psalm that remind us of teachings from other traditions that can strengthen our interfaith work for social justice?

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Source Citation

Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 1: 47-51


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