Our Jewish tradition has long guided us to turn to the Book of Psalms at times of challenge and at the same time to engage with these heartfelt human words on a daily basis. Each day of the week is assigned a Psalm for reading and reflection (the holy days and seasons are assigned psalms as well).
I recommend this practice—Sit quietly, take a few deep breaths, read Psalm 24 (if you have a Bible handy), read the “Reflection for Focus (Clean Hands Carry Blessings),” write for just five minutes—ask yourself, what experiences or emotions do these words evoke for me? And then sit still with just your breath or maybe repeating a few of the Hebrew words or the English phrase, “clean hands carry blessings” for five more minutes. Show yourself some compassion, and then give thanks for your hands that can carry more than you realized and these moments for reflection at a difficult time.
Clean Hands Carry Blessings
נְקִ֥י כַפַּ֗יִם וּֽבַר־לֵ֫בָ֥ב אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹא־נָשָׂ֣א לַשָּׁ֣וְא נַפְשִׁ֑י וְלֹ֖א נִשְׁבַּ֣ע לְמִרְמָֽה׃
יִשָּׂ֣א בְ֭רָכָה מֵאֵ֣ת יְהוָ֑ה וּ֝צְדָקָ֗ה מֵאֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׁעֽוֹ׃
The clean of hands and the clear of heart, those who do not say, “By my life” when they do not mean it,
who do not swear to that which is a lie.
Such ones will carry with them a blessing from God,
a blessing of justice from the God of salvation.
(Pamela Greenberg translation)
A Sunday psalm, an any-day psalm, an everyday psalm,
an all-day psalm during a pandemic.
Instruction, encouragement, inspiration,
from an ancient world to a modern time.
The earth and all its continents, the seas and all their shores,
all of us everywhere,
and each disease,
God made it all.
A miraculous universe to share,
where we are blessed
to live and learn, care and cure, to do no harm,
to do what’s right and just and fair, and prudent,
with strength and patience and dignity.
Partners with our Creator
we battle against a relentless foe,
unseen but deeply felt, both microscopic and global.
A feared enemy at the gates,
of our homes and schools and stores,
synagogues, mosques and churches–
like God it knows no borders, sees no differences.
We fight together with heads raised–not hunkered down.
Feet grounded by gravity, rooted in the enduring facts of nature,
with clean hands to carry blessings.
We wash our hands and inspect our hearts–
an opportunity, over and again, to breathe,
and recite these words, taped above the sink:
Who will stand in a holy place?
With clean hands.
With an open heart.
I can carry blessing from God
deliver justice for all people.
Like God I am strong.
With God I can open gates of healing and hope.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ ר֣וּחַ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו
וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheynu Ruach HaOlam
asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al netilat yadaim.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Breath of the Universe,
for giving us the sacred opportunity to lift up our hands toward blessing.
This heart, these hands, my Breath can open healing gates for Holiness to enter.
Note: 1. In Jewish tradition, Psalm 24 is recited each Sunday as part of the daily liturgy. 2. The blessing for washing hands (adapted) is traditionally recited before eating a meal that includes bread. It originates in the Mishna (Yadaim), and the rabbis crafted the practice and the blessing by expanding on Exodus 40:30-32 and Leviticus 15:11.
For a full version of Psalm 24 and other Psalms, see Songs Ascending: The Book of Psalms in a New Translation, by Rabbi Richard Levy, CCAR Press, 2017, also available as an ebook.)
Rabbi Debra J. Robbins is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas Texas and author of the recently published book, Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, published by CCAR Press 2019, also available as an ebook.