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Absence and Desire: Reflections on Psalm 42 the fourth Psalm of the Tikkun HaClali

Every screaming child wants something. A bottle, a toy, a parent. Every adult wants something too, something out of reach. Who is happy in the Jewish tradition? One who is happy with her lot. But few of us are at that level of equanimity, few of us are that happy.

But more than simply wanting something, we want - by definition - something we don’t have. We humans are imperfect and every imperfection, every lack, is the source of a desire for something. Perhaps it’s a mate or a job, perhaps it’s health or a truly exquisite Lamborghini. But what we want is, by definition, something we don’t have. It can be scary to even name our desires, because acknowledging desire means acknowledging something we are missing, something that is broken.

With incredible beauty the Psalmist writes in Psalm 42, the fourth of R. Nachman's Tikkun haClali, of longing for the Holy One “the way a deer longs for water.” She longs for the Divine Presence because it is absent from her life, as it is so often absent from ours. “My soul thirsts for the living God,” she says.

In naming her desire, however, she also names a possible resolution. She lacks a certain connection to the Divine, yet she she knows that she has the capacity for that connection. She writes that “depth calls out to depth.” (42:8) In longing for the deepness of the Holy One, she recognizes her own depth. The depth she desires is also inside of her.

There are times when the things we really and truly want are not to be found inside of us – a cure, a mate, a meal. Religion fails us when it pretends there are easy ways to meet those desires - say this prayer, wear this amulet, read this book. The poetry of Psalm 42, however, is religion at its finest, acknowledging that there is no magic fix, but articulating our desires and longing with beauty, allowing us, perhaps, to seek our desires with peace, with equanimity and with grace.


Psalm 16 * Psalm 32 * Psalm 41 * Psalm 42 * Psalm 59 *

Psalm 77 * Psalm 90 * Psalm 105 * Psalm 137 * Psalm 150

Wed, June 7 2023 18 Sivan 5783