Paris, Peace, and War (Psalm 120)


Today’s Torah reading in the synagogue was parshat Toldot from Genesis.  It’s theme was enmity. It includes the shepherd war between Isaac and the Philistines of Gerar alongside the more famous enmity between Jacob and Esau.

Instead of prayers for Israel and the United States, in synagogue this week we read Psalm 120 to mark the frightening and painful events in Paris.

I don’t know how others absorbed the invocation of peace in this bitter psalm. For me it spoke not just to the act of terror. It called to mind all those treacherous tongues who hate peace.

On the one side, there are the apologetic tongues from the left who would and will either whitewash the problem of religious violence in the Muslim world even as they celebrate and promote the culture of “resistance.”

On the other side, there are those xenophobic tongues from the right who would and will use that violence to promote a sharper, more violent clash of civilizations against some monolithic Islam.

Here’s the 1985 Jewish Publication Society translation:

A song of ascent.

In my distress I called to the Lord

and he answered me.

O Lord, save me from treacherous lips from a deceitful tongue.

What can you profit,

what can you gain, 

O deceitful tongue?

A warrior’s sharp arrows,

with hot coals of broom-wood.

Woe is me, that live with Meswcheh

that I dwell among the clans of Kedar.

Too long have I dwelt with those who hate peace.

I am all peace,

but when I speak

they are for war.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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