From Publishers Weekly
Many people regard the 23rd Psalm as one of the most familiar and comforting passages in the Bible. Rabbi Kushner, bestselling author of the spiritual classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People, looks to the psalm as a microcosmic statement about God-its 57 Hebrew words, he says, present "an entire theology" about life and loss. The psalm begins in a place of perfect peace-the psalmist lacks for nothing, and is tended perfectly by God the shepherd-but that peace is shattered by "the shadow of death." Going phrase by phrase through the psalm, Kushner tackles serious questions: what does it mean to lack for nothing? Where is God when we suffer? Some of his interpretations are quite fresh and interesting; for example, "the straight paths" in which God leads the psalmist are anything but straight, he claims, noting that the Hebrew is more accurately rendered "roundabout ways that end up in the right direction." Ultimately, that phrase's message is about trusting God when the way does not seem straightforward. The psalm is not Pollyannaish, but realistic: as Kushner points out, the psalmist has enemies, has known failure and has probably lost a loved one. He draws heavily on rabbinic Judaism, but also references popular culture (including Woody Allen films), Freud, Michelangelo and other diverse sources. Kushner writes well and engagingly, and his tone will make readers feel personally welcomed into the rabbi's study for a comforting one-on-one chat.
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Rabbi Kushner hasn't become any less literate since When Bad Things Happen to Good People
(1981) became so popular and beloved that its title was inducted into the American language, like Gone with the Wind
and The Making of the President
. Nor, as his explication of the most famous biblical psalm demonstrates, has he lost any of the pastoral talent that allows him to speak with cogency and comfort to Christians as well as Jews. He leads us through the famous song of consolation clause by clause, clearing up misconceptions; contrasting ancient, Renaissance, and modern understandings of terms (e.g., anoint
); adducing contemporary happenings (e.g., the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) and common feelings to show how the psalm's assertions and promises apply to our lives today; and gently, clearly disclosing systems of ethical behavior and religious faith that inform the great devotional poem. Perhaps the greatest overarching message of the psalm that Kushner wishes to inculcate is that it tells us that, though God does not prevent evil and suffering, He is always with each person who is wronged, each person who is suffering, and He will provide the resources of spirit to transcend fear and experience the ongoing holiness of life. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved