By my reckoning, between the funerals, Shiva minyanim and Yizkor services that I have participated in during the course of my life, I have recited the 23rd Psalm 1,000 times. Then came my father’s funeral, and I was unable to say the words. This Psalm became the “official” Psalm of funerals, most likely, due to the verse “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me.” What bothered me is the opening verse: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I do want, but what I want the Lord cannot provide. The 23rd Psalm had apparently failed me. I couldn’t say it. It wasn’t true.
Upon reflection during my first day of Shiva, I came to see this Psalm in a completely new way, and I offer my interpretation to you. If these words have been written or spoken by someone previously, I do not recall, but apologize if indeed this is so. First, the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He give me repose in green meadows.
He leads me beside the still waters to revive my spirit.
He guides me on the right path, for that is His nature.
Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me.
Your staff and Your rod comfort me.
You prepare a banquet for me in the presence of my foes.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and kindness shall me my portion all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
We made the difficult decision after my father coded for a second time that this would not be what he wanted. We decided to let him go. As he coded a third time, the nurse turned off the audio on the monitor, and as my father passed, my mother, sister and I reassured him that he was safe and surrounded with love. I had the privilege of escorting my father’s soul on its’ journey back to God. He was blessed with the love of family; his cup overflowed.
I pictured my father reciting the 23rd Psalm, not me. He was grateful for the infinite love he received, confident that God was with him, and that he had nothing to fear.
May my father’s memory always be for a blessing.