How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word. — Psalm 119: 9
One evening a Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle going on inside him: “My son, it is between two wolves. One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it and asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee replied, “The one that I feed.”
Psalm 119 is unique among the book of Psalms. Like some other psalms it follows the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet, but unlike any other psalms, King David pens eight verses for every one of the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
Whenever this acrostic structure is used, it’s a sign that the psalmist wants it to be all-encompassing. For example, Psalm 145 follows the alphabetical structure and is a song of praise. In that case, the psalmist wanted to praise God in every way possible – from A to Z. Our psalm is a request and a prayer. The psalmist is asking for help in pursuing a life of goodness, free from sin. In following the alphabetical structure, times eight, David is expressing his overwhelming desire to serve God in every way possible and not be led astray.
Like the old Cherokee in the story, and like all of us, David had a battle raging inside of him. He asked, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” In other words, how can we guarantee that the good wolf will win? In the tug-of-war within every human being, how can we change the odds in favor of good and less in favor of evil?
The answer is: “By living according to your word.” By nourishing our souls with the words of the Bible, we dramatically increase the odds of our good side dominating our lives.
For the remainder of the psalm, David poured out his heart, asking God to help him learn the Bible and to keep its laws. He committed himself to “meditate on your precepts and consider your ways” (v.15) and he begged, “strengthen me according to your word” (v. 28). David knew that with effort and God’s help, he would be able to feed his soul what it needed to fight the battles of life.
If King David placed so much value on learning God’s Word, we should value it no less! Let us learn from David’s example and set aside time to study our Bibles as often as we can. This is the soul food that our beings require – to live, to thrive, and to overcome evil.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President