“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me." — Psalm 129:2
For as long as high school yearbooks have been around, there has also been the tradition of predicting classmates’ futures. Who is most likely to succeed? Who is most likely to be the next leader, or to find a cure for cancer? And as typically happens, the most popular kids warrant the greatest destinies and the less popular kids are often overlooked.
But, more often than not, that’s not how things work out. In fact, oftentimes, it’s just the opposite. Those who flourished in high school often shock us with the direction they choose in life, while others who we may not have noticed go on to succeed beyond our wildest dreams. Why? Because it’s not really how we start off in life that matters — it’s about how we finish. It’s about the choices we make and the actions we take in between.
In Psalm 129, the psalmist describes the plight of the Jewish people. Oppressed since their youth, “plowmen have plowed my back” (v.3), the Jewish people have had a history filled with tragedies, while those who oppressed them lived the good life. Yet, that’s not how the story will end. While the nations who oppressed the Jews have enjoyed their moments of fame and fortune, in this psalm we pray that they will be like “grass on the roof which withers before it can grow” (v.6) — their good fortune will be short-lived.
In contrast, while the Jews may have had a hard and tragic time throughout history, the best is yet to come. The Jewish sages connect this psalm with one several chapters earlier where we read: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5). The Jews who have weathered the storm have a bright and sunny future ahead of them.
Anyone who has tended a garden knows that weeds are easy to grow. They can spring up almost anywhere and grow big and strong very quickly. Trees, on the other hand, take time and nurturing in order to flourish. It takes years before the sprout grows into a sapling, which turns into a tree that eventually bears fruit. Yet we all know which is more valuable in the long run. No one wants a weed in their garden, and everyone wants fruit.
Each day we are given the opportunity to choose between that which is easy and fast and that which is more difficult and slow. The fast and easy track is attractive, but doesn’t bear fruit. The slow and hard track is intimidating, but has the most potential.
Let our daily prayer be that we have the courage and strength to make wise choices that sow seeds which, in time, will bear much fruit.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President