Celebrate with Trembling

Yael Eckstein  |  March 8, 2020

Man praying at a wall.

Serve the LORD with fear
    and celebrate his rule with trembling. — Psalm 2:11

In honor of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and his lifework helping Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, I offer you one of his devotional teachings from the beloved Psalms.

The Talmud, Judaism’s oral tradition that was preserved in writing, shares the following story: The guests were all gathered at the wedding of a prominent sage’s son. As the celebration got underway, some guests approached a man name Rabbi Hamnuna and asked him to sing. And so he sang: “We’re all going to die one day! We’re all going to die!”

What? Could there be a more inappropriate wedding song? What was Rabbi Hamnuna thinking?

This story is told to illustrate a verse in Psalm 2: “Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.” What does it mean to celebrate with trembling? One would think that celebration and trepidation are on opposite ends of the spectrum. What does one have to do with the other?

Our Jewish tradition explains the verse in this way — wherever there is celebration, we should infuse a healthy dose of trepidation, as in Rabbi Hamnuna’s doleful song at the wedding celebration. Or citing another example, also at a wedding, where in the midst of celebration, the bride’s father took an expensive crystal goblet and smashed it on the ground.

Certainly, that is bringing trepidation to celebration, but we still have not explained why.

The reason is because at our most joyful moments, we risk losing a proper perspective on life. As the bride and groom enjoy their wedding day, everything is perfect. They are happy and full of hope. The wedding reception is exquisite, the music is playing, there is a grand feast, and everyone is merry.

But what happens when life isn’t so picture perfect? What happens when that same couple encounters adversity? What about a day in their future when there is little money in the bank, the kids are cranky, and the house is a mess? Are they still happy then?

By infusing celebration with trepidation, the message is this: Happily ever after can only be achieved when it isn’t dependent upon outside circumstances. It’s only when we can find joy during the difficult times that we can we find true contentment in life. As most of us are well aware, life isn’t always a picnic, and the sun isn’t always shining. However, our wish for the bride and groom is that together they can weather any storm and find peace and joy in each other’s arms and in God’s loving embrace.

Friends, let’s not get caught up in the outer trappings of life. Happiness is not found in the superficial or material things that give us a temporary lift. True joy comes when you are living with a healthy dose of trepidation, but still find plenty of reasons for joyful celebration.

Your turn

This week, Jews around the world will celebrate Purim, the inspiring story of Queen Esther, who courageously stood up for her people, and in so doing, saved them. Discover how much you know about Queen Esther and Purim with our quiz.

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