Seek a New Direction
Yael Eckstein | April 11, 2021
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed. — Psalm 57:1
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.
Several years ago a man named Levi Rosenblatt was stabbed in the neck in New York City while worshiping in a synagogue. Miraculously, Levi survived what should have been a fatal attack. However, one of the most amazing aspects of the story is what was caught on video moments after the attack. As a policeman threatened Calvin Peters, the attacker, the Jews in the synagogue pleaded with the policeman not to shoot Peters, who was clearly suffering mental health issues.
They also begged Peters to put down his weapon so that he wouldn’t get shot. Unfortunately, Peters refused to comply, attempted to attack again, and he was shot and killed. But it is truly amazing that the Jewish people at the scene — who did not know if Levi would survive or not — were not intent on getting revenge. I’m sure they wanted justice, but not Calvin Peters’ destruction.
Similarly, in Psalm 57, David had the chance to kill King Saul, who was on the hunt for David. Saul had entered a cave alone, not knowing that David was hidden deep in the cave. How easy it would have been for David to kill the man who was out to kill him. But instead David prayed, “Have mercy on me.”
Seek a New Direction
David repeated this phrase twice, and the Jewish sages explain that he was asking for different things each time. The first time, David prayed for mercy so that he himself wouldn’t be killed. The second time, David prayed that he himself should not become an unnecessary killer. He didn’t want Saul to die; he just wanted Saul to leave him alone. Instead, David cut a piece off of Saul’s cloak. He later presented it to Saul hoping to gain Saul’s trust and end the animosity. David sought a new direction in his relationship with Saul, rather than seeking Saul’s destruction.
We learn from David how important it is to make a distinction between a person and their actions. Whenever possible, we should try to preserve the person, but change their actions. This is especially true with children, who are still figuring out how to behave in the world. Too many times, instead of redirecting a child’s behavior, we “destroy” the child. It happens with adults, too; we can destroy a person emotionally or spiritually, when really what that person needs is a gentle nudge to seek a new direction.
Next time you find yourself in a conflict, remember to focus on a new direction, not on destruction. Aim to eliminate the inappropriate behavior, while preserving the person’s dignity. A gentle voice is more readily heard and accepted than a harsh tone ever is.