In the midnight hour, a chasid sitting in Shlomo Carlebachís parlor told his master that he just couldnít sleep. ìHey brother,î commiserated Reb Shlomo, ìthe holy King David never had a good nightís sleep in his life.
In old Jerusalem, a north wind blew through the palace window of the rebbe-king, plucking the strings of Davidís lyre as it hung by his bed, waking the son of Yishai, who wrote Psalms to the music of the breeze.
In the several millennia since, the Book of Psalms, or Tehillim as Jews call it, has been the remedy of choice to heal the bad and seal the good. But what Tevye once said while delivering milk, or by Jews in their privacy, is now being proliferated by Tehillim groups over the Internet. Can a good Jew get lost in the Internetís dark alleys of pornography and pollutants? Sure, that is why some rabbis have recently banned it.
On the other hand, one Breslover chasid, who admits he ìfablunjetî (blundered) into a red-light district on the Web, chose to use the very same Web to redeem himself. He posted Reb Nachmanís Tikkun Klali, an all-purpose remedy (particularly for sexual indiscretion): Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150 ó the next best thing to immersion in a mikveh.
The humbled chasid dedicates the Tehillim page ìto all of us who have fallen at one time or another. May we all get up and successfully become as we should be.îSome Jews recite the Psalm whose number corresponds to their next birthday, or the birthday of someone sick, or the would-have-been birthday of a loved one in the Other World. Lubavitchers recite all 150 Psalms every Shabbat Mevorchim, when the new month is blessed. Unlike a prayer service, Tehillim are often just a few sentences. You donít have to go to shul; you can say it on the subway.
There are Tehillim for the brokenhearted (34 and 147) and for a groom (19). Are you tongue-tied, or have writerís block? Psalm 45. Do you need help making a living or having a child? 128. Want to overcome an unhappy childhood? 129. Israelís chief rabbinate requested that everyone recite Tehillim 142 daily for the 13 Jews imprisoned in Iran.
Ten years ago, Suri Becher of Flatbush was doing a thorough pre-Passover cleaning ó cleaning both house and soul ó and took to wondering why the world is the way it is. Why is there so much suffering, sick children, death, loneliness? Why another seder in exile? ìItís written for us,î says Suri over the phone. ìWe donít have to be that smart. The Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinum [meaningless hatred] between Jews. With all our problems, Hashem [God] is telling us something.
Back on that Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 1990, Suri called a meeting in her living room: 25 women started saying Tehillim.The women became KEY, what is now an international group of women dedicated to promoting the love of every Jew, no questions asked. KEY (a Hebrew acronym for Kulanu Yehudim Kulanu Yachad, meaning, weíre all Jews and united) has for its motto: ìThe key to unity is in your hand, the key to the geula [redemption] is in our unity.îKEY coordinates worldwide Tehillim campaigns for Jews ó strangers in every way but their Jewish soul ó in dozens of countries. A list of people needing prayer is e-mailed to the KEY members. People e-mail back the names of those who need Tehillim said in their behalf.ìEverything that happens, thereís a reason,î says Becher. ìThe wind that blows and a leaf falls, thereís a reason. When bad things happen, Hashem is saying to us, get together! Donít you see? All the storms this winter, all the problems, itís the Leviathan [the great fish hidden until the Messiah] stirring in the sea. Analyze the world, weather, people, places, and things. You should know, if you need me, Iím there for you.îShe adds in a quiet voice, ìWhen you daven, every prayer you say, even if you think it might not be helping at the moment, its put away for you for years, even generations to come. You never know where one prayer, one word, reaches.îBy 1996, a Tehillim campaign by KEY and innumerable other womenís Tehillim groups (almost every major Jewish community seems to have one) was held on the yahrtzeit of Mother Rachel (11 Cheshvan), symbol of mercy. More than 3,500 women gathered in Jerusalem, saying Tehillim, and thousands more over the Internet.As one of KEYís leaders says, ìItís a wonderful thing to see the Internet be used for good.î KEY coordinates a Chesed List detailing acts of women around the globe who go to remarkable lengths to perform acts of grace. On the Web site, women in Brooklyn were inspired by a woman in Vienna, Elisheva Bashe bas-Chana ó paralyzed everywhere but her eyes ó who was steadily prayed for and visited in the hospital by a chesed group there. When she was transferred to an Innsbruck hospital, at the other end of Austria where there were few Jews, the Viennese sisters of mercy formed a rotating group of volunteers that traveled five hours by rail to get to her bedside.The KEY women understand that only the Messiah, not Tehillim, can be the end of death itself. Over the Internet comes the sad notice: ìBaruch Dayan HaíEmet … Blessed is the true Judge. Our dear Bashie passed away.îShortly after, a woman in Efrat, Israel places a new urgent call for Tehillim: A teenage girl has a blood clot in her heart. The name Adi Penina bat-Shifra Bracha joins the list.She joins Adir ben-Bracha, Aharon ben-Chaya, Aharon ben-Itta … Yocheved bat-Fayge Rachel, Yocheved bat-Rivka. … The names and e-mails keep coming, every name once given to a child by a parent with the sweetest of desire, now a name over the e-mail in need a prayer: A child whoís 2; a father of four with leukemia resurfacing; a girl with lupus; a child with Tay Sachs whose parents request that people daven for his comfort and to give his parents strength. Some, pained by loneliness, want prayers (and names) for a wedding match. Unemployed fathers need a job.
In a Hudson River town, one woman weíll call Rivka (who asked for anonymity as did all the women connected with KEY), recalls being stirred several years ago by the proximity of national traumas: Baruch Goldsteinís Machpela massacre; the spree of bus bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; the SCUD missiles raining from Iraq; the shooting of Ari Halberstam on the Brooklyn Bridge; a peace process heading … where?
We were just seeming very vulnerable as a people,î says Rivka. ìTefillah [prayer] seemed like the No. 1 thing to do, but also an increase of acts of chesed [kindness]. Our chesed inspires chesed from God.îOver the Internet, good news rushes in: A bridegroom, hit by a car, recovers. A woman in her 50s finds a husband. Another, infertile for years, conceives.
Rivka began hearing of women performing chesed in Cedar Falls, Iowa; Allentown, Pa; Tulsa, Okla.; Chattanooga, Tenn. Devorah in Brooklyn posts a notice that her group raised enough money for the weddings of more than 500 poor brides.ìPeople are cynical,î says Rivka, ìonly because they donít see this level of chesed going on. I almost can begin to understand how God can have such patience and love for the Jewish people. People are doing such beautiful things. Maybe itís not news or not published, but God must know about it. He must.
In the next room, all over the world, the sick fight pain and fear; parents stroke hot foreheads; the lonely plan; orphans imagine; the broken are figuring; the young worry for the old, and the old for the young. The soft breath of women whispering Tehillim moves like a Jerusalem breeze through the palace window. As the sleepless rebbe-king writes in Psalm 121, the Guardian of Israel, he ìnever slumbers or sleeps,î either.Really now, who can sleep? Jonathan Markís e-mail address is jonathan @jewishweek.orgKEYís Web site is http://www.shemayisrael. co.il/orgs/key/index.htm or they can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.