Harold Kushner is Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts. He is best known as the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, an international bestseller first published in 1981. It has been translated into 14 languages and was selected by members of the Book-of-the-Month Club as one of the 10 most influential books of recent years. Given Kushner's knack for guiding people through suffering and loss, grief, guilt, and crises of faith, it is only natural that he would eventually write a book on the Twenty-third Psalm, which is one of the most popular and cherished chapters in the Bible.
Kushner admits that he has been drawn to this Psalm throughout his entire life as a student of the Bible, a pastor, a husband, a father, and a child of aging parents. He views it as a beautiful literary creation that conveys the distilled wisdom of generations. The author of this psalm gives us an entire theology: "He teaches us to look at the world and see it as God would have us see it. If we are anxious, the psalm gives us courage and we overcome our fears. If we are grieving, it offers comfort and we find our way through the valley of the shadow. If our lives are embittered by unpleasant people, it teaches us how to deal with them. If the world threatens to wear us down, the psalm guides us to replenish our souls. If we are obsessed with what we lack, it teaches us gratitude for what we have. And most of all, if we feel alone and adrift in a friendless world, it offers us the priceless assurance that 'Thou art with me.' "
After probing this psalm for more than 40 years. Kushner offers fresh and thought-provoking interpretations of each line, shedding light on the past and the exigencies of the present moment. Although the entire passage comes to only 57 words in Hebrew and just about twice that number in English translation, there is much to ponder here. For example, in his explanation of "He Restores My Soul," Kushner writes: "Where do people get the strength to be so caring, so compassionate, so human in the best sense of the word, if not from a God who renews their strength, who restores their soul when they have depleted their soul, so they can do what they know is the right thing, even if it is a difficult thing, to do? If depression is the 'dark night of the soul,' God is the magnetic force that guides people through the dark night and brings them into a brighter world."
Throughout this devotional work, the author reveals how God is a very present help in times of suffering, pain, loss, and grief. The goodness and mercy of the Holy One is there not to take away trouble but to help us bear it, and perhaps even to allow us to grow into more loving and humane persons as a result of it.
Whether explaining the multiple meanings of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, the significance of God anointing us, or the gratitude inherent in the lines "my cup runneth over," Kushner expands our appreciation of the Twenty-third Psalm. This is a nurturing book that will bring comfort to those who are grieving and peace to those who are caught in the vise of constant fear.