A Jewish legend tells of a rabbi and a soap maker. They were walking together and talking about their favorite biblical verses.
The soap maker turned to the rabbi asked, “Rabbi, we’ve had religion for so long. But everywhere you look you see war, famines, anger and hatred. It seems to me religion hasn’t helped the world at all. What good is it?
” The rabbi paused. He thought for a moment. Then he said, “Good question. But help me understand. Do you see those children playing over there?”The rabbi pointed to a schoolyard with kids running and wrestling in the dirt and grass. “Yes,” the soapmaker replied. “Well, look at how dirty they are,” the rabbi said. “They are covered in mud. We have had soap for thousands of years. Yet those are children are still dirty. What good is it?”
The soap maker laughed and answered, “But rabbi, of course you understand. Soap does not work unless you use it.” “Ah,” said the rabbi, “The same is true with faith. It only works if you use it.”
How wise! Religion works if we use it. And we only use it with it is part of our hearts and souls, our very being. It is said of the great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that he did not only speak the words of the Bible. The Bible spoke through him.
Does the Bible speak through you? I try to let it speak through me. These are seven biblical verses etched on my heart. They are from the Old Testament, which is my specialty. I imagine you have other biblical verses you would add. Let me know in the comments below.
1. “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) “Do not fear” is one of the most repeated verses in the Old Testament. God knows how prone we are to fear-mongers. God reminds us to replace that fear with hope. A great eighteenth-century rabbi took inspiration from this verse when he wrote, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the most important part is not to be afraid.”
2. “I have set God always before me.” (Psalms 16:8)
This simple verse captures so much. God is not out there. God is in here, always.
3. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms 23:6) This verse has comforted people for generations. God surrounds us with love. The door to God’s home is never locked. It always welcomes us.
4. “What does God require of thee? Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God.” (Micah 6:8) This verse was etched on the pulpit of the synagogue where I was raised. It sums up the requirements of a life lived in God’s presence. It is an eternal challenge to our human tendency towards selfishness and vengeance.
5. “I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance befall us all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
That last sentence always gets me. Time and chance befall us all. The most frequent question I get as a rabbi is a variation on “why do bad things happen to good people?” This verse gives us one powerful answer. We are human. We are subject to forces—time and chance—we do not control.
6. “Worship God in joy” (Psalms 100:2) For my fifth anniversary at the synagogue I serve, they commissioned a piece of music. They asked me to choose a biblical verse for it. I chose this one. I believe faith helps us live a happier life. It is not only about truth. It is about living with joy, meaning, and purpose.
7. “Teach us, Oh God, to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalms 90:12) Judaism is a religion of time more than space. We sanctify times like the Sabbath and the holidays.
Without faith, time is neutral. We all have it. But through faith and rituals, we make time holy. We bring meaning to it. We build a heart of wisdom.
Just think of this simple example: For billions of people, the Sabbath is just another day of the week. But for those who pray and observe it, the Sabbath is an oasis in time, a taste of heaven. By counting our days, we make each day count.
What biblical verses would you add?