Tonight, our Jewish brothers and sisters will gather around the Menorah to light the final candle for Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, in honor of the great miracle bestowed by God at the time of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem – a miracle that caused one cruse of oil, sufficient to light the candelabrum for only one day, to burn for eight days. I can imagine that as Jews are celebrating this particular Hanukkah, they have been holding close all those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh making this an especially tender, sorrowful, yet deeply holy and faith-filled time for bringing the eternal light into the heart of darkness.
Today, in honor of Hanukkah, I am celebrating another miracle of light arising from the Jewish tradition, this one from the shepherd boy who would become a great king, David, and remembering how that light reached across time to penetrate the unknown darkness of a modern-day shepherd boy with autism enabling him to recite the beloved Psalm 23 in David’s own language, Hebrew. This story is dedicated, in particular, to my Jewish brothers and sisters everywhere.
Truly, had I not witnessed it myself, I would have never believed it. It actually started four years ago when my grandson, Sean, was nine years old. At the time, I was immersed in Psalm 23 in Hebrew and one day was playing a recording. Right away he took to it so I recited it with him a couple of times and then he was off to do other things. A week later, without hearing the recording, he simply started reciting the full psalm again. While some of the words were slightly slurred, anyone familiar with the psalm in Hebrew would have easily recognized it. I was astonished! In the following weeks, he would extemporaneously just say the psalm for, what seemed to be, his own enjoyment.
Now, fast forward four years to just last month. Sean, my husband, my son, and I were sitting around the dinner table. We were talking about some of the speeches and addresses we’d had to memorize in school when, suddenly, I had the urge to ask, “Sean, do you remember when you could say Psalm 23 in Hebrew?
“Yes,” he said with great confidence.
“Adonai roee lo echsar…” I started. But quickly, he stopped me saying, “No, grandma.” Then, he proceeded to recite the full psalm in Hebrew without error! I am still amazed when I think about it!
Now, I am aware that those having knowledge of autism might confirm that such instances are within the behavioral spectrum, but I consider it a kind of miracle that a young boy, largely non-verbal except for short directive sentences, could hear Psalm 23, in a language not his own, and then recite it without effort or practice. There is something inherently intrinsic, even captivating, about the Hebrew language. Each letter has its own essence and purpose and seems to hold close its own song reserved only for those ready to sing aloud. When strung together into words, the soul seems to effortlessly recognize itself becoming a kind of songbird involuntarily quivering to the sweet harmonies of the creator. Sean did not learn Psalm 23. He simply listened once or twice and then, without effort, became an instrument for the sound of God. And, for those of us blessed to hear…well, we were left silent and in awe.
So, as Jews around the world conclude their celebration of the Festival of Lights tonight, I am pausing to remember the miracle of light that shown though my grandson’s strong and certain voice as he, a young shepherd boy of today, found resonance with the Mizor L’David, the psalm of David, and with that shepherd boy of long ago who would become a great king.
I am fully certain that they walk together in this valley of the shadow of death. And I trust that they will continue to be followed by goodness and mercy…
and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Here is a recording of Sean saying the Psalm. The reason I asked him at the end if he wanted to finish is because he forgot the last “…forever.” Enjoy!!