“Tremble, and sin not.”
- Psalm 4:5, JPS 1917 Tanach
shaping the new – 4
Kitvei Kodesh (Holy Scripture) instructs; it contains guidance for all of life’s challenges. A simple verse may enclose an important life lesson: “tremble, and do not sin” (Psalm 4:5, JPS). Yet, what exactly does this mean? How is the word, tremble being used? It is necessary to go to the original Hebrew. The word, tremble is a translation of the Hebrew word ragaz. The word can also imply anger, fear, and even joy. Consider the following: “And this city shall be to Me for a name of joy, for a praise and for a glory, before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them, and shall fear and tremble [ragaz] for all the good and for all the peace that I procure unto it” (Jeremiah 33:9, JPS).
Perhaps, there is some connection amongst the visceral experience of these three emotions. A slight trembling in the chest is often associated with anger; a sort of precurser to the anger. Also, it could be said of fear as well; I’m thinking of the common phrase, “to tremble with fear.” To tremble with joy seems less common; yet, trembling is associated with joy as well, as mentioned in the above verse (Jeremiah 33:9).
Now, that I have made inclusive these three emotions as variant meanings of “ragaz,” let’s move on to the second part of the verse, “and sin not.” In other words, the pasuk (verse) is saying that it is o.k. to feel angry, yet, it is not permitted to act on that anger in an inappropriate manner. The same would apply to fear; that to become too fearful could lead to sin. Not as apparent would be a consideration of joy leading to sin; however, if left unchecked, an overjoyous response could lead to immoral behaviour.
The gist of the verse is that strong emotions can lead a person to become carried away by his or her feelings. Self-control is the key to establishing a boundary upon the influence of one’s own emotions; because the conscience should guide the soul, acting upon feelings that would outweigh a sense of morality would be contrary to G-d’s intentions for us as human beings. We are a speaking, thinking, reasoning creature; and, it is often necessary to transcend our emotions so that the mind will remain unclouded, and discernment unblurred. Emotional restraint should lead to self-control, and the exercise of our conscience in regard to the trying situations that test our patience in the every day challenges found in our individual lives.