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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Psalm for Thursday: Psalm 81, verse 7

הסירותי מסבל שכמו כפיו מדוד תעברנה
I removed the burden from his shoulder; his hands were freed from the jug.

Why do the earlier verses in the psalm tell us to rejoice ?  We are not really told.  This verse provides one possible answer.  We are commanded to rejoice because God has freed him from slavery.  But who is the "him" to which the verse refers?  Most translations use the plural "they" instead.  But I want to stick with the original Hebrew

In looking at the preceding verse, perhaps this verse refers to Joseph.   God has released Joseph from being burdened and God has freed his hands from the jug.  But what does this mean?  Joseph had not been enslaved for years!

Perhaps, the burden that was removed from Joseph was the burden of his ego.  We know from the narrative in Genesis that Joseph was indeed an egotistical young man, thanks in part to his father's preferential treatment.

After everything that Joseph went following being sold into slavery by his brothers, the culmination of the narrative takes place when he finally arrives at the moment when he reveals himself to his brothers after seeing their compassion (see commentary on verse 6).  When he reveals his true self to his brothers it is as if the burden of the ego that sought revenge all those years was lifted from his shoulders.  No wonder verse 5 speaks of God as the "God of Jacob".  For the burden of ego that was lifted from Joseph's shoulder was, in part, placed there by his father Jacob. It was Jacob's unique legacy to his favorite son.

But what of the second half of the verse? The Hebrew word dood דוד found in the verse can refer to any container used to carry water, grain, etc.  Therefore, it seen by many as representing servitude.  And yet, as I wrote above, Joseph had not been a slave or a servant for years. On the contrary, he was second in command to Pharaoh.  Joseph's primary duty was to distribute the food to those who were starving during the years of famine.  But even this righteous an act could have been one of ego and hubris (though the Torah does not point in this direction).  For we all know that there are those who perform righteous deeds because they are righteous and those who perform them in order to receive praise.

Perhaps when the burden of ego was removed from Joseph's shoulders he was also able to become more selfless in his other actions.  Therefore, it was as if his hands were symbolically removed from the vessels used to distribute or carry the food to those who were hungry.  The verb ta'avorna  תעברנה ,from the verb for "to pass", implies that someone literally took the hands and moved them away from the jug or container.  Who removed his hands, in this case, was God.  And God did this so that Joseph would realize that it was God that was holding the jug, it was God that was the source of the abundance, all along.  Hence, Joseph tells his brothers that their selling him to slavery and everything else that occurred subsequently was all part of God's plan.

And so, this verse teaches that the celebration described earlier in the psalm was the celebration of the removal of the burden of the ego and the recognition that all the goodness, all the gifts, all the talents that we possess are from God.  And those are certainly worth celebrating every day.  We simply must be aware and help others to become aware as well.

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