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PRONOUN TROUBLE

 

I have chosen the word “responsibilities” to translate the Hebrew piqqudim.   It's a good translation, but it does set us up for a little bit of “pronoun trouble.”

 

Psalm 119 typically affixes a second person pronoun to the Torah words, as befits the nature of the psalm as a prayer, as a dialogue with God. Thus the Torah is never just “the Torah” but “your Torah,” the statutes are “your statutes,” etc. In every case, the pronoun identifies God as the source and giver of the Torah, statutes etc.

 

However, in English, when a pronoun is added to the word “responsibility,” it never indicates the source or giver of the responsibility, but always the one who is supposed to carry it out. Hence I translate not “I get understanding from your responsibilities (which would indicate responsibilities that God is supposed to perform)” but “I get understanding from my responsibilities (which indicates what the psalmist is supposed to perform).”  

 

Despite this "pronoun trouble" I've gone ahead and used the word "responsibility" because it conveys the root idea of a particular charge or trust given to us far better than the usual translation “precepts.”  I also like the way it reveals Torah working on a social level and through our conscience.  Of course, throughout the psalm it is assumed that these responsibilities have their origin in God, and hence have the highest possible claim on us.   

 

 

PSALM 119

 

Psalm 119 is unique in the Bible for the way it rings the changes on the reality of Torah.  It is an eightfold alphabetic acrostic:  the first 8 lines all start with the letter aleph, the next 8 lines with bet, and so on through the entire Hebrew alphabet.  

 

Further, each line uses one of 8 synonyms for Torah, and these synonyms will serve as guideposts for our study during the Omer.  During the first week, we'll reflect on verses that use the word Torah itself; the following weeks will be devoted to different synonyms.

 

THE OMER

 

Like many Jewish holidays, the original significance of the Omer period was agricultural. On the day after Passover, an offering of barley, called the Omer, was brought to the Temple, and from there we were commanded to count an interval of 49 days until the wheat harvest. The count is still observed, although the offering has ceased. One counts the Omer by reciting aloud a simple blessing and enumerating the day. But more can be involved: Jews over the years have come to use this period for study and reflection.

 

The days of the Omer fall between Passover (which commemorates our deliverance from Egypt) and Shavuot, (which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai). Passover celebrates freedom from slavery, freedom from an unjust social order masquerading as God, freedom from “Mitzrayim,” the narrow place that has become too cramped for us. But freedom from is incomplete without freedom for, represented at the end of the journey of the Omer by the giving of Torah, the encounter at Sinai, the revelation of sacred responsibilities.