Thursday, August 24, 2006

אנא עבדא דקדשא בריך הוא

(אֲנִי הָעֶבֶֿדֿ שֶׁל הַקֹּדֶֿשׁ בָּרוּךְֿ הוּא)

I have some iconoclastic hippie anarchist tendencies.
I also have some deferential societal-order-upholding tendencies.

Each of these inclinations come out in different situations, sometimes individually, sometimes at the same time. But one where the iconoclastic hippie anarchist side comes to the fore is in my relationship towards God. I approach God as a child approaches a loving parent, as a student approaches a witty teacher, and as an amateur approaches a master artist. I am one of God's infinite children, approaching the Creator of Worlds.

It's the "king" and "master"/"lord" imagery I have a problem with. Of course, that kind of imagery and relationship has a very weighty history in Judaism, equal to or greater than the ones I already listed above — see the important combination Avinu Malkeinu (our Father our King), for instance, or the obligatory reading of God's Own Name, Yhvh, as Adonåi (my Master/Lord).

The mizmorim of Tehillim that we read/sing/chant/recite as Haleil include all kinds of ways to relate to God, from Effector of the American Dream, the One who Keeps Nature On Its Toes, and our Living Protector and Benefactor.

Then we get to mizmor 116.
Pasuq 16 says:

אָנָּה ה
כִּי אֲנִי עַבְדֶּךָ
אֲנִי עַבְדְּךָ בֶּן אֲמָתֶךָ
פִּתַּחְתָּ לְמוֹסֵרָי

Which is usually translated something like:

Please, God,
for I am your servant;
I am your servant, son of your [female] servant—
you have opened my chains.

[i.e. we are grateful to God for releasing us from slavery]

The problem, though, is that the verb translated as "opened" or "loosened" or "set free" is ״לְפַתֵּחַ״, the pi‘eil form of the root PTĦ, which may sometimes mean "open", just like the pa‘al form ״לִפְתּוֹחַ״ — but also means to engrave, as here, here, and here.

So what it might really mean is:

Please, God,
for I am your slave;
I am your slave, son of your [female] slave —
you have engraved my chains.

Not quite as harsh as branding, but definitely a stark image of our total dependence on God, and God's total authority over us.


Blogger thanbo said...

Not having a decent Nach here, I rely on the Web for commentaries.

E.g. the comments of Radak & R' Yosef Chayoun, Salonika, 1522.

RY"Ch reads Ana with a final Aleph, in the usual sense of pleading before God (ahhaleh lephaneicha).

Radak reads it as an expression of hoda'ah, which fits a lot better than "please".

But `avduth la'Shem is often regarded as a freedom from other bondage. E.g., we were to be freed from the bondage of Egypt, to become slaves to God as our Liberator. Certainly David felt oppressed, hemmed in by enemies real and imagined (min hameitzar karati Kah), which is itself taken as an allusion to the Exodus - as R' Goldwicht says on a Pesach tape at YU Torah site. We each move, in reenacting the Exodus, from the meitzar (narrow place) in which we are forced to be, from which we pray, into the merchav, the wide space, where Hashem answers us.

So I don't see a need to go with "engraved" - the verse works on its own as an expression of deliverance from extremity.

But the "engraved" can work, if we read it metaphorically, I suppose, if we say that just as the chains of our bondage have been opened, the necessary consequence is that we become chained to God, that the shi`abud to Hashem becomes engraved, ingrained.

8/24/2006 4:25 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

I also have a problem with the "king" and "master" imagery. And the whole idea of fearing God. Maybe it's because there isn't so much direct punishment and reward in Olam Hazeh. I mean I try to obey God, but I don't fear God.

[And as a random side note- even though I grew up Reform, God was always refered to as Him, so I grew up thinking of God as male and can't really get out of that mental box. Maybe I should write a post about that...]

8/24/2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

I'm not sure how far one has to think in these master-and-servant terms literally. On the one hand, you find the concrete notion that we are here on earth in order to serve God, on the other even that might be part of the allegory. Sometimes in the world of speaking, this servant usage is obviously very weak, like in Austrian, Hungarian and Slovak servus or Italian ciao (Venetian < schiavo < sclavum) for "hi there" and "see ya".

[Concerning the side note: As I said somewhere else, in Hebrew, masculine and feminine are categories of grammatical gender, not natural sex. Same is true in French, German, Yiddish etc., so that in German "die Waise" (the orphan) is feminine, but may refer to a male orphan, and in Yiddish "dus maidl" is neutral, but refers to a female child. Not so in English since the 13th or 14th century. So in Hebrew, you have to say "he" or "she", but in English, the correct translation would be "it" when referring to God. I know there are conventional exceptions to the gender-free rule in English, like referring to ships and countries by "she", and to God by "he", but still, I seriously think I'll translate it by "it" in my editions, so's to avoid the late mistake of thinking it's an old man with a beard. I'm not even sure about capitalisation - that looks so Christian to me.]

8/25/2006 4:19 AM  
Anonymous brother kayin said...

did you translate "kudsha brich hu" as "hakodesh baruch hu" and not as "hakadosh baruch hu"?

8/25/2006 7:21 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...


The problem with using "it" is that pronoun is really alienating. "It" is very impersonal. It's hard to pray to an "It." (Maybe we should use the singular "they")

You're probably right about the capitalization, since Hebrew doesn't have capital letters.

8/25/2006 7:50 AM  
Anonymous Chanayah said...

Daat HaMikra points out in its foot note on this verse, that an alternative meaning of Pitachta, which is in the past tense, really is a bakasha asking G-d to release us from the chains that we are in right now. This fits within the greater theme of Hallel that is not just Shevach and Hodaah, but Bakasha as well. See Pesachim 117a

8/25/2006 9:44 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


First of all, using the JNUL to look that up is crazy :-D

But `avduth la'Shem is often regarded as a freedom from other bondage. E.g., we were to be freed from the bondage of Egypt, to become slaves to God as our Liberator.

Right, and reading this line either way plays into that idea; but it doesn't help my emotional aversion to the use of the term 'slavery'.
The meitzar~merhhav imagery, on the other hand, is some of my favorite.

I also like understanding of engraved = ingrained; it takes the metaphor as a metaphor without being stuck on the exact imagery the way i've been.


I don't think of יראה as "fear", but as awe. Awe doesn't mean "oh i'm scared you're gonna beat me up"; awe is the recognition of that which is overwhelmingly powerful.


There's also the Japanese first-person pronoun boku (僕) which technically means "servant". And the verb 'serve' is much more palatable to me than the noun 'slave'. Maybe it's an American history thing. Not that i'm a big fan of the verb 'serve' either, but "serving God" sounds better to me than "being God's slave".

Back to the gender God question... that keeps recurring here, for some strange reason ;-) . To English-speakers, it generally sounds disrespectful. Inanimate objects are it, animals you don't care about are itother people's babies can be it if the parents don't get offended :-P . I prefer to try and evade the problem by using "God" (reflexive form: Godself), which of course doesn't work for a direct translation of a pronoun, but it generally sounds okay to me.


Because that's what it means.

Proto-Semitic /ḳudš/
= Hebrew /ḳódɛš/
= Aramaic /ḳudš/
= Arabic /quds/, by comparison (as in Madinat Alquds, i.e. ‘Ir Haqodesh)

So Aramaic [ḳuḏš-ā] = Hebrew [ha-ḳḳóḏɛš].

Hebrew קדוש would be ״קַדִּישׁ״ in Aramaic.
Both the forms הקודש ברוך הוא and הקדוש ברוך הוא are found in Rabbinic texts.


But Singular They, being ambiguous in all forms but the reflexive ("themself"), could sound very polytheistic :-P .

Chanayah חניה?:

Thanks for the reference!

8/25/2006 12:15 PM  
Blogger Amishav said...

Maybe that isn't so bad. After a jewish slave had it pretty good- living almost as well as his master right? So if we're going to have to be a slave to someone, who better than the melek ha-olam? Eh, Steg?

8/27/2006 1:28 PM  
Blogger torahumaddachic said...

oy vey.... you know who else had this hiddush? Heshy Worsch, the BDSM hypnotic torture rabbi.

8/27/2006 3:33 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


very good point!
my instinctive distaste of the slave metaphor probably has to do with my American consciousness of slavery in the antebellum South.


really? i guess that makes sense... actually, when i thought of it that was the first thing i thought of afterwards. and then i thought "ewwww..."
i assume he spun it in a purely positive manner, as opposed to my "i think this is supposed to be positive, but it rubs me the wrong way" attitude (pun NOT intended)

8/27/2006 9:50 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...


Isn't "Elohim" plural?

8/28/2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


in form, but not in function.

I.e., you say ויאמר אלהים
not ויאמרו אלהים

In some places you can use that to tell who's a mono(theist/lator) in the Tanakh and who's a polythiest.
Compate Shelomoh and Izevel, for instance.

8/28/2006 10:37 AM  

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