From Netherworld to Dancing

 A continuation of Psalm 30
 Psalm 30, Introductory post with full translation

Psalm 30 is recited daily by observant Jews around the world in the morning prayers, right before Baruch She’amar. Ashkenazim say the complete psalm, whereas Sephardim do not say the first line, the line that speaks of dedication:
A Psalm; a Song at the Dedication of the House; of David.
However, according to the Sephardic siddur, Jews from North Africa do say that line on Chanukah, connecting the psalm with the dedication of the Temple.

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יְהוָה–הֶעֱלִיתָ מִן-שְׁאוֹל נַפְשִׁי; חִיִּיתַנִי, מיורדי- (מִיָּרְדִי-) בוֹר

O LORD, You brought me up from Sheol; preserved me from going down into the pit.

What is Sheol? The term Sheol, meaning a netherworld, a world of after life, is only found in biblical literature; however, Sarna likens it to the Greek “Hades” and to other netherworlds of the ancients. In contrast with other cultures, however, necromancy (communicating with the dead) is strictly forbidden in the Torah.

If “the pit” and Sheol are one and the same, why does the Psalm say on the one hand you have preserved me going down to the pit but at the same time saved me from Sheol? Sarna answers that Sheol is a metaphor for imminent danger. Lots of metaphors here in Psalms!

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Finally, I’d like to end this psalm study on a happy note, so I’ll quote line 12:

הָפַכְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי, לְמָחוֹל לִי

You turned my lament into dancing

I think my mother, z”l, would enjoy this one. When someone dies, we make a “hesped”. That word is found in the Hebrew for “lament”. However, we can turn around the lament into a dance, into lively living. More from Sarna: “Dance involves the rhythmic movements of the body; in fact, the stem of the Hebrew term used here means ‘to writhe, whirl’. Hence, the clause in verse 12 expresses the extraordinary change from a state of torpidity to a condition of energetic bodily vigor.”

Dancing shows up elsewhere in Psalms (149:3):

יְהַלְלוּ שְׁמוֹ בְמָחוֹל; בְּתֹף וְכִנּוֹר, יְזַמְּרוּ-לוֹ
Let them praise His name in the dance; let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp.

Worship through dance and music was clearly popular at that time.

 See all my posts on Psalms.
 See Ilana-Davita’s list of Tehillim posts

5 thoughts on “From Netherworld to Dancing

  • The part I like best in your post is that on line 12, especially after the mention of Sheol.
    Although it is not the same as a dance it reminded me of when people dedicate some Torah study to a deceased person’s memory.

  • I haven’t read Psalm as often as I should. Being disabled in body (but not spirit :)I’ve taken to Psalm 73, where the protagonists have sleek bodies and no afflictions, if I remember correctly. I an not a Jew, but everyone needs to learn more about the one and true God. This could be a start for me…

  • Thanks for reading, Ralph, and thanks for introducing me to Psalm 73. I read it over just now, and one word struck me, “arrogance”. Maybe we’ll teach you some Hebrew so you can read in the original…

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