"Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say, son, he said" - there was a long pause, nervous laughter from the crowd - "he say, you know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways."
-- Bob Dylan, accepting Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement, 20 February 1991.
At the time of the acceptance speech, I turned to my wife and said that Dylan's comments were an allusion to Psalms 27:10: "When my father and mother abandon me, HaShem (God) will gather me up."
When you posted the transcript, I went back to the sources and discovered that Dylan's remarks were almost a verbatim account of the commentary of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch (the spiritual leader of traditional Jewry in Germany in the mid 19th century) on that verse:
"Even if I were so depraved that my own mother and father would abandon me to my own devices, God would still gather me up and believe in my ability to mend my ways."
Now, I have no way of knowing if Abram Zimmerman really taught this to his son or if Bob simply picked it up from a commentary on the Jewish prayer book (Ps. 27 is recited at the morning and evening prayer services during the month before the Jewish New Year), but in any case, the wording is too similar to Hirsch's to ignore. Note how both Hirsch and Dylan reversed the "father and mother" of the original verse to "mother and father" and Dylan's use of the phrase "believe in your own ability to mend your own ways" directly parallels Hirsch's "believe in my ability to mend my ways".
I didn't get the Hirsch citation from the original source, but rather from the commentary in the Metsudah Tehillim (Psalms) so I'm not sure if the language that Dylan almost quoted verbatim is Rabbi Davis' (who did the translation for Metsudah) or Hirsch's. Since the same comment can be found in the Metsudah daily siddur (Ps. 27 is said at shacharit and maariv daily from Rosh Chodesh Elul until the end of Sukkot) and the Metsudah Siddur (an excellent linear translation that breaks the Hebrew into its natural phrases as well as making it much easier for the person praying to find the translation of an individual word or phrase) has been popular with ba'alei tshuvah, my guess is that Dylan picked it up from the siddur.
Forward to Hebrew translations of Dylan.
Back to a Dylan & the Jews main page.
Created and copyright by Larry Yudelson. Send suggestions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.