By the Rivers of Babylon
When the exiled Jews finally rested by the rivers of Babylon they hung their lyres on the willows growing there. The Psalm (137) in Tehillim, recounting their dramatic scene, relates that there our captors requested words of song from us with our lyres playing joyous music: “Sing for us from Zion’s song.”
“How can we sign the songs of
Our Sages point out that they did not say, “We shall not sing” but “How can we sing?” To avoid playing sacred music on their lyres for their heathen captors on foreign soil, they had cut off their thumbs in order to make it impossible for them to play those instruments.
These courageous Levites were the ones who eventually accompanied Ezra on the return to Eretz Yisrael despite the difficulties involved, while those who had not removed their thumbs remained behind to enjoy the comfort and security of Babylon.