Notes from Limmud 2008
Hallel? Oh Lord! Save Us Now!
Did you ever wonder why in the middle of the middle of singing Hallel, in the middle of our happiest moments, we beseech G-d to save us? Bizarre huh? Last Pesach the presenter wondered exactly that, and found the answer staring him in the face.
During the middle of Hallel, which is all about praise, we sing the four lines (Psalms 118:25):
Please, LORD, save now!
Please, LORD, save now!
Please, LORD, send prosperity now!
Please, LORD, send prosperity now!
אָנָּא ה׳ הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא׃
אָנָּא ה׳ הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא׃
אָנָּא ה׳ הַצְלִיחָה נָא׃
אָנָּא ה׳ הַצְלִיחָה נָא׃
Furthermore, Sephardim sing Psalm 107 in the middle of Hallel every day of Pesach. What does this have to do with Pesach?
Psalms 107:1-107:100 תהילים קז תהילים-קז תהילים Give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: His mercy endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the enemy; And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south. They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfies the longing soul, and filles the hungry soul with goodness. Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he has broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhors all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saves them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing. They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commands, and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he brings them out of their distresses. He makes the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he brings them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. He turns rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. He turns the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings. And there he maks the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation; And sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase. He blesses them also, so that they are multiplied greatly; and suffers not their cattle to decrease. Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow. He pours contempt upon princes, and causes them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. Yet settes he the poor on high from affliction, and makes him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD. הֹדוּ לַה׳ כִּי־טוֹב: כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ׃ יֹאמְרוּ גְּאוּלֵי ה׳ אֲשֶׁר גְּאָלָם מִיַּד־צָר׃ וּמֵאֲרָצוֹת קִבְּצָם: מִמִּזְרָח וּמִמַּעֲרָב מִצָּפוֹן וּמִיָּם׃ תָּעוּ בַמִּדְבָּר בִּישִׁימוֹן דָּרֶךְ עִיר מוֹשָׁב לֹא מָצָאוּ׃ רְעֵבִים גַּם־צְמֵאִים נַפְשָׁם בָּהֶם תִּתְעַטָּף׃ וַיִּצְעֲקוּ אֶל־ה׳ בַּצַּר לָהֶם מִמְּצוּקוֹתֵיהֶם יַצִּילֵם׃ וַיַּדְרִיכֵם בְּדֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה לָלֶכֶת אֶל־עִיר מוֹשָׁב׃ יוֹדוּ לַה׳ חַסְדּוֹ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו לִבְנֵי אָדָם׃ כִּי־הִשְׂבִּיעַ נֶפֶשׁ שֹׁקֵקָה וְנֶפֶשׁ רְעֵבָה מִלֵּא־טוֹב׃ יֹשְׁבֵי חֹשֶׁךְ וְצַלְמָוֶת אֲסִירֵי עֳנִי וּבַרְזֶל׃ כִּי־הִמְרוּ אִמְרֵי־אֵל וַעֲצַת עֶלְיוֹן נָאָצוּ׃ וַיַּכְנַע בֶּעָמָל לִבָּם כָּשְׁלוּ וְאֵין עֹזֵר׃ וַיִּזְעֲקוּ אֶל־ה׳ בַּצַּר לָהֶם מִמְּצֻקוֹתֵיהֶם יוֹשִׁיעֵם׃ יוֹצִיאֵם מֵחֹשֶׁךְ וְצַלְמָוֶת וּמוֹסְרוֹתֵיהֶם יְנַתֵּק׃ יוֹדוּ לַה׳ חַסְדּוֹ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו לִבְנֵי אָדָם׃ כִּי־שִׁבַּר דַּלְתוֹת נְחֹשֶׁת וּבְרִיחֵי בַרְזֶל גִּדֵּעַ׃ אֱוִלִים מִדֶּרֶךְ פִּשְׁעָם וּמֵעֲוֹנֹתֵיהֶם יִתְעַנּוּ׃ כָּל־אֹכֶל תְּתַעֵב נַפְשָׁם וַיַּגִּיעוּ עַד־שַׁעֲרֵי מָוֶת׃ וַיִּזְעֲקוּ אֶל־ה׳ בַּצַּר לָהֶם מִמְּצֻקוֹתֵיהֶם יוֹשִׁיעֵם׃ יִשְׁלַח דְּבָרוֹ וְיִרְפָּאֵם וִימַלֵּט מִשְּׁחִיתוֹתָם׃ יוֹדוּ לַה׳ חַסְדּוֹ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו לִבְנֵי אָדָם׃ וְיִזְבְּחוּ זִבְחֵי תוֹדָה וִיסַפְּרוּ מַעֲשָׂיו בְּרִנָּה׃ יוֹרְדֵי הַיָּם בָּאֳנִיּוֹת עֹשֵׂי מְלָאכָה בְּמַיִם רַבִּים׃ הֵמָּה רָאוּ מַעֲשֵׂי ה׳ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו בִּמְצוּלָה׃ וַיֹּאמֶר וַיַּעֲמֵד רוּחַ סְעָרָה וַתְּרוֹמֵם גַּלָּיו׃ יַעֲלוּ שָׁמַיִם יֵרְדוּ תְהוֹמוֹת נַפְשָׁם בְּרָעָה תִתְמוֹגָג׃ יָחוֹגּוּ וְיָנוּעוּ כַּשִּׁכּוֹר וְכָל־חָכְמָתָם תִּתְבַּלָּע׃ וַיִּצְעֲקוּ אֶל־ה׳ בַּצַּר לָהֶם וּמִמְּצוּקֹתֵיהֶם יוֹצִיאֵם׃ יָקֵם סְעָרָה לִדְמָמָה וַיֶּחֱשׁוּ גַּלֵּיהֶם׃ וַיִּשְׂמְחוּ כִי־יִשְׁתֹּקוּ וַיַּנְחֵם אֶל־מְחוֹז חֶפְצָם׃ יוֹדוּ לַה׳ חַסְדּוֹ וְנִפְלְאוֹתָיו לִבְנֵי אָדָם׃ וִירוֹמְמוּהוּ בִּקְהַל־עָם וּבְמוֹשַׁב זְקֵנִים יְהַלְלוּהוּ׃ יָשֵׂם נְהָרוֹת לְמִדְבָּר וּמֹצָאֵי מַיִם לְצִמָּאוֹן׃ אֶרֶץ פְּרִי לִמְלֵחָה מֵרָעַת יוֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ׃ יָשֵׂם מִדְבָּר לַאֲגַם־מַיִם וְאֶרֶץ צִיָּה לְמֹצָאֵי מָיִם׃ וַיּוֹשֶׁב שָׁם רְעֵבִים וַיְכוֹנְנוּ עִיר מוֹשָׁב׃ וַיִּזְרְעוּ שָׂדוֹת וַיִּטְּעוּ כְרָמִים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ פְּרִי תְבוּאָה׃ וַיְבָרְכֵם וַיִּרְבּוּ מְאֹד וּבְהֶמְתָּם לֹא יַמְעִיט׃ וַיִּמְעֲטוּ וַיָּשֹׁחוּ מֵעֹצֶר רָעָה וְיָגוֹן׃ שֹׁפֵךְ בּוּז עַל־נְדִיבִים וַיַּתְעֵם בְּתֹהוּ לֹא־דָרֶךְ׃ וַיְשַׂגֵּב אֶבְיוֹן מֵעוֹנִי וַיָּשֶׂם כַּצֹּאן מִשְׁפָּחוֹת׃ יִרְאוּ יְשָׁרִים וְיִשְׂמָחוּ וְכָל־עַוְלָה קָפְצָה פִּיהָ׃ מִי־חָכָם וְיִשְׁמָר־אֵלֶּה וְיִתְבּוֹנְנוּ חַסְדֵי ה׳׃
We have here two different kinds of crying, and two different kinds of saving.
There are two kinds of Hallel mentioned in the Gemara; the one we sing is הַלֵל שֶׁל שִׁירָה: songs of praise, which are sung in a redemptive context. This is reminiscent of the Song at the Sea; the Gemara quotes this.
This leads to two things as part of our liturgy: singing (or, for Ashkenazim, reciting) the Song at the Sea daily, and saying Hallel on times of big redemptive experience.
Now, in the above psalm, the first line appears to be instructions on how to praise G-d: "Give thanks to G-d because He is good, because His lovingkindness is everlasting." (Or: "Give thanks to G-d if He is good, when [you see that] His lovingkindness is everlasting"!)
When the psalmist talks about "everlasting", it does not necessarily refer to linear time as we understand it in our culture. G-d is not governed by time and space, so describing G-d's attributes as "everlasting" cannot be either. G-d, and they, are not subject to the rules of time and space.
Now consider the following:
Exodus 3:7 שמות ג ז-ג ז The LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and their cry because of their taskmasters have I heard; for I know their sorrows; וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ רָאֹה רָאִיתִי אֶת־עֳנִי עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר בְּמִצְרָיִם וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָם שָׁמַעְתִּי מִפְּנֵי נֹגְשָׂיו כִּי יָדַעְתִּי אֶת־מַכְאֹבָיו׃
The rabbis added a preparatory statement before reciting the Song at the Sea, from Nehemiah 9.
Nehemiah 9:1-9:100 נחמיה ט א-ט לז You are He Who is LORD alone: You made the heavens, the heaven of heavens and all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the and everything in them, and you give life to them all; and the host of heaven worships you. You are He Who is the LORD God, who chose Abram, and brought him out of Ur of the Kasdim, and gave him his name Abraham; And found his heart faithful before you, and made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it to his descendants, and has fulfilled Your words; for You are righteous. You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry by the Red sea; אַתָּה־הוּא ה׳ לְבַדֶּךָ אַתָּה עָשִׂיתָ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם שְׁמֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכָל־צְבָאָם הָאָרֶץ וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיהָ הַיַּמִּים וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר בָּהֶם וְאַתָּה מְחַיֶּה אֶת־כֻּלָּם וּצְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם לְךָ מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים׃ אַתָּה־הוּא ה׳ הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר בָּחַרְתָּ בְּאַבְרָם וְהוֹצֵאתוֹ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים וְשַׂמְתָּ שְּׁמוֹ אַבְרָהָם׃ וּמָצָאתָ אֶת־לְבָבוֹ נֶאֱמָן לְפָנֶיךָ וְכָרוֹת עִמּוֹ הַבְּרִית לָתֵת אֶת־אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי הַחִתִּי הָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי לָתֵת לְזַרְעוֹ וַתָּקֶם אֶת־דְּבָרֶיךָ כִּי צַדִּיק אָתָּה׃ וַתֵּרֶא אֶת־עֳנִי אֲבֹתֵינוּ בְּמִצְרָיִם וְאֶת־זַעֲקָתָם שָׁמַעְתָּ עַל־יַם־סוּף׃
This is a miniature version of the whole Haggadah. What's wrong with the last line? The order is reversed compared to that in Exodus. Why do we need to prepare for singing the Song at the Sea by reversing the narrative order, to make the cries come after the redemption?R. Chaim David Azulai gave a deep and mystical interpretation of this.
People don't cry in the middle of the crisis; they cry when the stress is over at the end. The rabbis, who instituted the passage from Nehemiah before the Song at the Sea, are aware of this principle, and relate it to Hallel.You should sing praise to G-d because G-d's kindness is not subject to time and space. This is why we can cry out to G-d after the fact.
There are four narrative stories in Psalm 107: A person who lost in the desert without food and water; a prisoner distressed at being held in prison; someone who is deathly ill; and a sailor lost at sea.
In all cases, there's a four-stage process: a situation of distress צָרָה, crying out to G-d צַעֲקָה, salvation יְשׁוּעָה and thanksgiving הוֹדָיָה. However, this does not tie in with the lesson above. Hence, sing praise to G-d when you are in the mood for doing it, because G-d's kindness is not subject to time and space. G-d will hear your cry after being saved when you needed to be saved.
The four scenarios above are also the four reasons for saying. There's a deeper connection to the halacha than we sometimes reason: the four reasons for saying בִּרְכַּת הַגּוֹמֵל aren't random; they're taken from this psalm.
The whole psalm is an instruction for the process of singing Hallel: sing out in praise; there's a repetitive phrase of four kinds of צַעֲקָה with two different words. This is why we have the two words used in four lines in Hallel: אָנָּא ה׳ הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא and אָנָּא ה׳ הַצְלִיחָה נָא.
The Psalm ends with the line מִי־חָכָם וְיִשְׁמָר־אֵלֶּה וְיִתְבּוֹנְנוּ חַסְדֵי ה׳: "Whoever is wise, and will observe these things, shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD." This is to explain, then, the above reasoning.