What Is Hallel?
The Meaning of Hallel
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
The Hallel Prayer
This week, Rabbi Fohrman develops the question, what is the path laid out for us through the celebratory prayer of Hallel? He answers by bringing in clues from the life of Moses and the story of the Jewish people.
The following sources will be helpful to follow this lecture:
- Hallel itself (Psalms 113–118)
- Job 1:21
- Splitting of the sea (Exodus 14, 15)
- Moses hitting the rock (Exodus 17, Numbers 20)
- Golden Calf (Exodus 32–34)
- End of Moses' life (Deuteronomy 33, 34)
- Moses' final speech (1:11)
- Spies (Numbers 13, 14)
- Judges (Exodus 18)
The premium course you are about to listen to was recorded in front of a live audience. Enjoy, and as always, please leave questions and thoughts in the comments.Today I want to start a little series of something which I've been working on over the last few months. This is materials I have just started working on - actually I was - my stepfather Olav Hashalom and I had a Seder which we used to learn together for about [50/15 0:33] years, sometimes over the phone, sometimes in person. One of the last things we were doing together before he died was this - and it's Hallel actually. One of the things I've been working on is looking at Tehillim and trying to interpret it using a similar kind of methodology to what I've used in other things. And, using that kind of methodology, Hallel really opens up in a fascinating new way. So I want to kind of do it with you. This is a journey which will take us out of Hallel into many other fascinating corners of Chumash and Tanach. So let's kind of begin.
The nice thing about Hallel is that it's very familiar to us, you say it all the time - not all the time, but you say it enough that the words are - if you don't know the words yet by heart, but you're certainly no stranger to it. When we look at a Mizmor like Hallel, if someone asked today, so what's Hallel about? Well you say verses of praise, we're praising G-d. We're praising G-d in Biblical poetry. Well the problem with Biblical poetry - the problem with any poetry - is that poetry is hard to understand. Poetry is hard to understand in the best-case scenario. If you read Robert Frost it's hard to understand - and that's in English. But if you read poetry in Hebrew - especially reading the Biblical Hebrew, and it was written a long time ago with different conventions, it really seems very hard to decipher. So if you're not careful it just sort of blends together into a sort of blob. It doesn't - everything sounds like everything else. When we think about how we get inspired in Hallel, or is Hallel inspirational to us, I think most of us would say, well if you're at the Amen Group or if you're in Shul and they have really good tunes for Hallel so you can get into the singing. But to really understand the words and to really be inspired by the words, is another matter entirely. It's hard to be inspired by the words. Some of them maybe.
So I want to attack Hallel and see if we can actually understand it. I think that by the time we're done if I'm successful with you, you'll never see Hallel in the same way ever again. If I'm successful with you it will - what we're doing is a kind of journey which you can't go back on. [It is a 3:43] - that once you do this you can't go back to an innocent view of Hallel where it just - as you had before. So you need to prepare to change your way of looking at things. So if that is a problem for you this is the time you can leave [laughter], but I think it will be a fascinating journey.
All right, so let's kind of get under way. One of the questions that faces us when we try to approach Hallel is how do the ideas of the Mizmorim connect to one another and how do the various Mizmorim connect - themselves connect to [another 4:31]? In other words, within a Mizmor can you divide it up in sections and see how the various different ideas within a Mizmor connect? Then, once you understand that Mizmor does that Mizmor connect to the next one? In other words, Hallel, if you look at it carefully, spans Perek Kuf-Yud-Gimmel through Kuf-Yud-Chet or Tet or so in Tehillim, they are consecutive Mizmorim, so one of the questions is, is there a story being told? Are there ideas that are developing here? Is it - do they just happen to be consecutive Mizmorim? Could they have been just any Mizmor that we put together? Is there a progression? So let's kind of keep that in mind as we begin.
Starting from the very beginning; Hallelukah hallelu avdei Hashem, hallelu et shem Hashem, yehi shem Hashem mevorach m'atah v'ad olam. These are the first two verses here in Hallel. They sound very regular, like nothing much is happening. You can translate them. Hallelu avdei Hashem - the servants of G-d will praise G-d, they will praise the name of G-d. Yehi shem Hashem mevorach m'atah v'ad olam - let the name of G-d be blessed forever and ever. Sounds like a pretty ordinary way to start Hallel. But let me begin by asking a couple of questions of you. Question number 1, when it says; Hallelu avdei Hashem - the servants of G-d will praise G-d, what does that mean? Who are the servants of G-d? Who do you think the servants of G-d are? What criteria - we are, right? Okay, so you say we are, so you don't just mean the women of the Amen Group in this room, right? What do you mean by we?
[Answer from audience: All Klal Yisrael. The Jewish people.]
All the Jewish people, maybe. Okay, it could be. So it could be like anybody who wants to be on G-d's team, right? That's a lot of people. It could even be larger than the Jewish People, it could be those aspects of the Jewish People that are interested in praising G-d. Okay that's a pretty broad sample. Now you can imagine maybe Avdei Hashem as sort of like owning a Visa card. There's different levels of Visa cards. Like everybody can have a Visa card, but then there's the Visa Gold card, there's the Platinum card, there's the Black card, there's the Sapphire card. So you can imagine the highest levels, the most exclusive card you could have, if you were a card carrying member of the Ovdei Hashem Club, so what would you say - if you can imagine the most restrictive possible definition of Ovdei Hashem, what would it be? The smallest possible group of people that would be called Ovdei Hashem, what would you say would be the criteria by which you could define that?
[Response from audience: (Unclear 7:31)]
You will believe in G-d, but you might say there's still many, many millions of people who believe in G-d, how can we get the group down to say, 10, five? What?
[Response from audience: Shomer Torah and Mitzvos.]
Well there's a lot of people Shomer Torah and Mitzvos. I want to limit the group - Kohanim, but there's a lot of Kohanim. What would you say if you had to limit it further, what would you say? So here's what I would say. You get the group down to literally something you can count on your hands, if you would define Ovdei Hashem as those people about whom G-d Himself testifies that they are His servants. That would really be Platinum level Ovdei Hashem, right? If G-d Himself said you are My servant, so that [would/wouldn't 8:16] really be a lot of people. So that would really be wonderful. So let's talk about who those people are.
[Response from audience members: Moshe, Abraham, Kalev, Yehoshua, David.]
So there are - right so there are a bunch of people, who are there?
[Response from audience members: I think Avraham, Kalev, Yehoshua, Moshe, David.]
Okay sounds good.
Now actually Avraham, what's Avraham…
[Response from audience members: I'm not sure, Avraham called Him Odon, I don't know if He ever said Eved about Avraham.]
Yeah I don't know if G-d ever calls Avraham Eved.
[Response from audience members: (Unclear 8:43) call Hashem Odon, but…]
Moshe for sure. Moshe is called an Eved Hashem when he dies and; Moshe Avdi. Vayamos sham Moshe eved Hashem. Okay so Moshe is an Eved Hashem.
[Response from audience members: Kalev]
Kalev I think is called an Eved Hashem. Yehoshua maybe.
[Response from audience members: That's definitely at the end of Yehoshua (unclear 9:07).]
End of Yehoshua?
[Response from audience members: Yeah.]
Then you've got a couple others. David is referred to by Hashem as His Eved. You've got Iyyov, interestingly enough by the way. Iyyov in the prelude to Sefer Iyyov where there's a discussion between G-d and the Satan, so G-d says to the Satan; Hasamta libcha al avdi Iyyov - did you check out my servant Iyyov? Ein kamohu (b'chol) ha'aretz - there's nobody like him in the whole land, he's a wonderful guy.
So there's sort of a handful of people who would qualify as G-d Himself having calling them as servants. So [I wonder if the same 9:48] question is, who do we mean when we say the servants of G-d praise G-d? Is it sort of an abstract category? Is it the particular people who are called servants of G-d? So it's an interesting question. So let's leave that open as we continue.
What do servants of G-d do? Hallelu et shem Hashem - they praise the name of G-d. Seemingly they would say things like the next verse; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach m'atah v'ad olam. Now those words; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach m'atah v'ad olam are interesting. If you translate them into Aramaic they actually become words that are very familiar to us; Yehei shmei rabah mevorach l'olam ul'olmei olmayah - that's really where the core of Kaddish comes from right over here; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach m'atah v'ad olam - may the name of G-d be blessed forever and ever.
So these special words which show up here in Tehillim seem like the kind of words that would be ubiquitous and that would appear many, many times throughout Tanach. So if I told you how many times do you think just the phrase; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach appears in Tanach, you might say several dozen times. You might be surprised to learn it only appears twice. There's actually only two times you ever have; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach m'atah - forget; M'atah v'ad olam, just; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach at all. One of them is here in Tehillim and the only other time you have a; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach is in Iyyov actually, believe it or not, one of the Ovdei Hashem. Where do you have it? You have it after Iyyov - after G-d has afflicted Iyyov with all these various afflictions, everything has been taken away from him, how does he respond? So he says to his wife, the famous words; Hashem natan, Hashem lakach - the L-rd giveth, the L-rd taketh away; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach - may the name of G-d be blessed. That's the only other time.
So now you think to yourself, okay, so if the only other time; Yehi shem Hashem mevorach appears is Iyyov and then we've got it here in Tehillim, it sounds kind of like the psalmist, the Ba'al Hamizmor, is quoting form Sefer Tehillim. Which leads you to the question, what is Iyyov doing in the middle of Hallel? Hallel is the happiest thing you can imagine ever saying, Iyyov is the saddest, most depressing book in the Bible, what is Iyyov doing in the middle of Hallel? But it is kind of interesting that these are words that Ovdei Hashem says and Iyyov is indisputably in that Platinum class of Ovdei Hashem, he's one of those handful of people that are ever called an Oveid Hashem.
I want to suggest to you - and as time will come on I hope to prove this to you - that these two verses here are really the topic sentence for all of Hallel. This is what Hallel is about. Hallel is about what it means to praise the name of G-d as a servant of Hashem. If you were a servant of G-d what does it mean to praise G-d? Interestingly, the keystone note for that is Iyyov, in a strange way.
[Response from audience member. In good times and bad.]
Right a kind of good times and bad times. What does it mean to praise G-d in bad times as well as good times? So we'll come back to this, but let's continue in this Mizmor.
So verse number 3; Mimizrach shemesh ad mevo'o mehullal shem Hashem, rom al kol goyim Hashem al hashomayim kevodo. Let's look for the common denominators here in verse 3 and 4. Verse 3; From one of the heavens until the other, from the whole circuit the sun makes from the east rising in the sky all the way over to the west; Mehullal shem Hashem - the name of G-d is praised for; Rom al kol goyim Hashem - high above all nations is G-d; Al hashomayim kevodo - on the heavens is His glory. What is the common idea in verse 3 and 4? How would you phrase that?
[Response from audience. Hashem reigns supreme.]
Hashem reigns supreme. Okay that's a good word. I especially like the word supreme because what does the word supreme mean? Supreme really means on high. From high. That's really the idea, that G-d is very high. Now there's two ways you could think of G-d being high, the difference between verse 3 and verse 4 is what kind of world are we speaking of that G-d rules over? If you look at an atlas there's two kinds of maps which you typically see in an atlas, you see topographic maps and you see political maps. Political maps divide the world between nations, so you don't see things like rivers and mountains you see national boundaries. If you look at a topographic map you don't see the national boundaries you see the rivers and the mountains, which are the natural ways that the world divides.
Verse 3 and 4 seem to be saying whatever world you're looking at, whether you're looking at the topographic world or whether you're looking at the political world, where is G-d? G-d is above it. If you look at the natural world, G-d is above the circuit of the sun. The sun is the emblem of the thing that encompasses and is higher than the whole world and G-d is there, He reigns supreme. If you look at the national world, at the political world; Rom al kol goyim Hashem - G-d is above all the nations, His glory is on heavens.
So now you get to the transition verse for this psalm, I think, and that is the following. Verse 5; Mi ka'Hashem Elokeinu hamagbi'hi lashavess hamashpili lirot bashomayim uva'aretz - who is like G-d; Hamagbi'hi lashavess who sits so high; Hamashpili lirot bashomayim uva'aretz - and yet who lowers Himself to see and to care about that which is going on; Bashomayim uva'aretz - in heaven and in earth.
If you think about that, this is one of the real challenges of religion you might say and it is this, if you believe that G-d reigns supreme, if you really understand this notion that G-d is Master of the Universe, so if you really meditate about that, there's something very unsettling about it. Because if G-d is the Master of the Universe what is He in charge of? He's not just in charge of you and me, He's in charge of everybody else in this room, and if that's not enough for Him to take care of, He's in charge of the whole Five Towns. If that's not enough there's all of Long Island. Matter of fact, there's four billion people in the world. Four billion people in the world, but the world is just the third rock from the sun, in a medium-size, non-descript solar system, somewhere on the edge of another medium, non-descript galaxy, comprising 100 million other stars. Who knows how many other planets with how many other billions of intelligent life there, and that's just one galaxy. The galaxy as far as we know is just one galaxy among 100 million other galaxies. But if you really start thinking about G-d as in charge of all of that, you start - the unsettling piece of that, the unsettling question is - which is who am I? Does G-d really care about me? So that's the unsettling part of it.
So that's what the psalm is saying. Mi ka'Hashem Elokeinu hamagbi'hi lashavess hamashpili lirot bashomayim uva'aretz - who is like G-d who sits so high and yet lowers Himself so low to be able to actually care what's going on in the heavens and the earth.
[Question from audience. What is Magbihi, mashbili, mikimi, le'hoshivi, moshivi - what is the Iy at the end? It's almost like saying me, me, me, that's what I'm thinking of, but I'm sure that's not it. But what in - grammatically I've never heard this before?]
Yeah, that is an interesting point. I don't know the answer to that. Good question.
So then we get to the last part of the Mizmor, which seems to be giving you a concrete example of this idea. A concrete example of the G-d who is so high actually coming so low and involving Himself in the world. What does He do? Mekimi mei'aphar dal mei'ashpot yarim evyon - He raises up from the dust someone who is needy, who is poor. Mei'ashpot yarim evyon - from garbage heaps He picks up an Evyon. By the way, what's interesting is, is that where is G-d, G-d is high, and what is He doing, He's picking up the low. So He's actually making people like Him, so to speak, right? He's high, and He's making low people high also. Mei'ashpot yarim evyon - He's picking up people from the dust heaps. To do what? Le'hoshivi im nedivim im nedivei amo - to seat them with princes, with princes of His own nation.
What's interesting also by the way is if you think about the earlier idea over here, which is G-d being two kinds of high; He's high over the natural world, He's high over the political world, there's a natural kind of high and there's a political kind of high. So too there's a natural kind of low and there's a political kind of low. The natural kind of low is that you're living in the dust, that's you're actually living in the dust, but the political kind of low is that you're powerless. And G-d raises you up; so He can physically raise you up but He can also seat you with princes, He can give you political power. So He seats people with princes, with the princes of His own nation.
Then the feminine; Moshivi akeret habayit - G-d takes the woman who can't have children; Eim habanim semeicha - and makes her a happy mother of children. Now here also the interesting question is what are we talking about? Are we talking about something abstract, just that this is what G-d can do every once in a while? Or are we talking about actual events? Are we talking about particular people? Well let's just say we're talking about particular people for a moment, what kind of particular people - what would this remind you of in the Torah? So you would have somebody who is sort of non-descript, just kind of a regular person, and all of a sudden he becomes rich and he becomes famous and he becomes seated - to become a prince of G-d's own nation, and then on the feminine side there's this woman who can't have children and all of a sudden G-d gives her children and she becomes the happy mother of children. What does this kind of sound like? Sort of sounds like Avraham and Sarah, or maybe even all of the Avot that kind of have this trajectory, that they got wealth, they have a G-d, the…
[Response from audience: Low to high could be David Hamelech also who was the lowest of his brothers and ignored and then (unclear 21:06).]
It could be. But if you put the masculine and the feminine, to me it sounds like the trajectory of the Avot really, that they - and if you think also about the way that the Avot came to become princes of the nation, it's actually different than the way most nations are built. Most nations how does somebody become a prince or a king? They conquer, right? You - that's just the way it works. You're strong, the people look to you for self-defense and you have your little fiefdom. That wasn't how Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov got to be princes of Klal Yisrael. Basically G-d - they were nobodies, they didn't really have any natural locus of power, they were neither rich nor were they powerful, those are the two ways you could really become a ruler. All of a sudden out of nowhere G-d chooses them and makes them the prince of their nation. So it sounds kind of like you're looking a little bit at the early stage of the Jewish people. The Jewish people kind of being born.
Okay so this is Mizmor number 1. Let's go on to Mizmor number 2 for a moment. The next part of Hallel. So does the next part of Hallel connect? Well it sort of seems to connect. What's the next idea? Betzeit yisrael mi'Mitzrayim - so in other words if in the past we were talking about the Jewish people - the start of the Jewish people at the time of the Avot, we're now we're talking about Yetziyat Mitzrayim, it's the next major event. Let's see what we hear about Yetziyat Mitzrayim over here. What would you say the - how would you summarize this Mizmor of Hallel? What is this Mizmor of Hallel saying? What's it about? Take a look at the words. Betzeit yisrael mi'Mitzrayim beis Yaakov mei'am lo'ez haytah Yehuda lekadsho yisrael mamshelotav, hayom ra'ah vayanos, hayarden yisov le'achor, heharim rakdu k'eilim geva'os kivnei tzon, mah lecha hayom ki tanus - what's going on here?
[Various responses from audience members.]
Okay it's a story of Yetziyat Mitzrayim, but it's the story of Yetziyat Mitzrayim being told differently than the way it's told in Exodus. How is this story different from the way the story is told in Exodus?
[Response from audience: It shows how the earth is reacting.]
Good, and how is that different than Exodus?
[Response from audience: From the man point of view, from nature's point.]
Okay so nature's point of view. But it's also the - so in other words even the - from nature's point of view, the picture that you get of nature is different. In other words, let's go to Exodus for a moment. If someone would - if you're reading Shemot and someone would say to you, how did the sea split? So what would you say the answer is? How did the sea split? By just reading Exodus you would say, G-d told Moshe to take a staff and then Moshe took a staff but he held it over the waters and then the wind came and the wind parted the waters. So if you look at that what is the role of nature? It's reactive. Nature is reacting to G-d and Moshe acting upon it. That's what your view of Exodus is.
But that's not the view you get in Tehillim. Tehillim gives you a different view of what's happening. Hayom ra'ah vayanos - the sea is active, the sea literally split. The sea actually ran away. What…
[Question from audience. Could it be (unclear 24:52) on Nachshon - that it's on Nachshon? Because the previous Pasuk; Haytah Yehuda lekadsho - maybe it's talking about why Yehuda who … to the Malchut, that; Hayom ra'ah - saw Nachshon jump in and then Vayanos? ]
Okay maybe. But; Hayom ra'ah - seeing, so let's just keep it simple for a moment. The sea is split, nature is acting, why is nature acting? So verse 3; Hayom ra'ah vayanos - the sea saw something. What did the sea see? The power of G-d? So did it see the power of G-d? Let's look carefully at verse 1 and 2. Betzeit yisrael mi'Mitzrayim - when the Jews left Egypt; Beis Yaakov mei'am lo'ez - the House of Jacob from the house of a foreign tongue. So at this point - now here's the key, because - in other words, when that happened, now verse 2 is going to tell you what happened when that happened and verse 3 is going to say and when the sea saw that it split. So verse 2 is going to be very important because it's going to tell you - that's where the catalyst for all this is.
Okay so what's the great catalyst in verse 2? When the Jews came out of Mitzrayim; Haytah Yehuda lekadsho. Let's translate that. Haytah Yehuda lekadsho - Yehuda - the Jewish people - became G-d's sanctuary, the place that He - now what does sanctuary mean? The place where G-d dwells, the place that G-d inhabits. Okay, so what does that mean?
Let's contrast that for a moment to the last Mizmor. Let's connect this to the last Mizmor. What were we saying in the last Mizmor about G-d? Where does G-d live? G-d lives in heavens. What's G-d's relationship to the earth in the last Mizmor? He's above it, but He comes down to look at us. What does He do when He comes down? He's very great because He's all the way up there, and what does He do down here? He takes care, He gets involved, He takes care. Okay, that was the last Mizmor, now how is it different in this Mizmor? What's happening over here? When the Jews came out of Mitzrayim; Haytah Yehuda lekadsho - Judah became G-d's sanctuary, is that the same as the last Mizmor? What happened here? It's not just that G-d lives up there and is interested in what's happening down here and gets involved occasionally. G-d who lives up there is actually making a summer home down here with us. In other words, when G-d took the Jews out of Egypt so the world changed. The world changed because G-d came to inhabit a space in this world and the space in this world that He inhabited interestingly is not actually being portrayed now as a Mikdash - or it is being portrayed as a Mikdash, but the Mikdash is us. Even before there was a Beis Hamikdash we, the people, became the place of G-d's [inheritance 28:13] as…
[Question from audience. (Unclear 28:17).]
Right G-d comes and He inhabits us.
So; Haytah Yehuda lekadsho yisrael mamshelotav - so Judah became G-d's habitation and now; Hayom ra'ah vayanos - what did the sea see - what did the ocean see that it split? It saw - or who? It saw G-d taking up residence in the world. So when the sea saw G-d take up residence in the world so its response was it fled; Hayarden yisov le'achor - and of course that's referring to when the Jews come into Canaan so the Yarden also splits and goes backwards.
Heharim rakdu k'eilim - mountains trembled, danced as if they were antelopes. So now what are we referring to here now? When did the mountains tremble like that?
[Response from audience: Maybe at Har Sinai?]
Maybe at Har Sinai. We seem to be referring to Har Sinai: Vayecherad ha'har - when the land trembled. But again this vision of Har Sinai is different because there the mountain was acted upon, here the mountain is acting. The mountain is dancing. Now think about antelopes or rams. Mountain goats or rams what do they usually do on mountaintops? They prance. Now what's happening? What's happening is the mountain is prancing under the antelope. So here you're an antelope and you're thinking well what's going on, the mountain is dancing under me? So in other words the mountain is becoming more alive than the rams. That's what's happening. So what's happening is that inanimate things are taking on a life of their own; Heharim rakdu k'eilim geva'os kivnei tzon.
To which the psalmist now is going to explain this strange thing. Mah lecha hayom ki tanus hayarden tisov le'achor - what's going on? The ocean doesn't do this? What are you doing ocean that you run away? What are you doing Yarden? Heharim tirkedu k'eilim - do mountains ever dance like this? Geva'os kivnei tzon? It doesn't work like that. So what's the answer? The answer is; Melifnei adon chuli aretz melifnei Elokai Yaakov - that the world is trembling because of the Master. Which Master? The G-d of Jacob. The G-d of Jacob is not just the G-d of the universe anymore, the G-d of the universe has come down and inhabited a nation. Now the G-d of Jacob becomes the G-d of Jacob because G-d inhabits the world, so nature is reacting.
So now, why should nature react this way because G-d inhabits the world? Let's talk about that. It's an interesting kind of thing, why should inanimate objects take on life, so to speak, because G-d inhabits the world?
[Response from audience member: They too are responding to G-d's powers and instruction.]
So they too are responding. But what are they responding to? Are they - so let's just listen carefully, are they - what exactly are they responding to? What about what's happening makes nature respond this way? It has something to do with G-d, but why?
[Response from audience member: (He's infusing 31:44) Himself into them … and He sees - G-d is not just up there but He's part of us, He's …]
Let's go back to the last Mizmor for a moment. If we go back to the last Mizmor remember how we were talking about G-d was so high? What does G-d who is so high do for people who are low? He raises them. Which means that the way G-d reacts with people is that G-d makes people like Him, so to speak. In other words, when G-d gets involved with people, people sort of become like Him. He - G-d is very high, G-d raises up the low and makes them high. [Unclear 32:23] something like that - what is - another way of thinking about G-d in the next Mizmor is that who is G-d? G-d is the most alive thing there is. Well if G-d is the most alive thing there is and all of a sudden the most alive thing of a universe takes up residence of the third rock from the sun, how is that going to affect non-alive things in the world? They're going to become more like G-d. So they're going to be infused with life, they're going to jump to life. So the inanimate world almost partakes of the life of G-d because the Master is now imminent in the world - which explains another thing too, going into the next Mizmor.
The next Mizmor is going to be Loh lanu Hashem loh lanu - and in that Mizmor which we'll discuss in a moment one of the points is that - if you remember the psalm makes fun of idolatry. He says; Atzabeihem kesef v'zahav ma'aseh yedei adam, peh lahem v'loh yedabeiru, einayim lahem v'loh yiru, oznayim lahem v'loh yishama'u. He says it's ridiculous, people make these things but they have mouths and they don't speak, and they have hands and they don't do anything. Then it says an interesting thing. Kemohem yiheyu oseihem kol asher bote'ach bahem - those who make idols and worship them will become like them. Will become as ineffectual as the idols. It's like what you see in Yirmiyahu also; Vayelchu acharei hahevel [vayahaveilu 33:45] - and they went after Hevel, after stuff that can't help them, and they attained that quality of Hevel, they became just as ineffective as idols.
So if you think about that, that's not just a curse, it's not just magic, there's a logic to it, it makes sense. Why should it be that the makers and those who trust in idols become like them? It's not just like, well you - it's more than poetic justice, it's not just that, oh so here you were, you [took to the 34:16] wrong things, so now you're going to become just like that…
[Response from audience member: If this is what you worship then you can aspire to be like them.]
Precisely, because the definition of worship - let's think about what worship means? What worship means - worship is just a fancy word for what? Worship - the problem with words like worship is, is that we're not such a worshipping society anymore. So it's like it feels - it doesn't feel so real. Let's take worship into…
[Response from audience member: Connect to, revere, respect…]
[Response from audience member: Strive for.]
Strive for. When - I worship that which I hold…
[Response from audience member: Aspire to.]
…that which I aspire to, that which I hold supreme and what I hold supreme is that which I'm trying to become like. So if I think the most valuable things in the world are the things I worship. So for example, if you're a teenager and you idolize Justin Bieber, you idolize various different rock singers and figures like that, so then you're going to put them all around your room, you'll have - your hair will look like them. You're trying to become like them. If you idolize Michael Jordan so then you try to have - you try to play basketball like Michael, you try to become like them. So if you idolize idols - hence the word idolize - if you idolize idols, so then you are going to become like them, it makes perfect sense. You will become as ineffectual as they you're worshipping.
So what's interesting is this, if you think about people, people actually occupy an interesting kind of middle ground between what we might call G-d on the one hand and the inanimate world, and maybe even idols, on the other hand. People are animate beings, we have hands, we have feet, we can do stuff. Now interestingly what is the most animate thing in the world? G-d. G-d does not have hands and feet, but yet G-d is more effective and can get more things done than beings that have hands and feet. On the other hand you have things like rocks which can't do anything, you have things like idols which have hands and feet but they can't do anything with them. Now, the question is what will people become like? So if people worship idols they'll become as ineffectual as idols and their hands and feet won't be able to do much, will become ineffective like them.
But you see the other part of it is that when G-d is resonant in the world that those things that worship G-d, that rise up and worship G-d, which includes in the psalmist's view I think, nature. Nature, when G-d is around, becomes like G-d, they're part of G-d servants and therefore; Hayom ra'ah vayanos. Even though they don't have hands and feet; Heharim tirkedu k'eilim - the mountains will tremble and will dance like lambs. They'll become more animate than you might possibly expect them to.
Okay, now - let me just finish this Mizmor and then we'll go on. There's one last verse here, verse 8. Hahofchi hatzur agam mayim chalomish lemanyo mayim - now what's this talking about? Would a rock ever turn into a well of water? Would a flint ever turn into a spring full of water? What does this seem to be referring to? It seems to be referring to what? The story of Moshe and the rock, Moshe hitting the rock. The question here also is which story of Moshe and the rock? There were actually two stories of Moshe and the rock. There's Moshe and the rock number 1 that takes place in Parshat Beshalach, there's Moshe and the rock number 2 which takes place in Parshat Chukkas in Bamidbar. Which do you think it is? Moshe and the rock 1 or Moshe and the rock 2?
It turns out that there are elements of both here. Just like - by the way when you think about the sea splitting so there's an event in the first year which is the sea splitting, an event in the fortieth year which we also refer to which is; Hayarden yisov le'achor. So too when it comes to rocks turning into water there's also an event in the first year and in the fortieth year, which the psalmist is simultaneously referring to. The first year event is Beshalach, the fortieth year event is in Chukkas.
The reason why it sounds like you're talking about Beshalach is because of the language Tzur. The rock was called a Tzur in Beshalach, it was called a Selah in Parshas Chukkas. But the reason why it sounds like Parshas Chukkas is this language here; Hahofchi hatzur agam mayim - could a rock ever turn to water? Now what does that remind you of, the sort of rhetorical question, do you think that a rock could turn into water? That actually reminds you of the language that Moshe used in Parshat Chukkas. The language Moshe used, he turns to the people who are rebelling and he says to them; Shimu nah hamorim - listen you rebels - and he uses this rhetorical language; Hamin haselah hazeh notzi lachem mayim - you really think we could ever get water out of this rock? That's using rhetorical language [which we're using here 39:31]. So you have elements of both kind of coming together.
Now what's interesting about this is that there's sort of a kind of trajectory which is following here, these are the events which immediately follow Yetziyat Mitzrayim, more or less. But - and the issue here is that as ecstatic as this sounds there's also this little hint of tragedy that you get a sense in verse 8. Because even though at the end of verse 8 the Jews ended up with water which was really great for them, who was it not so great for? The answer is Moshe. Because Moshe can't go into Eretz Yisrael because of this. Because remember the end of that story is that G-d says to Moshe because you didn't - Ya'an asher loh he'emantem bi l'hakdisheini - because you didn't have enough faith in Me to sanctify My name; Lachein loh tavi'u et [ha'am 40:22] hazeh - therefore you cannot bring this people into the land. So Moshe loses the ability to go into the land because of this.
Okay, so these are the first two Mizmorim. The next Mizmor, 115, is going to mark a dramatic shift. Something changes in this Mizmor. What changes? Loh lanu Hashem, loh lanu, ki leshimcha tein kavod al chasdecha al amitecha - don't do it for us G-d, don't do it for us, but for Your name give Kavod, for Your kindness and for Your truth. Okay now the shift over here is a subtle one, but it's a shift in point of view. Until now what's the point of view that the psalmist has taken? So let's think back to English class, what are the different possible points of view? There's first person, second person, third person. Until now we've been dealing with a third person narrative. The psalmist is a narrator and is telling you poetically about these events that seem to be the history of the Jewish people from the Avot through Yetziyat Mitzrayim. Now all of a sudden, point of view is changing, what point of view is being adopted here? First person. First person plural. Loh lanu Hashem loh lanu - don't do it for us G-d, don't do it for us, do it for Your namesake. So if it's first person that means that someone is talking. So the natural question, $64,000 question is, who? Who is that someone? And, does this Mizmor have anything to do with the previous Mizmorim?
Now, if it does have to do with the previous Mizmorim, then we might have a hint about who is talking. Because we have a certain chronological trajectory which would be taking us up to here, which might help us understand who it is. We were talking about the Avot, then we were talking about Yetziyat Mitzrayim, then we were talking about the splitting of the sea and we were talking about Ma'amad Har Sinai, and we were talking about splitting rocks and all of a sudden someone starts talking. Who would that be? It might be Moshe. Let's listen to what the someone says. So now the question is what - where in Chumash do you have something that reminds you of the following? Where does someone say something like G-d don't it for us, do it for Your namesake?
Listen carefully. Do it for Your Chesed and do it for Your Emess. Now whenever we have Chesed and Emess together what does that sort of kind of remind you of? Chesed and Emess together? What? Well for example, do it - now where do you have Chesed and Emess in Bereishis? Asitah imodi chesed v'emess al nah tikbereini b'Mitzrayim. When Yaakov asks for Chesed and Emess to be done for us so he won't be buried in Egypt. Chesed and Emess even later on in Mishnaic Hebrew; Chesed shel emess, seems to refer to death, the kind of Chesed that you do for death. Which might mean that we are talking about Chesed here that you do for dead people, that the person is saying, do it for the dead people.
The person then continues; Lamah yomru hagoyim - why should the nations say; Ayeh nah Elokeihem - where is their G-d, and our G-d is in heaven. Now who said such a thing? Who said such a thing? Who said, don't do it for us G-d, do it for You, why should they say where is their G-d? The answer is Moshe at the Eigel, that is the answer. This is a paraphrase of what Moshe says in Shemos after the Eigel. You can actually see it right over here. Okay so in other words - and it's sort of right where you would imagine it. There was this disaster that happened, the Jews were coming out of Egypt, everything was great, but then there was this disaster.
By the way this would explain also - we go to - I'm sorry, go back over here; Atzabeihem - because all of a sudden we're talking about Eigel kind of stuff. Atzabeihem kesef v'zahav ma'aseh yedei adam, peh lahem v'loh yedabeiru, einayim lahem v'loh yiru - we're talking about idols but interestingly we're not talking - but look what we say about them. Kemohem yiheyu oseihem kol asher bote'ach bahem, yisrael batach b'Hashem ezram u'maginam hu, beis aharon bitchu b'Hashem ezram u'maginam hu, yirei Hashem bitchu b'Hashem - the Jewish people basically trust in You. This whole Eigel thing, it was [unclear 45:02], it was not what really what they're about. If you want to know who worships the idols, the Egyptians worship idols, you want them to win? Those who - the Goyim who say; Ayeh nah Elokeihem - they are the ones who are real worshipers of idols.
Okay, what are we paraphrasing? We're paraphrasing Shemos. Here's what it looks like in Shemos. G-d says to Moshe; Ra'iti et ha'am hazeh v'hinei am keshei oref - I have seen this people, they're stubborn. V'atah hanicha li vichar api bahem v'achaleim v'e'eseh otecha l'goy gadol - I'll make you into a great nation. Vayechal Moshe et pnei Hashem Elokov - now then Moshe begins to plead with G-d. Now what's interesting about this is that the fact that Moshe should have said anything at all right now is kind of counterintuitive. The Ramban says that Moshe should not really have said anything at this point. Why? What's the only tool Moshe has? Moshe - the only way that Moshe is really going to secure forgiveness for the people, is that he's got to get them to apologize, he's got to get them to say that they're sorry, he has to do Vidui for the people - on the people's behalf - and he has to go to G-d. The problem is, is that he can't do Vidui because the people are dancing round the calf. So he has to go down, he has to get them to stop dancing around the calf, realize they're doing the wrong thing and then go back up to G-d and apologize.
Why doesn't he do that? Why does he stay on top of the mountain? He has nothing he can say yet, the people are dancing around the calf. The Ramban says that the answer is, is because look at what G-d said. G-d said; Hanicha li vichar api bahem - leave Me alone and let My anger flare against them and I will destroy them and make you into a great people. So that means that if Moshe does what G-d says and leaves G-d alone, what's going to happen? What is going to happen is, is that His anger is going to flare against them and He's going to destroy them, so by the time he gets to the bottom of the mountain there's no people left. So he can't do that. So basically this is the first filibuster of the history of the world. Moshe is stuck at the top of the mountain, he has [to talk G-d down 47:04] because he knows the minute he leaves G-d alone He's going to absolutely destroy them. So he has to intervene now.
The problem is he has no tools with which he can intervene because the people are dancing around the calf. So in this situation Moshe says the following. He says; Lamah Hashem yechereh apecha b'amecha - which is very strange. What do you mean; Lamah Hashem yechereh apecha b'amecha? They're dancing around a calf, obviously I should be angry. The answer is; Lamah Hashem yechereh apecha b'amecha - which is; Lamah - Le Mah - to what, to where? Two kinds of why. I can ask a why based on the past or I can ask a why based on the future. This is a future based why. I know in the past why You're angry, but; Le Mah - for what - where is that going to get You? What purpose will Your anger serve? Look what will happen if You get angry and destroy them, you know what's going to happen? You took these people out of Mitzrayim; B'koach gadol b'yad chazokah - and you wedded Your destiny to them, so You're stuck with them. Look what happens if You destroy them, look what the Egyptians are going say. Lamah yomru Mitzrayim - this is being parodied now in - not parodied, but this is being mimicked now in Tehillim with; Lamah yomru hagoyim ayeh nah Elokeihem. Lamah yomru Mitzrayim - why should the Egyptians say that You took them out in bad faith and that You never meant to take care of them because You didn't have enough power to sustain them and You got rid of them. That's what Your enemies will say.
And, let's talk about your friends. Zechor l'Avraham, l'Yitzchak, ul'Yisrael avadecha - look at the Avot, the dead people. Remember in Tehillim with the Chesed and Emess, so what are You going to say to Your dead friends? The Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, about whom You promised that You would bring them; Arbeh zarechem kekochvei hashomayim - You would multiply them like the stars in the heaven, now what are You going to do? You're going to kill them out and You're going to bring me and Eliezer and Gershom into the land and You're going to call that stars in the heaven? I don't think they're going to be so impressed with four people coming into the land. So the Avot - You made promises to the Avot, You took these people out of Mitzrayim, Your reputation is on the line.
Therefore really Moshe's response is brilliant and Chutzpadik in the same light if you think about it. G-d's argument had been I need to destroy the people. Why? For My name, because My name's sake demands that how could they worship idols. Moshe says, Your name we're talking about? Your name's sake doesn't demand destroying them, Your name's sake demands preserving them. He actually makes the same argument in reverse. He says, no You're going to desecrate Your own name if You destroy them, You have to save them for Your name's sake. Which gets back to the theme of Hallel. What is the theme of Hallel? Hallelu avdei Hashem, what do Avdei Hashem always do? Hallelu es shem Hashem - they praise the name of G-d. What did Moshe do? Moshe invoked the name of G-d, ironically, to save the Jewish people at the Eigel. And he was successful. This seems to be what Mizmor number 3 is doing.
I'm going to leave you here in a second, but let me just close with one observation on a last verse over here. Yisrael batach b'Hashem ezram u'maginam hu - the Jews trust in G-d. The Egyptians they don't trust in G-d. We Jews we might have worshipped idols once, but basically we trusted You. Yisrael batach b'Hashem ezram u'maginam hu. Now for a long time I thought that this was just poetic language which the psalmist made up. It's not. This also comes from Tanach. Where does this language come from in Tanach? Yisrael batach b'Hashem ezram u'maginam hu. It turns out that it's a play on words from somewhere, where? The answer is, believe it or not, these words are the last words that Moshe ever speaks. They're the last words he breathes before he dies, in V'zos Ha'bracha. I'll show you the words.
Here's the Beracha which Moshe gives the Jewish people, let's go to the end of it. Ein k'E-l yeshurun rochev shamayim b'ezrecha u'bega'avato shechakim. Me'onah Elokei kedem u'mitachat zero'ot olam vayegaresh mi'panecha oyev vayomer hashmed - it's talking about G-d making the Jewish people secure and actually bringing them into the land. He's blessing each tribe and then he goes back at the very end and blesses everyone. Here's his final words. Vayishkon yisrael betach - see these words? And the Jewish people will dwell securely; Badad - all alone; Ein yaakov - the apple of G-d's eye; El eretz dagan v'tirosh - they will go into a land which is full of plenty; Af shamav ya'arpu tal - and even the heavens will drip with dew. Ashrecha yisrael - happy, fortunate are you Israel; mi kamocha. Am nosha ba'Hashem magen ezrecha. Now look at these words; Yisrael batach b'Hashem - you see that? Vayishkon yisrael betach - it's a play off the Jews will dwell securely; Yisrael batach - and then; B'Hashem - Badad becomes B'Hashem, as a play off of Badad. Then remember; Ezram u'maginam hu? Am nosha ba'Hashem - a nation saved by G-d; Magen ezrecha. Ezram u'maginam hu - the shield of G-d's help.
Now why is the psalmist quoting from the last words that Moshe ever says? The answer is what is Moshe saying in the last words that he ever says? He says, the Jews will dwell securely in the land. G-d will protect them and will keep all enemies away. Magen - He will be their shield; Magen ezrecha. And, who are the people? Ashrecha yisrael mi kamocha am nosha ba'Hashem - a nation saved by G-d. Now let's think about that, what does that really mean? A nation saved by G-d and G-d is their shield and help. Okay, so now let's go back to the Eigel. Here's Moshe at the Eigel, G-d wants to destroy the people for having worshipped idols and He's very nearly going to do it, and Moshe by the skin of his teeth manages to come up with an argument that G-d has to preserve them for His name's sake, and the people live. Basically what's Moshe's argument? Moshe's argument is don't bring me into the land with four people. You made a promise to bring a nation [into the land 53:53] Kekochvei hashomayim larov, fulfill Your promise, bring an entire nation into the land, that's what Your name demands.
When was Moshe's prayer at the Eigel answered? When did Moshe know that he was successful? The answer is at the very end of his life, when he's standing on top of Har Nevo and he says these words. The Jewish people are about to go into the land and he says, you're going to go in and you're going to be secure because G-d is going to take care of you. Do you know who you are? Am nosha ba'Hashem - you are a nation saved by G-d. And they were a nation saved by G-d, G-d was going to wipe them out, G-d decided instead to save them and instead to shield them. And therefore the psalm is now going to back to that prayer that Moshe makes - the Eved Hashem - to save the Jews, talks about the prayer and then in putting those words into Moshe's mouth, You really should save the Jews because; Yisrael batach b'Hashem - the Jews trust in You; Ezram u'maginam hu - they put their faith in You. Now you hear the echo of these words later on in Devarim, the psalmist is saying. It's as if Moshe was pleading for G-d to save the Jews using the words which he later on says as that prayer is realized in his final words before he dies, when he sees that the Jews are saved by G-d and they are going to go into the land and G-d has extended Himself towards them because He sees that they put their trust in Him. This is when that prayer is finally realized.
But of course, there's an element of tragedy here too. Because if the last Mizmor ended with the event for which Moshe dies, this Mizmor ends with Moshe on the cusp of his own death watching the Jews go into the land. Of course he invokes the name of G-d to be able to save the Jews, but the only one he can't save is himself. The two notes of tragedy.
Okay, so this is the beginning of Hallel, this is just the beginning, I'm going to leave you here and we'll continue next week. But the [question 56:01] how does it continue and where does it go from here, so we'll pick up next week and I will see you then.