26 Nov Hallel Overview
Psalm 113: First Paragraph: The Privilege of Serving God
I want to celebrate my relationship with God in song:
“Hallelukah! Praise, you who serve God! Praise the Name of God. Let the Name of God be blessed from now and forever. From sunrise to sundown, the Name of God is praised. God is above all the nations. His Glory is beyond the sky. Who is like God, our Lord, Who lives up high, but drops down to see what happens (to us) in the (lower) heaven and earth? Who lifts up the lowly from the dust, raises the destitute from the garbage dumps to be seated with leaders, the leaders of their people. Who Makes a home for the childless woman and joy for the mother of children. Hallelukah!”
The singers of this opening paragraph of the Hallel are thrilled to refer to themselves as “Avdei Hashem” – Servants of God. They understand that their service allows them to connect to the Infinite: “Blessed be the Name of God, from this time and forever.”
These Servants of God see themselves as part of the song of the entire creation: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, God’s Name is praised.”
They are so moved because, God, Who is so high and exalted, lowers Himself, to be directly involved in this world. “Who is like God, our Lord, Who is enthroned on high – yet deigns to look upon the heaven and the earth? He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute.”
* The Infinite God is directly involved in my life.
“When Israel left Egypt, Jacob’s family from among a people who spoke a strange language, Judah became God’s Holy Place, Israel, His realm. The Sea saw it and ran away. The Jordan River reversed course. The mountains danced like deer, the hills like lambs. What’s with you, Sea, that you flee? With the Jordan, that you turn around? With the Mountains, that you dance like deer? With the hills, like lambs? Quake, you Land, before your Master, before the Lord of Jacob! Who turned the rock into a pool of water. Pebbles into a source of water.”
How did a nation of slaves, which did not even speak the same language as their new Master, become God’s sanctuary and dominion?
They learned an entirely new vocabulary as they watched the sea flee and the mountains dance before God. The laws of nature, as they knew them, were suspended before God, and they discovered an entirely new level of existence. That discovery was enough to transform them into God’s sanctuary and dominion.
* I am transformed when I realize that there is a higher vocabulary to existence.
Third Paragraph: The Source of My Existence
We exist only in our relationship with God.
(This paragraph is not recited on the final days of Passover or Rosh Chodesh.)
“Not we, God, not we, but Your Name deserves honor for Your kindness, Your truth. How can the pagans ask, “Where is their God?” Now our God in the heavens did just what He desired. Their silver and gold statues are the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak, they have eyes but do not see, they have ears but do not hear, they have noses but do not smell. Hand – but do not feel. Legs – but do not walk. They do not even groan. Their makers will become like them, all who trust in them.
Israel: Trust in God! Their Help and Protection!
House of Aaron: Trust in God! Their Help and Protection!
Those who fear God: Trust in God! Their Help and Protection!”
Once we step into the world with our new vocabulary, when we experience transformation, we understand that just as all changes according to the Divine Will, so too, we live through our connection to that Will. “Not for our sake, God, not for our sake, but for Your Name’s sake give glory.”
We recognize that all that we previously considered real, is not. It doesn’t exist and neither do those who live within those limited and false boundaries of existence. “ They have a mouth, but cannot speak. They have eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear.”
We, on the other hand, derive our existence from God: “Israel, trust in God!”
* I derive my existence from my connection with God.
Fourth Paragraph: The Blessing of Expansion
“God remembered us and will bless – Bless the House of Israel – Bless the House of Aaron – Bless those who are in awe of God, the insignificant with the great. God will enhance you – you and your children. You are blessed to God Who made the heavens and the earth. The heavens are God’s, while the earth has been given to people. The dead do not praise the Creator of Worlds, nor do those who go down to their doom. But we – we praise the Creator of Worlds – From now and forever – Hallelukah!”
God blesses us with the ability to make the world our own through expanding His Presence in Creation: “The heavens are God’s, but the earth He has given to mankind.”
We acquire the earth through the same “Blessing” with which God showers us: “He will bless the House of Israel.” “But we will bless God from this time and forever.”
Our blessings matter because they are an expression of Free Choice – Our highest connection to God. We experience real life through our choices, which matter enough to make the earth ours: Neither the dead can praise God, nor any who descend into silence.”
* I can make the world mine by using my Free Choice to expand His Presence in Creation.
Fifth Paragraph: Prayer As Our Connection To Life
The relationship is so real and powerful that we are confident that God listens to our prayers.
(This paragraph is not recited on the final days of Passover or Rosh Chodesh.)
“I love that God hears the voice of my prayers, that I am listened to when I call! Ropes of death strangled me and alleys of the grave found me; I discovered trouble and sadness. So, I called out in the Name of God: Please God, rescue my soul! God is proper and just. Our Lord shows compassion. God defends the simple. I was lowered but then saved. My soul, return to your place of comfort, for God weaned you with kindness. For You saved my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my legs from tripping. I walk before God in the lands of the living. I kept faith even when I thought that I was destitute, even when I rushed to say that all people are liars.”
Even in those moments when I lose the perspective of the earlier paragraphs I maintain my connection to God through Prayer: “I love Him, for God hears my voice, my supplications.”
I lose the insights and excitement of the previous paragraphs, and the loss is devastating: “The pains of death encircled me; the confines of the grave have found me; trouble and sorrow I would find.”
I turn to God to save me: “Then I would invoke the Name of God, ‘Please, God, save my soul.’”
Sixth Paragraph: An Infinite Thank You
How can we possibly thank God for “lowering Himself to be involved”, “allowing us to live without limitations”, “Giving us existence through our relationship”, “Free Choice” and “the security of knowing that He listens to our prayers”? We transform our Hallel at this point into a simple and public acknowledgment of all He has done and does for us.
“What can I respond to God for all the good He has given to make me independent? I will lift up the cup of salvation and I will call out in God’s Name. I will fulfill my promises to God in front of all His nation. Death to His pious ones is precious in God’s eyes. Please God, allow me to be Your servant. I am Your worker, the son of Your maidservant, You unlocked my chains. I will bring an offering of thanks to You, and I will call out in the Name of God. I will fulfill my promises to God in front of all His nation. In the courtyards of God’s House, in the center of Jerusalem. Hallelukah!”
I am not only at a loss of words of praise; I do not even know how to thank God for all the good in my life: How can I thank God for all His kindness to me?”
I will publicly acknowledge my gratitude in a way that will inspire others to do the same: “I will raise the cup of salvations and I will invoke the Name of God. I will pay my vows to God in the presence of His entire people.”
I thrill to be Your servant because it grants me a life of infinite possibilities: “Please, God – for I am Your servant – You have released my bonds.”
The more I experience the freedom I gain through serving You, the more I want to thank you, so, I say again: “To You I will sacrifice thanksgiving offerings and I will invoke the Name of God. I will pay my vows to God in the presence, now, of His entire people.”
The feelings of gratitude, expectation and love are so powerful that I want to step into a different realm in order to feel that I can express all that I am feeling: “In the courtyards of the House of God, in your midst, O Jerusalem.”
We want the joy of our service to inspire all the nations of the earth to join us in recognize and appreciate all that God does for humanity.
“All you nations; Praise God! Sing compliments, all you peoples! For His kindness overpowers us, and God’s Truth is forever. Hallelukah!”
Our expression of gratitude in the Amida in the 18th blessing – Modim – is immediately followed by a universal expression of thanks: “v’chol ha’chaim.” The second paragraph of Benching – Grace After Meals – begins with Israel’s gratitude – Nodeh – and is followed by a common expression of appreciation: “Befi kol Chai”. The measure of a proper Thank You is its effect on those who hear it: Are they inspired to thank God?