Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Tazria-Metzora

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Tazria-Metzora 5761/ April 28, 2001

Song and Hallel for Israel Independence Day

Rabbi Yehudah Zoldan
Midrasha for Women

Recitation of the Hallel with a blessing has been instituted as the principal practice for services on Yom ha-Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day.[1] The additional prayers said on this day are essentially collections of earlier prayers and hymns that have been slightly altered to suit the day. Practices include singing Shir ha-Ma'alot to the tune of Ha-Tikvah, or singing Lekha Dodi from the Friday night service but altering the refrain to "this is the day the Lord hath made," and reading the haftarah from Isaiah that begins with the words "This same day at Nob" which is traditionally read in the Diaspora on the eighth day of Passover, etc. Noticeably lacking in the service that has been established for this day is any liturgical poem-song or narrative explaining why this day was decreed a holiday and day of thanksgiving over a miracle, in the manner of the prayer, al ha-nissim ("for the miracles..."), recited during Hanukkah and summarizing the highlights of the festival, or the passage be-yemei Mordechai ve-Esther ("in the time of Mordechai and Esther..."), recited on Purim. Even if this matter was thought to be simple and clear to all when the liturgy for Independence Day was established, at present there appears to be room for such an addition, both because this is the accepted practice on other holidays and because of the uncertainty and dimming of memory that come with the passage of time.[2] Below we shall see that acknowledging a miracle is traditionally done by reciting Hallel together with a special song of thanksgiving to tell of the miracle that took place. Consequently we shall also address the question of the relationship between Hallel and the song, and why it was found fitting to add both Hallel and a song.

Reciting Hallel and songs of praise

The first time that the Israelites recited a song was on the seventh day of Passover, on the Red Sea, as we read in Exodus 15:1-21. The Sages added that the Israelites also recited Hallel at that time (Pesahim 117a):

Rabbi Judah quotes Samuel: The song in the Torah was recited by Moses and the Israelites when they came out of the sea. Who, then, said Hallel? The prophets established that the Israelites should recite it over every occasion and adversity that might come their way, and when delivered, should recite it over their deliverance... Who recited this Hallel? Rabbi Jose said, "My son Eleazar said, 'Moses and the Israelites recited it when they came out of the sea.'" But his colleagues disagreed, claiming that David recited it. But his view seems more plausible than theirs.

According to this gemara, at the Red Sea the Israelites recited the Song on Sea as well as Hallel. The section of Hallel referred to here is the passage from Psalms 115, recited today as part of the Hallel: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us."

The discussion in Tractate Pesahim continues to cite other instances when Hallel was recited for having been saved and delivered. Rabbi Eleazar recapitulates his opinion that Moses and the Israelites recited Hallel as they stood by the sea. Rabbi Judah says that Joshua and the Israelites recited it when the kings of Canaan attacked them. Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'in says that Deborah and Barak recited it when Sisera attacked them. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says that Hezekiah and his followers recited it when Sennacherib attacked them. Rabbi Akiva says that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah recited it when the evil Nebuchadnezzar attacked them, and Rabbi Jose ha-Gelili says that Mordechai and Esther recited it when the wicked Haman threatened them. In all cases, the gemara notes that they recited the same passage: Psalms 115.[3]

The baraita concludes by recapitulating the words of the Sages with which it began: "And Sages say, the prophets among them established that the Israelites should recite it over every occasion and adversity that might come their way, and when delivered, should recite it over their deliverance." Indeed, in all the examples cited, there were prophets who could rule that Hallel be recited: Moses, Joshua and Deborah were themselves prophets; in the days of Hezekiah, Isaiah was active; in the days of Hananiah, Mishael, Mordechai and Esther the prophets of the Second Temple period - Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi - were active. The ruling of the prophets to recite Hallel over deliverance from difficult times was established as binding on all generations, as Rashi interprets, noting Hanukkah as a holiday on which Hallel is recited.

All these other people who recited Hallel also recited a song of praise. As we have mentioned, Moses and the Israelites sang the Song on the Sea; Joshua ben Nun said Hallel as well as a song, insofar as the gemara (Megillah 16 b) says that the list of thirty-one kings in Joshua 12 is a song, signifying that they shall never rise again; Deborah, in addition to Hallel also sang her song (Judges 5); Hezekiah said Hallel and should also have said a song, but did not do so. Therefore the gemara in Sanhedrin 94a remarked that it was "to the discredit of Hezekiah and his followers that they did not sing a song until the earth opened up and said a song."

Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah also sang a song (according to Midrash Zuta on Song of Songs 2 - "I am the rose of Sharon"). Mordechai and Esther are said to have recited Hallel, and the gemara (Megillah 14a) says that the Scroll of Esther constitutes a song: "If in passing from bondage to freedom a song was sung (as Rashi explains: after the exodus from Egypt they sang a song on the sea), is not a song to be sung all the more so when delivered from death to life?" Later on the gemara also says (loc. sit. 16b) that the Megillah's list of Haman's tens sons is a song.

What is the difference between a song of praise and Hallel?

Hallel is a general song of praise to the Lord for His leadership in the world, whereas the song is one of thanksgiving to the Lord for deliverance in a specific situation. It tells of the particular event, the miracles and great deliverance that happened then, and praises the Lord. The Song on the Sea tells how the Red Sea split and the Israelites were delivered from the Egyptians; the list of kings in Joshua tells of the enemies with which the Israelites had to contend and how they succeeded; Deborah's song tells of the miraculous victory over Sisera, etc.

There is one other difference. The song springs spontaneously from the heart, without a set formulation or format. "Then Moses sang," meaning that then, when he witnessed the miracle, he thought to sing a song of praise (Rashi on Ex. 15:1). In the Maharal's words, "Their hearts were filled with joy from the miracle, and they did not make themselves sing by a cerebral process, the way a person makes himself speak" (Gur Arye, on Ex. 15:1). Elsewhere he said that the song reflects the longing of G-d's creatures for their Creator (Maharal, Gevurot Ha-Shem, ch. 47).

Singing a song of praise about a miracle is not obligatory like the recitation of Hallel, which the prophets established should be recited on every special occasion and deliverance from adversity. Even the songs that were sung in the past were not viewed as binding on later generations. A song is sung when it comes from the heart, willingly and voluntarily,[4] as the Sages learned from the Song of Deborah: " 'When locks go untrimmed in Israel, when people dedicate themselves - Bless the Lord!' (Judges 5:2) - the leaders of the people volunteered (a derasha on the word be-hitnaddev): when the Holy One, blessed be He, performs miracles for you, sing a song." Therefore they also expected Hezekiah King of Judah to sing a song, and when no such song arose spontaneously from him, the earth opened and sang a song. Rav Kook interpreted this as follows (in Havash Pe'er, p. 24b):

The affairs of this world were not sufficiently important to Hezekiah for him to be roused to sing a song, for he thought them a burden to the affairs of the world to come and to true holiness ... until the earth opened and sang a song, for the sanctity and honor of the Land and the Lord's blessing that is upon it. This made everyone realize that even over physical triumphs of the Lord's people, specifically in the Land of Israel, one ought to sing a song.

There are also songs sung without Hallel, such as Miriam's song at the well, and there are other instances where one might have expected a song, but none was sung, as the Sages remarked: "It would have befit the Israelites to sing a song over the fall of Sihon and Og" (Song of Songs Rabbah 4.8).

The Test of Place - Song and Hallel over miracles outside the Land of Israel

Analyzing the distinction between reciting Hallel, as required by the ruling of the prophets, which includes giving praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and spontaneously singing a song about a specific event, which is not obligatory, can help us understand the nature of thanksgiving on Purim. The gemara (Megillah 14a) discusses why Hallel is not recited on Purim. The conclusion is that Hallel is not recited over miracles that take place outside the Land of Israel. Therefore Hallel is not recited on Purim. Moreover, the deliverance then was not complete, since the Jews remained subjects of Ahasuerus. Song, on the other hand, being spontaneous, can also be said in the wake of partial deliverance, even outside the Land of Israel.

The Test of Time - Song and Hallel on the Eve of Passover

From Hanukkah and Purim we learn that the rules governing when song is appropriate do not follow the regulations for recitation of Hallel as far as the requirements of place are concerned. Over a miracle that takes place in the Land of Israel with the strengthening and renewal of independent sovereignty one says Hallel and a song (of acknowledgment and thanksgiving), as on Hanukkah (see Maimonides, Hilkhot Hanukkah 3.1-3); whereas over a miracle that takes place abroad, without political independence and sovereignty, such as Purim, a song is sung but Hallel is not recited.

From the practice on the eve of Passover we deduce that the same criteria apply to the dimension of time. There are eighteen days of the year on which Hallel is recited in the morning but not the evening (Arakhin 10a), since Hallel is not said in the evening, although a song may be sung then: "When You bring about miracles for us in the day, we recite a song to You in the day. And when You bring about a miracle for us in the night, we recite a song to You in the night" (Genesis Rabbah 6.2). The only night on which Hallel is recited is the eve of Passover: "There are eighteen days and one night on which the entire Hallel is recited" (Masekhet Soferim 20.9). Thus the Talmud says: " 'For you, there shall be singing as on a night when a festival is hallowed' (Is. 30:9) - a night hallowed as a festival requires a song" (Arakhin 10b). In the opinion of Rav Hai Gaon,[5] this means that the entire Hallel is to be recited as a song. Rav Hai's opinion is explained by Rabbi Isaac Ze'ev ha-Levi Soloveitchik (The Brisker Rav; Hiddushei ha-Geriz, Hilkhot Hanukkah 3.7), who wrote that Hallel is said on these eighteen days as a recitation of Hallel, whereas Hallel on the eve of Passover is said as a song.

The sections of Hallel at the Seder are recited in the context of the Haggadah itself, as part of the commandment to tell about the exodus from Egypt, as Sefer ha-Hinnukh explains: "In telling about the exodus from Egypt on the eve of the fifteenth of Nisan, everyone is required to do so according to his own eloquence, and to praise [le-hallel] and laud the Lord, blessed be His name, for all the miracles He performed for us there" (commandment 21). The passages of Hallel are recited as a song, but they are an obligation stemming from the Torah insofar as they are part of the commandment, "you shall explain to your son" (Ex. 13:8).

At the end of the Maggid (the narrative of the Exodus) we recite the first two passages of Hallel and conclude with the benediction: "Then we shall give thanks unto Thee with a new song for our deliverance and for the redemption of our souls. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who hath redeemed Israel."[6] The remaining sections of Hallel, said at the end of the Seder, between Barekh (grace after meals) and Nirtzah (prayer for acceptance), are concluded with the benediction of the song (birkhat ha-shir): "Over the fourth cup Hallel is finished, and the benediction of the song is said over it." Tractate Pesahim (117b-118a) asks: "What is the benediction of the song? Rabbi Judah said: 'Yehalelukha ha-Shem Elokeinu - All thy works, O Lord, shall praise Thee,' and Rabbi Johanan said: 'Nishmat kol hai - The breath of all living shall bless Thy name.'" Indeed, this comprises the entire Hallel, recited without a benediction even in the evening; and it is said in the place of a song. Therefore the concluding benediction on the Seder evening is the benediction of the song.

The greatest spontaneous expression of song is on Seder eve. The Haggadah recounts the narrative of deliverance and redemption that took place during the exodus from Egypt, and despite the fact that the Haggadah has a fixed formulation, "all those who expand on the narrative of the departure from Egypt are to be praised." Thus it is a song that knows no bounds, that is composed anew each year, by each and every Jew. Although we may all be wise and knowledgeable, we are commanded to tell the story.

Song and Hallel on Yom ha-Atzmaut

Since Hanukkah, no day of festive thanksgiving and Hallel was instituted in commemoration of a miracle that happened to the entire Jewish community in the Land of Israel, renewing their national sovereignty and independence in their land, until by the Lord's grace we were blessed to see the establishment of the State of Israel on the fifth of Iyyar, 1948. The rabbis in Israel ruled that Hallel should be recited on this day; but as we have said, we are lacking a song of thanksgiving that tells what this day is about. Nevertheless, one could view the psalm with which Yom ha-Atzmaut prayers are begun, Psalm 107, as a passage alluding to the theme of the day. This psalm begins with the words, " 'Praise the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love is eternal.' Thus let the redeemed of the Lord say, those He redeemed from adversity." Rabbi Menahem ha-Meiri comments on this verse:

I believe this psalm to have been uttered prophetically about this, our redemption from the long exile we have suffered with great adversity. It mentions four categories of adversity. The first, going into captivity in far away lands, always through a wilderness and wasteland, suffering hunger and thirst. The second, being prisoners to corruption. The third, being oppressed by disease. And the fourth, also going into captivity via the sea and suffering the hardships of the sea and its mighty waves. Most adversities are subsumed by these categories. The point is that they suffer all sorts of hardship, and when the Lord redeems them they are delivered from all of this and give thanks to the Lord, proclaiming His wonders to mankind and returning to their devastated land to rebuild its cities, succeeding there in all sorts of ways, so that the land becomes filled with cognizance as they perfect themselves in all sorts of perfections.

The establishment of the State of Israel marks the beginning of our redemption from the long period of exile described by ha-Meiri. The Jews lived through many adversities in their exile and have now returned to their land, from the four corners of the earth, to build cities, plant fields and vineyards; "He blesses them and they increase greatly" (Ps. 107:37-38). We must look closely at the complex reality of our lives to see in it the Lord's grace: "The wise man will take note of these things; he will consider the steadfast love of the Lord" (v. 43). This psalm, along with the recitation of Hallel,[7] can serve as the song of Yom ha-Atzmaut, although there still remains room for establishing a more explicit epic-poem for the prayers on Yom ha-Atzmaut.



[1] Much has been written on the ruling that Hallel be recited on Yom ha-Atzmaut, and we shall not repeat this material here. See Prof. Nahum Rackover's book, Hilkhot Yom ha-Atzmaut ve-Yom Yerushalayim.
[2] No songs or liturgical poems serving this purpose have been published in prayer books, although works in this spirit have been written and published elsewhere. See Aharon Arend's book, Pirkei Mehkar le-Yom ha-Atzmaut, Bar Ilan University, ppl 35-38.
[3] There are two ways of interpreting this list, as Rashbam and other early rabbinic commentators note. One is that the tannaim were not disagreeing here, but each adding another instance of Hallel being recited on the occasion of being saved from adversity. The other possibility is that the tannaim disagreed among themselves as to when the Israelites first recited Hallel on the occasion of deliverance from adversity.
[4] For remarks in a similar spirit see Dr. David Henschke, "Hallel shel Geulah," Yeshuot Uzo (in memory of Rabbi Uzi Kalchheim), pp. 94-99.
[5] Cited in Sha'arei Teshuvah 102, and in the Ran on Pesahim 26b,(RI"F).
[6] "Our deliverance" refers to future redemption, and "the redemption of our souls" refers to the deliverance from Egypt (Orhot Hayyim and Kol Bo); alternatively, "for our deliverance and for the redemption of our souls" - in days to come, and "who hath redeemed Israel" - from Egypt (Abudarham's commentary on the Haggadah).
[7] Whether Hallel should be recited on the eve of Yom ha-Atzmaut at all, or recited as a song, is a subject of controversy. See Rabbi Shelomo Goren, "Keriat Hallel be-Leil Hag ha-Atzmaut," Torat ha-Shabbat ve-ha-Moed, pp. 419-431; and the opposing view by Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, "Eimatai Korin et ha-Hallel?" Invei Petahya, pp. 129-140.
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