This Shabbat is Shabbat HaChodesh, marking the new moon of Nissan and announcing the Passover is approaching. Tomorrow morning Jews around the world, including us right here in West Philly, will be singing a bonus set of songs known as Hallel. Hallel, comprising Psalms 113-118, is a collection of psalms of celebration, recited on joyous occasions including Rosh Hodesh, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Hanukkah. It is also included in the Passover seder, where it is divided into two parts that surround the meal. Notably for tomorrow, on Rosh Hodesh and the last six days of Passover, a partial "Hatzi Hallel" is recited omitting the first half of psalm 115 and psalm 116.
The connection between Hallel and Passover is not incidental. For starters, we recite Hallel on Passover and at Seder. And Psalm 114 begins by declaring, "B'zeit yisrael...When Israel went out from Egypt." But it goes deeper than that. The psalms of Hallel draw on the theme of exodus as a metaphor for celebratory moments, both moments of leaving behind oppression and also moments of overcoming personal or communal struggle. And verses from these psalms, like Ozi v'Zimrat Yah, also appear liturgically in key moments like the Song at the Sea. Through spirited song, Hallel invites us to imagine a world of freedom and renewal.
In just two weeks we will read in the Haggadah that each of us is obligated to see ourselves as if we personally went out from a narrow place. This is not just a story we remember, but a sacred practice we embody. And tomorrow is our warm up.
Tomorrow when we recite Hallel, I will invite everyone to rise in body or spirit. And while this may seem incidental, it speaks to how the rabbis understood the power of these psalms.
"The Sages taught: Who initially recited Hallel?
Rabbi Eliezer says: Moses and the Jewish people recited it when they stood by the sea...
Rabbi Yehuda says: Joshua and the Jewish people recited it when they defeated the kings of Canaan who stood against them...
Rabbi Yosi HaGelili says: Mordecai and Esther recited it when the wicked Haman stood against them..." (B.T. Pesachim 117a)
The list goes on and on.
As I have learned from my preschooler, according to the rabbis, Hallel is about being an upstander. The Talmud continues, "And the Rabbis say that Hallel was not established for any specific event, but the Prophets among them instituted that the Jewish people should recite it on every appropriate occasion, and for every trouble, may it not come upon them. When they are redeemed, they recite it over their redemption."
Hallel is both an affirmation of the world as it is and the world as it could be. It calls us to remember the moments when our people took a stand. And it invites us to do the same in our time. Hallel is an extra boost of faith and joy that propels us to believe that the renewal of the new moon ushers in the renewal in our own lives.
כן יהי רצון
May it be so.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.