Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hallel on Holidays

Rabbi Yonason Ben Uziel, the top student of the Tanna Hillel[1], explains[2] that in the history of the world, ten songs were uttered by people as pure praises to their Creator, and were therefore given the title “Song” (in its proper sense). The first man, Adam, thanked G-d for establishing the Sabbath and dedicated a Psalm of thanksgiving to the Holy Sabbath Day (Psalm 92 begins with the words, Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos, “A psalm: A song for the Sabbath Day.”)[3]. Over two millennia later, when HaShem split the Red Sea for the Jewish Nation, thereby rescuing them from their watery graves, the saved nation sung His praises (Exodus 15:1-19, Az YaShir Moshe, “Then [sic] Moses shall sing”, an allusion to the Messianic Era in which Moses will arise from the dead and once again sing[4]). Later, when the Israelites were given water from a well, they sang the praises of G-d’s gift to them[5]. Before his death, Moses sang a fourth song, both rebuking his nation and describing G-d’s kindness to Israel (Deuteronomy 32:1-43, Haazinu HaShomayim, “Hearken O’ Heaven”). A fifth song was sung by Joshua, the student of Moses, when HaShem stopped the sun for him[6]. Deborah, the judge and prophetess, as well as her husband Barak, famously sang the praises of G-d who delivered Sisera, the Canaanite General, into their hands[7]. When Chanah was finally granted a son, Samuel, she too sang the exultation of G-d[8]; in doing so, she acknowledged that the vicissitudes of life are temporary conditions. When King David finally calmed all his problems and G-d saved him from all of his enemies, he sang a song of gratitude to HaShem[9]. A ninth song, steeped in imagery and allegory, was composed by Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) who described the love between Israel and its G-d (Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs). This Song of Solomon, sometimes referred to as Canticum Canticorum (Canticle of Canticles), is considered the most elevated of all ten songs. The tenth song itself will be sung by the Children of the Exile as they are being redeemed in the final redemption (speedily and in our days). According to the Prophet Isaiah, it will be akin to the Hallel sung on the first night of Passover[10].

There are two types of Hallels and at any give juncture one, the other, both, or neither are recited. One Hallel is called Hallel Mitzrayim[11], “Egyptian Hallel”[12], and is recited on Rosh Chodesh, Chol HaMoed (intermediate days), and Chanukka[13]. The other Hallel, recited on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and every Shabbos, is known as Hallel HaGadol, “The Great Hallel”[14]. Hallel HaGodol is called so because every stanza ends with the words, “for His kindness is everlasting,” especially the penultimate verse, which mentions G-d’s graciousness in sustaining all flesh. In fact, the Talmud[15] initially thought that that verse alone is sufficient to say that one automatically merits a portion in the World To Come for saying Hallel HaGadol thrice a day. This verse contains the greatest praise that one can use to describe for it describes both His abundant kindness and His eternalness that no other being has. Its twenty-six verses correspond to the numerical value of the name of HaShem; alternatively, they correspond to the twenty-six generations between the creation of the world (i.e. Adam) and Moses. The “Egyptian Hallel” is called such because at the time that the Jews were exiting Egypt after two centuries of servitude, they were praising G-d by singing the passage from Tehillim, which constitute this Hallel. The Talmud explains[16] that this Hallel discusses five elements, which makes it greater than the “Great Hallel”: the Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, the giving of the Torah, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the birth pangs of the Messianic Era. On Festivals (Pesach, Succos, and Shavuos) and on Shabbos-Chol HaMoed, both types of Hallel are sung, while on Purim neither Hallel is recited (because the Megillah itself, which is read, is considered Hallel[17]). The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik of Brisk (1886-1959), explained[18] that even within Hallel Mitzrayim, there are two sub-classifications: a Hallel that is called “singing”, and a Hallel that is considered a mere “recitation”[19]. On the first night of Passover – on the Seder Night—not only are both types of Hallel sung, but also, both types of Hallel Mitzrayim are recited; thus, there are three Hallels all together on that night which will be echoed by the songs at the coming of the Messiah.

The Talmud said that "song" is only recited over wine[20]. On this, the Tosafists[21] asked why Hallel is sung on the Eve of Pesach while slaughtering the Paschal Lamb in the Holy Temple, even though there is no wine drunk at that place and time[22]. The Brisker Rav answers that only the "song"-type of Hallel, as sung on the night of Passover, must be said with wine, but not every type of song or Hallel must be sang with wine. Therefore, on the eighteen days on which Hallel is rabbinically ordained[23], one can sing Hallel even without drinking wine. Alternatively, Rabbi Yosef Engel (1859-1910) explains[24] that only the Levitical songs sang during the services in the Holy Temple require wine in order for the song to be sung. Since all sacrifices require various Biblically prescribed amounts of wine as an accompanying offering, then the Levites in the Holy Temple could sing while all sacrifices are brought.

The Talmud says[25] that Hallel is not said on Rosh HaShannah because the joyous song of Hallel is inappropriate for the day that the books of life and death are open in front of HaShem, the Judge of the World. Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk (1853-1918) says[26] that if this is why Hallel should not be said on Rosh HaShannah, then the same logic should also be applied to say the Song of the Day (Shir Shel Yom) should not be said on Rosh HaShannah. Nonetheless, it is clear from the Talmud that the Song of the Day by the Levites in the Holy Temple was indeed sung on Rosh HaShannah; the Talmud says[27] that the reason the Rabbis instituted a two-day Rosh HaShannah in order that the Levites should be able to sing the proper song in the Holy Temple. Furthermore, it is known that the Song of the Day for Rosh HaShannah in the Holy Temple was Psalm 81. Rabbi Chaim Brisker answered that to sing Hallel, one must be in a completely happy state, while to merely recite other songs, one need not be in such an absolutely joyous emotional state. This explains why Hallel is not said on Rosh HaShannah because of the fear from the judgment, while the daily song is still said. A footnote[28] explains from Nachmanides who says[29] who says that the happiness on the festivals is derived by the Talmud[30] from “Because you did not serve HaShem your G-d with happiness and goodness of the heart.[31]” This shows that Hallel on the festivals is an expression of complete elation, an emotion inconsistent with the serious mood of Rosh HaShannah. The source for the Daily Songs in the Temple, on the other hand, are merely scriptural imperatives which call for the Levites to sing while sacrifices are being offered, whether the feeling while singing is a feeling of happiness or not.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) asks[32] if Hallel is not recited on Purim because the reading of Megillas Esther itself is Hallel, then why is Hallel read on the night of Passover, if the reading of the Haggadah should be considered Hallel. He answers that since Megillas Esther—the book of Esther—is a portion of the written Torah then it could be considered an alternate to Hallel, so Hallel is not said on Purim. However, the Haggadah is not a book in the Written Torah, but rather is a compilation of Midrashic sources concerning Passover, its commandments, and the Exodus, so it cannot be a replacement for Hallel, so Hallel must be recited on the night of Passover. Maimonides ruled[33] that because Megillas Esther is read on Purim, the Rabbis never even instituted to say Hallel on Purim. However, Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1310) understood[34] that Hallel was instituted for Purim, but that the reading of the Megillas Esther supersedes it, so when the reading of Megillas Esther is not feasible, Hallel must be said on Purim. Rabbi Yitzchok Silberstein explains[35] that even according to the Meiri, Hallel is not said on Purim that falls out on Saturday[36]—when Megillas Esther is not read[37]— because even though Megillas Esther is not read, its contents are publicly expounded upon on such a Purim[38]. Therefore, the Aggadic explanations of the story of Purim replace the recitation of Hallel. According to this understanding, why should the Haggadah of Passover not replace Hallel if the Haggadah of Purim could replace the Hallel? Rather, one can answer the question of Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad according to the principle set by the Brisker Rav. Even though Megillas Esther and even an Haggadah of Purim can replace Hallel that is the Hallel of mere "recitation", but the night of Passover requires a Hallel of "song", so the Haggadah of Passover cannot replace this type of Hallel.

The Talmud expounds[39] the verse, which says regarding the Jews and their Egyptian pursuers at the Red Sea, "These did not reach close to these the entire night[40]" as an allegorical reference to the angels in heaven. The Talmud says that the entire night of the passage of the Red Sea, the angels requested to sing of G-d's praises for His splitting the Red Sea to save the Jews. However, G-d did not allow them to do so because His own creations—the Egyptians—were drowning in the seas, even while the Jews were being miraculously saved from their otherwise watery graves. The Talmud there points out that the holiday of Chanuka has Hallel recited on each day—even though there are no special sacrifices—in order to publicize the miracle of Chanuka. Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) writes[41] that this is the reason why the complete Hallel is not recited on the last days of Passover. That is, because the Egyptians died in the Red Sea, the Jews do not sing the complete praises so despite the happiness of such a salvation, it is nonetheless sad that others had to die. However, the Talmud says[42] explicitly that the reason the complete Hallel is not recited on the last days of Passover is that those days do not have specific sacrifices added in the Holy Temple, while every other holiday on which Hallel is recited had its own special sacrificial offerings to be brought. This explanation in the Talmud is seemingly contrary to the understanding of Rabbi Yosef Karo. Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891-1962) reconciles[43] the words of Rabbi Yosef Caro with the Talmud's explanation. He explains that both reasons, as to why full-Hallel is not recited on the last days of Passover, are required. He explains that there are two reasons why Hallel is ever said: either because of the day itself being a holiday or because of publicizing the miracle. The Talmud's explanation is why the complete Hallel is not said on the last days of Passover because of the former reason, while Rabbi Yosef Caro's understanding explains why it is not said because of the latter reason.

The Talmud says[44] that the Sages instituted that one should say Hallel at certain points of time and about times of pain. Rashi and Rashbam explain[45] that "times of suffering" refers to periods when the Jews were oppressed in times of suffering, and then were divinely saved, as in the story of Chanukah. Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad[46] explains that in the merit of saying Hallel as gratitude for salvation, one will merit to be saved from future times of affliction. He learns that the recitation of Hallel "in times of suffering" refers to saying Hallel as thanks for the redemption from those miserable times. However, Rabbi Ya'akov Reischer (1661-1733) explains[47] that one is obligated to say Hallel even during times of difficulty and misery, for one is obligated to bless HaShem for the "bad", which He causes, just as one is obligated to bless Him for the good that He provides[48].

Of the two types of Hallel, one implements usage of the interjection “Hallelujah” and one does not. Hallel Mitzrayim contains the phrase “Hallelukah” five times, and repeats the opening stanza from “The Great Hallel” six times; it therefore contains the gist of “The Great Hallel”[49]. The portmanteau “Hallelukah” is the ultimate expression of thanks and happiness combined. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church bans its members from saying “Alleluia” during Passiontide (the time between Lent and Easter) because they feel that that time is supposed to be a sad time, and the phrase is too joyous; so even the gentiles agree about the joyous power of the phrase. The Talmud says[50] that Hallelukah is the greatest of the ten styles[51] of praise implemented by the various Psalmists[52]. Rabbi Shimon Ben Pazi says[53] that King David did not use the phrase until the end of the 104th chapter of Psalms because that phrase is only appropriate in complete bliss and such bliss is not achieved until all sinners cease to exist. He only used the phrase “Halleluyah” in conjunction with the disappearance of sins from the world and the resulting lack of sinners. Hallelukah is a combination of the Hebrew word “Hallelu” meaning to praise, and “Kah”, a two-letter name of G-d (spelled Yud-Hay). The usage of this particular name of HaShem is somewhat portent because its numerical value is fifteen, which is represented by the fifteen expressions of praise, the fifteen “Songs of Ascent”[54], and the fifteen steps upon which the Levites will once again sing those songs in the Holy Temple. May it be the will of HaShem that the Levites may reoccupy the steps of the Holy Temple with their musical instruments and vocalizations of praises to the Almighty with the rebuilding of Holy Temple speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] Bava Basra 138a, although see Rabbeinu Gershom there who says that Yonasaon ben Uziel was the top student of the middle group of Hillel's students
[2] Targum Yonason (a divinely inspired translation of the Torah into Aramaic), Shir HaShirim 1:1
[3] Others explain that Adam wrote this Psalm after he realized the power of repentance (see Genesis Rabbah 22:13)
[4] See Sanhedrin 91a
[5] Numbers 21:17-20
[6] See Joshua 10:12-14
[7] Judges, Chapter 5
[8] Samuel 1 2:1-10
[9] Samuel 2, Chapter 22
[10] See Isaiah 30:29
[11] Hallel Mitzrayim is referred to when the simple phrase "Hallel" is used without any modifying adjectives.
[12] Which consists of Psalms 113-118
[13] In some communities, it is said on the Day of Israeli Independence to commemorate the creation of the Zionist state of Israel, Yom Ha'atzmaus, and Yom Yerushalayim to commemorate the Zionist capture of Jerusalem. However, these recitations are quite controversial. When asked whether he said Hallel on the former of these days, the Chazon Ish said that he does whatever Ben Gurion does. (Ben Gurion, a secular Jew, obviously did not say Hallel.)
[14] That is, Psalms 136
[15] Brachos 4b
[16] Pesachim 119a
[17] Megillah 14a
[18] Chiddushei HaGriz Al HaRambam, Laws of Chanukka 3:6
[19] This distinction is gleaned from the words of Rabbi Hai Gaon as quoted in the Chiddushei HaRan to Pesachim 119a.
[20] Brachos 35a
[21] Tosafos HaRosh to Brachos 35a
[22] Pesachim 64a, 95a
[23] As listed by Maimonides, Laws of Chanukah 3:6
[24] Gilyonei HaShas to Bava Basra 97a
[25] Arachin 10b
[26] Mikroei Kodesh, Days of Awesomeness §8 as quoted in Kuntres HaMoadim from Brisk, pg. 13
[27] See Beitzah 4b-5a
[28] To Kuntres HaMoadim
[29] Ramban to Sefer HaMitzvos, Root 1
[30] Arachin 11a
[31] Deuteronomy 28:47
[32] Ben Yehoyada to Megillah 14a
[33] Laws of Chanukah 3:6
[34] Beis HaBechirah to Megillah 14a
[35] Chashukei Chemed to Megillah 14a
[36] Rabbi Silberstein also quotes an answer from Chug Ha'Aretz that the Rabbis specifically decreed that Hallel not be said on Purim that falls out on Saturday because if Hallel were to be said, then the common people would become confused and start saying Hallel in years which Purim does not fall out on Saturday despite the fact that Megillas Esther replaces Hallel.
[37] See Megillah 4b, Pesachim 69a, Sukkah 42b, Rosh HaShannah 29b, Beitzah 17b
[38] See Megillah 4a
[39] Megillah 10a
[40] Exodus 14:20

[41] Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim §490
[42] Erachin 10a
[43] Mishnas Aharon, Volume 3, Pesach
[44] Pesachim 117a
[45] To Pesachim 117a, Rashbam is actually printed on 116b in the standard Vilna Shas
[46] Ben Yehoyada to Pesachim 117a
[47] Iyun Ya'akov to Pesachim 117a
[48] See the Mishnah, Brachos 54a
[49] Although, the Introductory Psalm to Hallel HaGadol, Psalm 135, uses the phrase three times.
[50] Pesachim 117a
[51] See the glosses of Rabbi Elazar Moshe Horowitz to Pesachim 117a who proves that there are two different types of Hallelujah, one of which is greater than all ten styles, the other of which is part of the ten.
[52] The ten are Nitzuach, Niggun, Mashal, Mizmor, Shir, Ashrei, Tehillah, Tefillah, Hodaah, and finally, Halleluyah.
[53] Brachos 9b
[54] Shir HaMa’alos, Psalms 120-134

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