Songs of Praise Within Eretz Yisrael
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Songs of Praise Within Eretz Yisrael
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“אין אומרים הלל על נס שבחוצה לארץ. יציאת מצרים דנס שבחוצה לארץ, היכי אמרינן שירה? כדתניא: עד שלא נכנסו ישראל לארץ הוכשרו כל ארצות לומר שירה. משנכנסו ישראל לארץ לא הוכשרו כל הארצות לומר שירה”
Hallel is not recited for a miracle which occurred outside of Eretz Yisrael. How then do we come to say it for the Exodus from Egypt which was a miracle which occurred outside Eretz Yisrael? — This is in accordance with what has been taught: “Until they entered Eretz Yisrael, all lands were counted as proper for chanting songs of praise (for miracles done in them) — After they had entered the Land, other countries were no longer counted as proper for chanting a songs of praise (for miracles done in them).”
[Gemara Megilla 14a]
Amazement at the Talmudic Comment
The Gemara (Talmud) establishes the rule that Hallel is not recited for miracles which occurred outside Eretz Yisrael, but exclusively for miracles which occurred within the Land. Therefore, Hallel is not recited on Purim. The Gemara questions the rule by noting that Hallel is said on Pesacḥ, for the miracles of the exodus, which happened outside Eretz Yisrael. The Gemara’s answer is that the rule that Hallel is not recited for miracles which occurred outside Eretz Yisrael is in force from the time Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) entered Eretz Yisrael, but prior to this, all lands were “counted as proper” for reciting songs of praise.
The question which begs asking is: what is unique about Eretz Yisrael, that only miracles occurring within her merit songs of praise?
Further, we can wonder why the Talmud chose to phrase its words in terms of “All lands were counted as proper for chanting songs of praise.” It would seem more exact to speak of the lands’ citizens singing songs of praise. Is it the lands which sing?
It seems that there are two approaches to differentiating between the miracles of Eretz Yisrael and those which occurred outside her: the first sees a substantive difference in the nature of the miracles, due to the higher status of Eretz Yisrael; the second sees the miracles as being similar, whether within Eretz Yisrael or outside her, with the distinguishing factor being the Land itself which obligates Hallel.
Substantive Difference in the Miracles of Eretz Yisrael and Other Lands
Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1860 – 1920) notes that here is a significant distinction between God’s providence over Eretz Yisrael and His providence over all other lands.
''ארֶץ אֲשֶׁר ד' אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי ד' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּה''
A Land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
[Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:12]
While God entrusted the supervision of other lands to Hid ministering angels, He reserved supervision of Eretz Yisrael for Himself. This concept is expressed in Chazals’ (our Sages’) comment that “Eretz Yisrael is watered by the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, and the entire rest of the world through an intermediary.” [Gemara Ta’anit 10a] (Ramban preceded the Rebbe in his comments on Bereishi (Genesis)).
Based upon this, the Rebbe explained the Gemara (Talmudic) comment that “Israelites outside the Land are considered as ones who serve idols in purity” [Gemara Avoda Zara 8a]. The comment appears unintelligible: How can it be said that all Jews living outside Eretz Yisrael that they are idolaters? What is meant by “in purity?” Is there such a thing as serving idols in purity?
Just as physical idolatry involves bowing to a tangible object, so too there is spiritual idolatry, in which one as it were bends his body and his intellect and bows to things which are influenced by stars and constellations. Outside Eretz Yisrael, since providence does not come directly from God as it does within Eretz Yisrael, but only indirectly through His intermediaries, it is easily possible to err and believe that the abundance which reaches the world is through His agents and to fail to understand that they are merely agents of the Creator. Thus, it is considered as idolatry “in purity.” What is involved is a confused thought process, but it is possible to mitigate this because the Divine enlightenment and providence outside Eretz Yisrael are limited and it is more difficult to recognize them.
Based upon the principle developed by the Rebbe, it is easily understandable why Hallel is restricted to miracles of Eretz Yisrael: since only Eretz Yisrael is supervised personally and directly by God, miracles which occur in her are overt and above nature (for example, the miracle of the jar of oil of Ḥanukka). Therefore, Hallel is recited. Outside Eretz Yisrael miracles are performed by God’s intermediaries, in covert ways, and through nature, and Hallel is not recited for miracles which in hidden ways.
This is the elucidation of the first approach: miracles within the Land are of a different nature than those which occur outside her, and only they are suitable for Hallel.
Second Explanation: The Distinction in the Location of the Miracle
Maharal of Prague, in his work Netzacḥ Yisrael, explains the Gemara (Talmudic) statement:
The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to appoint Hezekiah as the Messiah, and Sennacherib as Gog and Magog; whereupon the Attribute of Justice said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Sovereign of the Universe! If You did not make David the Messiah, who uttered so many hymns and psalms before You, how will You appoint Hezekiah as such, who did not recite hymns to You in spite of all these miracles which You did for him?” Immediately the Land exclaimed: “Sovereign of the Universe! Let me utter song before You instead of this righteous man (Hezekiah), and make him the Messiah.” So it broke into song before Him.
[Gemara Sanhedrin 94a]
Based upon this Gemara (Talmudic) comment, when Am Yisrael is within its Land, not only they sing songs of praise, but the Land herself sings in place of Am Yisrael. There is a certain measure of reciprocity, an aspect of being a couple. Maharal explains that when a miracle is performed, it is appropriate to recite hymns of praise, since miracles indicate supernatural supervision of the world, and this supernatural aspect constitutes perfection and completion of the world; and when one achieves completion, he offers song and praise to He who is the source of completion. That is, singing praise expresses a measure of completion, and only one who experiences this completion is worthy of singing.
Maharal proves his point through its opposite, mourning. A mourner is in the state of complete lack, having lost someone important. Thus, a mourner is unable to open his mouth (i.e. to speak normally), and the custom is to feed lentils to mourners, “Just as lentils have no mouth, so the mourner has no mouth” [Gemara Bava Batra 16b].
Based upon Maharal’s exposition, we can understand that Hallel is said only in Eretz Yisrael because it is only there that Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) can achieve its completion! When outside the Land, the Am Yisrael experiences a significant lack, there is something missing from its essence, and it is therefore not fitting to sing praise, no matter how great the miracle outside the Land.
According to Maharal’s elucidation, the fact that we do not recite songs of praise outside Eretz Yisrael is not causal, because we are abroad; rather it is indicative of the significant deficiency within the nation when we are outside the Land.
Hezekiah was not appointed as Messiah because he did not sing; not simply as a matter of a tune and words which he did not recite, but because he lacked something substantive, and was therefore unable to recite hymns of praise. Reciting or failure to recite hymns of praise is indicative of understanding or failing to understand the completeness of that which has transpired.
Maharal also explains the meaning of the Land singing in place of Hezekiah:
That the Land sang in place of the righteous one (Hezekiah) … is because a person, who possesses a supernal soul, does not achieve the full suitable level of completion; however, the Land, being of the lower (physical, tangible) elements, achieves its perfection when there are righteous people within her. Certainly, if there are no righteous people within the Land it cannot achieve its completion, as the verse sates “He gave the earth to the sons of man.” [Tehillim (Psalms) 115:16] For when men upon the Land are deficient, in practice the Land cannot be complete. Song is connected to the Land, which is from the lower world, while man was created as well from the lower world and he is upon the Land, and it is from this perspective that there is song. Song is related to completion; only the man who truly appreciates the spiritual nature of the miracles performed for him can sing, and since the Land achieves its completion through the presence of righteous people within her, she can sing on behalf of man.
Based upon Maharal’s words, the matter is sweeter than honey. Above we asked why other lands were no longer suitable for songs of praise once Israel entered its Land. If there is indeed something unique about Eretz Yisrael, it should have an eternal impact and not be dependent upon the movements of Am Yisrael. In truth, Eretz Yisrael has a pure sanctity in any event; however, when the righteous Nation of Israel is within the Land it completes and perfects her sanctity, and then she is fit to sing songs of praise. The Land is the mate of the Nation of Israel, completing the nation and allowing it to achieve its perfection, as the nation completes the Land. For this reason, when a miracle was performed in the days of Hezekiah, and he was not ready to express the feeling of completion through singing praise, he lost the opportunity to be Messiah, who will advance the ultimate redemption and universal completion. The Land sang praise in his stead, since she is Am Yisrael’s partner in achieving completion and perfection. While Am Yisrael was obligated to recite songs of praise, but failed to do so, at least the Land expressed in her own way the feeling of completion.
This approach is clearly seen in the additional Gemara comment that Eretz Yisrael brings forth its fruit primarily when Am Yisrael is within her [Gemara Ketubot 112a]. This explains the Gemara’s choice of words “all lands were counted as proper to sing,” rather than stating “Israel was fit to sing;” Am Yisrael’s song is dependent upon the Land. Thus, it is appropriate to say “all lands were counted as fit,” as a temporary, one-time permit. Only when the Land has sung praise does the nation add its song.
This is expressed in Perek Shira, Am Yisrael serves as the mouth for the entire universe, and the Land’s fitness to sing depends upon the presence within her of the righteous.
However, we must ask: are all the Israelites within the Land righteous that it is appropriate for the Land to sing on their behalf as she did for Hezekiah?
The answer is yes! Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570 – 1643) writes in his work Ḥessed l’Avraham:
''ודע שכל מי שדר בארץ ישראל נקרא צדיק, גם שאינם צדיקים כפי הנראה, שאם לא היה צדיק היה מקיא אותו הארץ, כדכתיב 'ותקיא הארץ את יושביה', וכיון שאינה מקיא אותו בודאי נקרא צדיק אף על פי שהוא נראה בחזקת רשע.''
Know that all Israel who live in Eretz Yisrael are called righteous, even if they do not appear so; for if this were not the case, the Land would have spit them out, as the verse states. [Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:28] Since the Land has not spit them out, it is certain that they are considered righteous, even if they appear to be evil.
Since all Israel are righteous, it is appropriate that the Land sing, and since Israel’s entry into the Land she is “counted as fit to sing songs of praise.”
Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1918 – 1994; chief rabbi of Israel’s army [1948 – 1971] and chief rabbi of Israel [1972 – 1983]) recited Hallel with a blessing on Yom haAtzmaut, as well as reciting the sheheḥiyanu blessing. One time, another rabbi heard Rabbi Goren recite sheheḥiyanu and wondered about this. Rabbi Goren informed him that he had put on a new tie, which satisfied his questioner. Rabbi Goren commented: “A new tie merits sheheḥiyanu, but renewal of God’s kingdom with Israel’s redemption does not?!”
Fortunate are we to see God’s merciful return to Zion, and to be among the righteous who dwell in the Holy Land.
Summary of the Answers
We presented two central answers;
1) The nature of providence over the Land is on a higher level than that of other lands, and thus it is fitting to say Hallel and sing praise for miracles performed within her.
2) Even if there is no real distinction between the miracles within the Land and those outside her, it is more appropriate to recite songs of praise in Eretz Yisrael because of the influence of the Land’s perfection and completion when the Nation of Israel is within her, since in the Land all Israel are righteous and the miracles done within her are completion itself. In the status of perfection it is proper to sing praise.
Singing Praise and Blossoming in our Days
Thank God, we have been privileged to see with our own eyes Israel’s return to its Land. We experience what our ancestors throughout two thousand years of exile merely dreamt about. We eagerly await the complete fulfillment of God’s promise to His nation. The Land has responded to her loving sons who returned to her, producing her fruit and joining us in singing praise of the Creator.
One of the places where the wonder of the return of Am Yisrael to its Land was manifest was Gush Katif, one of the places which had been considered desolate, which was quickly turned into fertile agricultural land. The Jewish farmers of Gush Katif exported thousands of tons of a variety of agricultural produce, reaching a value of $20,000,000. Today, following the destruction of Gush Katif, with gentiles living in the area, the place has returned to its previous desolation, as God had promised
''והשימותי אני את הארץ. שלא יהיו ישראל גולים ממנה והיא בטובתה, אלא הארץ תהיה שממה אחריהם''
(“I will make the Land desolate”) [Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:32] – When Am Yisrael is exiled from her the Land will not be at her best, but will be left desolate when they leave her [Midrash Aggada Perek 26 Siman 32].
 Rabbi Kook [Orot haKodesh 2] writes that there are those who sing the song of their souls, while others achieve a higher level and in their song unite with the entire cosmos, with all creatures and with all the worlds, singing together with all these. Of these it is said “One who recites Perek Shira on a daily basis is guaranteed to be a son of the World to Come.”