What is the Hallel? Jewish Prayer of Praise
when’s the last time you were so happy you sang a song with someone else you might have done it today or yesterday but on the whole it feels like we have fewer and fewer opportunities for group singing which is a bummer because group singing is awesome like literally awesome it can help us experience aww and gratitude things we need more of in our lives Hallel is the Jewish people’s musical number to celebrate profound moments of communal happiness even if you’ve never heard of Hallel you’ve heard the word hallelujah and you know what it means thank God and that’s what Hallel is our way to express profound collective gratitude to God lordy Lordy hallelujah it started on the shores of the Red Sea as the ancient Israelites looked on while the sea closed on their Egyptian oppressors they erupted in song filled gratitude to God as they experienced freedom for the first time it was the first Hallel in history every year since we’ve included Hallel in our Passover seders and on other holidays commemorating communal salvation and since Jewish prayer isn’t something that only commemorates the past many communities also sing Hallel to celebrate modern day events like the rebirth of the State of Israel or the reunification of Jerusalem the themes of the Psalms in Hallel are not identical but all of them evoke images of transition, evolution and growth. the first Psalm focuses on God’s power as creator when we experience the Creator intervening in the world on our behalf that’s an incredible moment of grace as our anxiety gives way to exultation The second Psalm evokes the historical experiences of the Exodus and it’s world altering power it wasn’t just that we were taken out of Egypt but that the sea was split and the physical contours of the world were altered. By the third Psalm we encounter a shift as the words center on the debt
we owe the divine for saving us we owe it to God to offer blessing and praise as well as acts of sacrifice importantly we don’t do them simply out of subservience but because they express the tremendous joy, appreciation and humility we feel by the last Psalm, the themes shift yet again weaving together gratitude memory and request unlike the earlier Psalms this final Psalm is recited primarily responsively with the leader calling out one verse and the congregation answering another When it’s done well, Hallel is one of the most powerful experiences we can have a good leader can pick tunes and tempos that enable us to experience all
of these different feelings: exuberant joy, gratitude, longing and, heartfelt petition and we do it not as individuals but as a community sharing melodies harmonizing, feeling the sounds resonating and reverberating in the air and in our hearts in a world that cries out for more gratitude, more awe and group singing, Hallel is the best 15 minutes in shul.