We chant “The Hallel of Egypt” (Psalms 113-118) at our seder. We chant the first two Psalms before the meal and the rest afterwards. Our meal in the middle is another expression of Halleluyah. Psalm 114 begins “when Israel went out of Egypt,” but we first chant Psalm 113. Why? What is the link of this opening Psalm to redemption? Psalm 113 presents a stark contrast: God is above the Heavens and yet, descends to see what is going on in the heavens and on earth. God’s primary focus is on those who are in the lowest state, materially and emotionally, and God raises them up.
This is a Psalm of hope. When we find ourselves in a rut or fallen, we may look up and see the possibility of God raising us up. Such faith allowed the Israelites in Egypt to follow Moses’ lead toward freedom. A close reading of the Psalm reveals complementary opposites, including: God and God’s servants; the sun rising and its setting; God in the Heavens and acting on earth; a childless woman with a mother of many. The artfully woven details amplify the core message, drawing us into the joys of close reading.
I share below some unusual music of these verses and an essay on speculations of the moment that these Psalms were first recited.
Our study this morning is dedicated to Lanie Friedman.