God is love! The word in Hebrew for God’s love is hesed, also translated as kindness or loving-kindness. Jewish mystics teach that the need to express hesed initiated God’s acts of creation.
In each of the twenty-six verses of Psalm 136 a phrase repeats, “For forever is God’s hesed.” We may conjure the image of the Levites in the courtyard on risers chanting a call with the communal refrain: ki l’olam hasdo. Such a repeated, collective chant would have instilled connection and joy.
The opening of each verse surveys God’s acts, as love is known through action: creation, redemption, entry into the Promised Land. And then a closing shift to the present and the universal as God is described as “Giver of bread to all flesh” and distinctly called “El [Divine] of the heaven.” The rabbis in the Talmud entitle this Psalm, “The Great Hallel,” and on Shabbat and holiday mornings we chant it in its entirety as part of our introductory “hymn verses” [Pesukei d’Zimra].
Please join me for a close reading of Psalm 136
This Psalm is dedicated to Batia Swed.