Among the most joyous psalms of our people is Psalm 126 – a psalm which describes the great joy that we will experience when Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, will bring about our return to Zion. As we discussed in this series, the prophets reveal that this will be both a physical and spiritual return – a holistic redemption which will bring us the great joy which is expressed in Psalm 126. The following is an English translation of this psalm:
“A Song of Ascents: When Hashem will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers. Then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with joyous song. Then will they declare among the nations, ‘Hashem has done great things for them.’ Hashem has done great things for us; we will rejoice. O Hashem, return our captivity like springs in the desert. Those who sow in tears will reap with joyous song. The one who walks along weeping, carrying the bag of seeds, will return with joyous song carrying his sheaves!”
I will now share with you some special insights on the following verses from the above psalm:
1. “Then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with joyous song.” – The commentator, Sforno, explains that “our mouth will be filled with laughter” without any mixture of sadness, as it is written regarding the age of our great ingathering, “Sadness and sighing will flee” (Isaiah 35:10).
2. “Hashem has done great things for us; we will rejoice.” – According to the commentator, Radak, these are the joyous words that our people will say when we are redeemed. There is another interpretation of these words which is offered by the Chasam Sofer, a leading sage of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (1) He explains that these joyous words will be said by the nations of the world, for they will realize that they have greatly benefited by our ingathering and renewal in Zion; thus, they too, will rejoice. The Chasam Sofer points out that the good which they will receive from us will be a fulfillment of the following Divine promise to our people: “Nations will go by your light” (Isaiah 60:3).
3. “O Hashem, return our captivity like springs in the desert.” – As we discussed in a previous letter of this series, there are passages within our Sacred Scriptures which use “water” as a metaphor for the teachings of Torah. In this spirit, the Chasam Sofer offers the following interpretation of this verse: When we were in exile, the nations ridiculed our faith. In the messianic age, however, they will witness how Hashem brought us home to Zion, and they will recognize the truth of our faith. We will then give of our spiritual knowledge to the nations of the world, like the springs which nurture life in the desert. (2)
May we soon experience the age of our final and complete redemption, when “our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with joyous song.” And just as we shall sing joyous song, so too, the entire world shall sing joyous song. An example can be found in the following quote from the “haftorah” – portion from the prophets – which we chanted on this past Shabbos:
“Sing joyous song, O heaven, for what Hashem has done; shout for joy, O depths of the earth; break out with joyous song, O mountains, O forest and all its trees, for Hashem has redeemed Jacob” (Isaiah 44:23).
Why is our joy – the joy described in Psalm 126 – shared by heaven and earth? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the above prophecy of Isaiah, gives us an answer which is based on various Divine promises that are recorded in our Sacred Scriptures. He explains that in the age of our redemption, when we finally fulfill our sacred and universal mission, heaven and earth will also be redeemed, for the entire world will regain the ideal state which existed at the dawn of creation. With the help of Hashem, we shall discuss this joyous message in future letters.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. “Hashem has done great things for us; we will rejoice.” – The commentary of the Chasam Sofer on these words is found in, “Responsa of Chasam Sofer, 6:84. It is cited in, “The Haggadah of the Chasam Sofer” (Hebrew) – a collection of teachings of the Chasam Sofer related to Passover.
2. “O Hashem, bring back our exiles like springs in the desert.” – The commentary of the Chasam Sofer on these words is found in, “Drashos HaChasam Sofer” (Vol. 1, 172b). It is cited in, “The Haggadah of the Chasam Sofer.”
3. Ashkenazic Jews have a custom to sing Psalm 126 before the Grace after Meals on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh (the celebration of the New Moon), the Festivals, and some other sacred festive occasions.