Traditionally, synagogues in Israel and around the world corporately pray Psalms 113-118 (known as Hallel) during Biblical Feasts, Chanukah and a modified version of Hallel every month on the Festival of the New Moon.
A year after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel decided that these series of psalms should be invoked on Israel’s Independence Day. Central to all the reasons in instituting Israel’s Independence Day as a minor holiday within the sacred calendar of the Jewish people was the notion of thanksgiving.
With the destruction of the Second Temple, the exile of the Jewish people scattered to the four corners of the earth, trials and tribulations under foreign governments and the near annihilation of Eastern European Jewry in the Holocaust, it seemed that Jewish history was coming to an end. As the psalmists declares: They thrust so hard against me, I nearly fell, but the Lord came to my help. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation (Psalm 118:13-14).
On May 14, 1948, God changed the course of sacred history and the State of Israel was born in one day as stated in Isaiah 66:8. Indeed, the Jewish people experienced a dream-like state of wonderment as echoed in Psalm 126. The religious establishment recognized that the restoration of Israel back to its homeland had to be acknowledged in our corporate worship. Psalms 113-118 would be our national recognition of God’s providence working through His people and Zion.
“Praise the Lord, all nations; acclaim Him, all you peoples; for His loving-kindness to us is strong; and the Lord’s faithfulness is everlasting. Halleluya”
What is most interesting in the development of these series of psalms is that one of the five criteria in creating Hallel was the inherent notion of the birth pangs of the messianic era. How prophetic! The reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth are proofs that we are living in the beginnings of a redemptive age. Jewish history is alive and well! We are living in the beginnings of a very special season and through Hallel we acknowledge our sacred role in the unfolding of the miracle of State of Israel.
An essential characteristic of Hallel is the role of the nations in praising God with us. It is my belief that the time has come to invite the Christian world to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day with us by reciting these psalms. It is my hope that you will join us in Jerusalem on that day.
If your schedule does not allow you to come this year, I ask that you prayerfully consider to recite these psalms on April 29th, 2020. You can do this in your personal prayer time, with members of your prayer team or have your church conduct an actual service.
As the psalmist declares – This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. What a sanctification of God’s name it would be when both faith communities can come together in a sacred moment to give praise and thanksgiving for God’s covenantal love for Israel! Please let me know you will be praising with us on April 29th, 2020.
Chief Rabbi of Efrat
Ambassador for Jewish-Christian Relations