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prayer pings #30 yom ha'atzmaut

The chapter of our liturgy that is most closely associated with Yom Ha'atzmaut is one which we sing every Shabbat and Yom Tov before we bentch, but whose words have special resonance today:                        שיר המעלות: בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים

The description of the dream-like return to Zion, and the affirmation that those who sow patiently in tears, invariably will reap with joy.

There are differing interpretive traditions concerning which return to Zion is being referenced here. Rashi states matter-of-factly that Shir HaMa'alot refers to a Return that had already occurred, the return of the Babylonian exile in the days of Zerubavel and the prophets Hagai, Zecharia, and Malachi. Rashi's view is supported by the rabbinic tradition that this entire set of 15 "Shir HaMa'alot" psalms were composed to be sung by the Levites in the Second Temple.

But among the medieval commentaries on Tanach, there is a distinctly other view as well. Radak (12th century, Provence) for example, asserts that the Return being described here, is a Return that is yet to occur. Not the return from Babylonia in the 5th century BCE, rather the return from the four corners of the earth that will yet occur in the future. The one whose beginnings we associate with the Zionist movement, and the founding of the State.

The most moving part of Radak's commentary though, is actually in what follows. It is moving not because of its content per se, but because of the vivid picture that emerges from the attribution he makes at the end. "What is the meaning", Radak asks, "of the phrase we were as dreamers"? It means that "[at that future time] all of the troubles and anguish of our exiles will seem as if they were but a dream, so great will be the joy of the Return to our land. Thus my father explained this phrase."

Radak is not merely offering us an explanation of the text. He is sharing with us a precious picture from his childhood. In our mind's eye we can see him, sitting with his father Rabbi Yosef Kimchi, himself a Biblical scholar, who fled anti-Jewish persecution in his native Spain in the 1140's. We can hear the father telling his son the harrowing story of his own youth, and then pointing to the opening verse of this familiar psalm, reassuring him that all of this will one day pass, will seem as but a dream. All the pain and anguish will be overshadowed by the joy of the return, the return that is our destiny. "Thus my father explained this phrase". And thus the son shall explain it too.

This is how Scripture, becomes Liturgy.

Chag Same'ach.

~Rav Yosef

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780