Hallel is a prayer recited in synagogues on special occasions. “Hallel,” which literally means “praise to God,” consists of six Psalms (113-118), and is recited on joyous festivals such as holidays and Rosh Chodesh (the renewal of the Jewish month). The only two major Jewish holidays on which Hallel is not recited are Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur. The Talmud asks, “Is it seemly for the king to be sitting on His Throne of Judgment, with the Books of Life and Death open before Him, and for the people to sing joyful praises to him?” It would be inappropriate to sing praises to God during such a solemn time.
The chapters of Psalms included in Hallel not only praise God, but they also mention some fundamental themes of Jewish faith and the story of our heritage, including the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah, the coming of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the dead in the future. When the Jewish people recite the verses of Hallel, we are thanking God for the miracles of the past, and we are asking him to hasten the promised miracles of the future.
The one “minor” holiday on which the Jewish people do not recite Hallel is Purim. This is for two reasons. The first reason is that the miracle of Purim took place outside of the land of Israel. The second reason is that even after the miracles of the story of Purim, the Jewish people were still under the rule of the Persian Empire in exile. This emphasizes the great importance of the Jewish people residing in their Homeland.
This week in Israel is a very special week. Passover has just ended, and we are all returning to our everyday lives. Amidst the return to normalcy, we have several very special days spread across one week. They are modern holidays, commemorating events from the 20th Century, and the return of the Jewish people to their Homeland 70 years ago. The first of these days fell last week on Thursday, which was Holocaust Remembrance Day. We remember and honor the victims of the Holocaust with ceremonies, prayers, and a nation-wide moment of silence. The next is a Memorial Day for Israeli soldiers and victims of terror. This day is also commemorated with a moment of silence, as well as ceremonies, visits to the country’s military cemeteries, and people sharing stories about the fallen. Finally, the last of these special days is Israel’s Independence Day. Israelis pour into the streets to celebrate the miracles that led us to the State of Israel we live in today. What better way to celebrate than with a festive recitation of the prayer Hallel?