Tuesday, December 15, 2009

King David's Chanukah Song

Tehillim - Psalm 30

A psalm - a song for the inauguration of the Temple  - by David (Tehillim 30:1)

Because Psalm 30 begins with a mention of inaugurating the First Temple, it is no surprise that this is the additional psalm that has been chosen to be read during the days of Chanukah - a time when we celebrate the re-dedication of the Second Temple. Yet its connection with the holiday runs even deeper.

During Chanukah, we are commanded to offer words of praise and thanks to G-d. We fulfill this mitzvah by saying Hallel (Tehillim 113 -118) and a special prayer called Al Hanisim. Yet even though King David lived some 1,000 years before the Chanukah miracles, when he composed his "Chanukah song" he did just what was later commanded: for 13 verses, Psalm 30 is an exuberant song of praise and thanks.

I will exalt you, HaShem, because you drew me up; You didn't let my enemies rejoice over me.  HaShem, my G-d, I cried out to You - and You healed me. (30:2, 3)

During King David's lifetime, he was often surrounded by enemies and beset by many physical dangers. Psalm 30, however, is not about a physical hurt or threat. In this psalm King David is talking about being in psychological danger; he is praising G-d for not allowing him to remain in the darkness of a deep depression:

HaShem, You have raised up my soul from the Sheol; You have preserved me from my descent into the pit…(30: 4)

…In the evening, a person lies down weeping, and in the morning - joy! (30: 6)

But Psalm 30 is not just an "ode to joy" - it also provides the secret to how to get out of a state of depression:

To You, HaShem, I would call, and to my G-d I would appeal (30:9)…

…Hear, HaShem, and favor me, HaShem, be a helper for me (30:11).

When we call out to G-d - when we allow ourselves to believe that help can come and healing is possible - we're already beginning to pull ourselves out of the pit of despair. Suddenly we can envision being in a different, more joyous state of mind:

You have changed my lament into dancing for me; You opened up my sackcloth and girded me with happiness (30:12).

Most of us let our emotions rule over our lives: when we're happy we sing; when we're sad, our soul is silent. King David, however, is telling us to try another way:

So that my soul will sing to you and not be silent, HaShem, my G-d, forever will I thank you (30:13).

First, thank G-d, King David tells us. Trust that salvation will come - even when all still looks bleak - and utter words of thanks. You will then discover that your words will have a positive effect on your emotional state. By consciously taking the initiative and giving "thanks to his holy Name," your soul is guaranteed to respond. Instead of brooding in stony silence, your heart will open up and begin to sing.

This teaching is also the essence of Chanukah.

Imagine the scene: Judea was overrun by a foreign power, people were being slaughtered every day, the Temple had been desecrated. If ever there was a time of darkness - a time when people lay down upon their beds weeping - this was it.

Yet one morning the people woke up and, despite the terrible odds, they began to fight back. By taking the initiative - and calling upon G-d to help do the rest - the Chashmoneans (Maccabees) created an opening for miracles to happen.

The miracles did, indeed, happen but the victorious Chashmoneans did not establish the Chanukah holiday immediately. According to the Talmud (Shabbat 21b): "The next year they established and made these days into a holiday, for saying songs of praise and thanks."

Why did they wait a year? Because they wanted to be sure that the same light that had glowed so brightly with the first flush of victory would still be apparent even after the initial excitement had died down. When they saw, the following Kislev, that they still felt a strong urge to praise and thank G-d, they knew that the light of Chanukah would shine forever. They knew that every year - at this same time of year - the Jewish people would be inspired to echo the words of King David, and say:

HaShem, my G-d, forever will I thank you (30:13).

-Decoupage for the Soul

No comments: