י״ב במרחשון ה׳תשע״ד (October 16, 2013)

Pesaḥim 118a-b: Praising God

Aside from the standard Hallel (Tehillim 113-118) that is recited during the seder, we also are instructed by the baraita on our daf to say Hallel ha-Gadol. Although there is a disagreement recorded in the Gemara regarding which psalms make up Hallel ha-Gadol, we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda who says that it is the whole of Tehillim 136.

Tehillim 136 encompasses 26 praises of God from the time of creation through the Jewish People entering the Land of Israel. Having introduced Hallel ha-Gadol as part of the praise said during the seder, the question is raised why we usually choose to recite the standard Hallel instead. The Gemara points out five unique areas that are focused on in the standard Hallel which make it appropriate:
Exodus from Egypt (114:1)
Splitting of the Red Sea (114:3)
Giving of the Torah (114:4)
Resurrecting the dead (116:9)
The pangs of the Messiah (115:1)

The discussion of Hallel leads to further aggadic discussions of these chapters in Tehillim, concluding with a number of teachings that Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosei quoted in the name of his father. One of them was an analysis of Tehillim 117, which describes how all the nations of the world praise God because of what He did on behalf of the Jewish people. The question is obvious – why should the nations of the world praise God because of what he did for us? Rabbi Yosei taught that the intention of the passage is to say that we should watch the nations of the world praise God when He does something for them, and learn how much we are obligated to praise Him since His generosity to us was even greater.

Rabbi Yosei’s teachings about related issues are also brought in the Gemara. Based on the passage in Tehillim (68:30) we see that, in the future, Egypt will want to bring an offering to the Messiah, who is not sure whether to accept it from them. God commands (68:32) him to accept it in recognition of the fact that the Jewish people lived peacefully in Egypt for many years before slavery began.

Seeing this, Kush also expresses a desire to bring an offering to the Messiah (ibid), and again, God commands him to accept it.

Rome, on the other hand (68:31) wants to join the show of respect, as well. God rejects their request, however. Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quotes Rabbi Yohanan as explaining the passage to mean that the offering of wild bulls (Rome), whose actions are all written in one quill, cannot be accepted.

Rashi and the Rashbam understand the reference to a single quill as meaning that they always intend evil for the Jewish people. Some of the Ge’onim explain this expression to mean that the activities of this nation can be summed up in a clear, straightforward manner. Others explain that every nation has two angels, one of whom records the positive attributes of the nation, while the other records all of its negative attributes. Rome is described as having only one angel – the evil one – writing down its history.

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