I collect siddurim, not old antique ones, but just your plain old run-of-the-mill shul ones. I love them; I love going through the pages, looking at the different printing, checking what is left out and what is put in. I buy siddurim and keep them all over the place, and of course like all collectors, I have my favorites. I like ones that are not too big, nor too small, and I just go crazy for leather covered ones, with clear simple letters. Once I have found a favorite siddur I begin to work it in. This comes with use, and after a while, certain pages will open up almost automatically. By looking at the closed sefer I can tell you where my favourite bits are. The pages get a bit worn, and you see the edges become frayed. I venture to guess that I am not the only one with this special love; I am sure every Yid has the same weakness.
I am always pleasantly surprised when I see new shul goers carrying with them well used siddurim. Some have place marks, others, although almost disintegrating, are warmly held with great care and attention.
One place in my siddur gives off a unique sense of wonder whenever I have reason to open it. It is at the end of the regular davening … it is in fact at the beginning of Hallel. No matter what, seeing those words brings me a jolt of exciting and uplifting happiness.
Every Yom Tov brings its Hallel, and every time I say it, it comes with new feelings of elation. All of the Yamim Tovim of the past combine with the hopes of tomorrow, and the glue that bonds them all is Hallel.
Have you ever seen a vareme Yid lose himself to Hallel? It is the closest thing to witnessing the song of Mal’achaim. I remember seeing a chassidishe Rav, a holocaust survivor, saying a Rosh Chodeshdige Hallel with such yearning that, lost in his own revelry, he ripped open his shirt and cried out, Nem mine hartz Tatte!, “Take my heart Father in Heaven!” This was a plain old Rosh Chodesh mind you, nothing special. Nothing that is until that Jew opened his siddur to Hallel. Then all the walls broke down, the mist of this mortal world was lifted, and that Jew opened his heart and gave it to Hashem. That is the power of Hallel, and it reverberates in every single word of its stanzas.
Halleluka, Hallelu Avdei Hashem … “Praise Hashem! Praise, you servants of Hashem, praise the Name of Hashem.”
The Sfas Emes points out that usually servants are an unhappy group that seek ways to escape their masters. Serving Hashem however brings joy, and the Yidden seek ways to extol their connection with Hashem, the Master of the world.
This opening line sets the motif of every Yom Tov, of every joyous occasion. We are energized by the very fact that we are servants of Hashem. The world seeks to hide itself from holy responsibilities, whereas we grasp them with joy. One of the greatest truths we share as Yidden is that it is beyond doubt gut tzu zein a Yid, “good to be a Jew.” We relish the wonder of all of Hashem’s kindness, and realize that His path is a wonderful roadway that when taken leads to calming trust and love.
Don’t you ever wonder where we get the strength from, the ability to go on and seek out Hashem’s Will despite all hardship? This stanza uses the word “praise” three times. Perhaps this is to follow the rabbinical edict that something done three times is binding, a chazaka in Jewish law. We say praise and our praise becomes binding in our hearts. With each mention of Hashem this praise becomes more apparent to us. The answer to all questions is here, we praise Hashem, and each time we articulate such praise, we actually see and feel His greatness even more.
Yehi Sheim Hashem Mevorach … “The Name of Hashem will be blessed from now forever.”
Each of us brings uniqueness into the world. Believe it or not, no one has ever been born who is exactly like you, nor will there ever be one in the future. We are created with this individuality, and are meant to use it in bringing Hashem’s light into this world. Therefore, although great and holy people have blessed Hashem, no one could do it so just like you, for no one is the same as you. Hence the Psalmist states: “Hashem will be blessed from now”… the manner in which you bless has been born now, and it starts with this moment.
Mimizrach Shemesh … “From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised is the Name of Hashem. ”
Sunrise is symbolic to our rising aspirations, and its setting – the decline of our hopes. We all experience such times. High optimism and despair are all part of the mosaic of our life. However, no matter what stage we are in, we call out: “Praised is the Name of Hashem.”
Mikimi Me’afar Dal … “He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute.”
Any one with open eyes can see this wondrous facet of Hashem’s love. People who wallowed in the rubbish bin of society, who ate and drank the dregs of all that is corrupt, have been able to return to Hashem. One need just turn his head heavenward, and Hashem will lift him from his despondency. We are all destitute at times, spiritually lost in the chaos of this material world. Yet, we open to the Hallel, give a heartfelt kretz, and we can actually feel Hashem’s warmth bring us closer to His Place.
Lehoshivi Im Nedivim … “To seat them with nobles, with the nobles of His people.” When we come back to Hashem’s embrace we are at once counted as part of the congregation of Hashem. The greatest of all nobility can be found amongst our Sages and leaders. Every Yid can share with these giants, and hence learn from their holy ways. Our noble ones are not hidden away in some far corner; they are there in shul, davening the same words as you.
The glory of Hallel is beyond description, its mood, its nuances are the stuff of our soul. We take a mundane day, make it Holy, and with these words, soar far beyond anything of this world. Hallel, a well worn-place in every siddur, a well loved tefilla in every heart.