by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler

“I love Adonai, for He hears my voice, my cries. Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call on Him all my days.”

So begins Psalm 116, one of the Hallel Psalms, that powerful collection of Psalms 114-118 traditionally cited at special seasons of the calendar, most notably Passover. The Hebrew states, “Ahavti ki-yishma Adonai et-qoli tachnunai.” Allowing for the fact that the psalm is poetry and, therefore demonstrates some grammatical license, there is no direct object indicator before “Adonai”; therefore, the text can also be translated, “I love because Adonai hears my voice…” Either way translated, the sense is that ability to live and deal with life is directly connected with God’s response to a man. I needn’t see every situation as a personal threat because the Most High is paying attention and personally watching out for me. “Yishma” is the imperfect tense of “shama”, to hear; the imperfect tense expresses continuous action, here giving the nuance of Adonai’s continuously being tuned in, really listening. “Tachnunai” is a noun derived from “Chanan”, to be gracious, and speaks of pleas for grace and mercy. Think of all the voices in the Creation crying out for attention. The psalmist marvels that, out of all these voices, God hears his. In the movie “Evan Almighty”, the lead character spends some time trying to be God. At first, he believes it to be an easy role, but, when prayers start rolling in, Evan becomes quickly overwhelmed and unable to distinguish one voice, one prayer, one need, from all the others. In our psalm here, God is able and pleased to pick out the writer’s voice and desperate need from all the others. In verse 2, Adonai is stated, “Hittah azno li”, “He has turned His ear to me”. The root verb, “natah”, carries the sense of inclining, even stretching out. God not only hears the voice, He goes to great lengths to make sure He hears!

Because of this divine stance, the psalmist is free to love. And, because of God’s stance, the psalmist will call to the Lord, cry out to the Lord, all his days. Verses 3 and 4 describe how the writer experienced perilous times: “The ropes of death entangled me, and, the torments of Sheol found me. I found trouble and sorrow. Then, I called upon the Name of Adonai: ‘Adonai, save my soul!’”. How could the King of the Universe, the Creator, the One who runs and maintains all Creation, hear the wee voice of one person on this speck in space? Yet, he states in verses 5-6 “Adonai is Gracious (chanun) and righteous (tzaddiq). Yea, our God is compassionate (m’rachem). Adonai protects the simple-hearted (p’tiim)…” God responds with unmerited favor. He is a tzaddiq, one of extreme righteousness. He is full of compassion. One of the Hebrew words for “womb”, “rechem” comes from this very same root; the use of this word here implies a parental bond of compassion that cannot be severed. “P’tiim”, simple-minded, is the one who is childlike, naive, inexperienced, one whose lack of sophistication could render one open to be victimized and exploited. Yet, God doesn’t pounce, but, protects.

The writer then, in verse 6, says that the attentive, righteous, protective God, “saved me”. “Return to your rest, my soul, for Adonai has been good to you. For, you delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” God was as good as advertised. He acted in a manner consistent with what had been told.

Therefore, “I will walk before Adonai in the lands of the living. I trusted even when I said, ‘I am afflicted’, even when I said, ‘all men are liars’.” For the rest of the psalm, the writer projects how he will live in the light of the nature and character of Adonai. For instance, in verse 13f, “I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the Name of Adonai. I will pay my vows to Adonai in the presence of His kedoshim. Precious in the sight of Adonai is the death of His kedoshim.” He will trust in Adonai, rely on the One Who pays such devoted attention that even the unreliability, even, at times, treachery of others around him, will not turn him away from loving others, others who cannot really take away anything that Adonai has meant for him to have, even life itself, which God treats so dearly. As Hebrews 11:6 states, “God is a Rewarder of those who seek Him”.

Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.