by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
Psalm 115 is the 3rd of the Hallel Psalms, so often associated with the Passover season, but, so appropriate at any time, any circumstance. The Exodus from Egypt followed hundreds of years separated from our promised homeland, from our divinely determined destiny. It culminated in many years of oppression and slavery from which there seemed no escape, to which there seemed to be no remedy. Then, Adonai came to the rescue.
While today many describe Moses as the hero of the Exodus, and, we here do not diminish his role, this 115th Psalm wants future generations to grasp the true source of deliverance, lest, in a future crisis, they despair because that hero is no longer on the scene. The Psalmist begins, “Lo lanu, Adonai, lo lanu, ki l’shimkha ten kavod!”. “Not to us, Adonai, not to us, but to Your Name be glory…” (TLV). There are multiple Hebrew words for negation; “al”, commonly used, tends to refer to the here and now, but, “lo” is more open-ended, often giving the nuance of “never”. Moses, if not for the intervention of God in a burning bush, would have continued as an obscure shepherd in Midian. It was God Who reached out and worked the miraculous defeat of earth’s reigning superpower to rescue His covenant people.
The 1st verse also gives Elohim’s motivation- “al-chasd’kha, al-amitekha,” ”because of Your love and Your faithfulness” (TLV). The love of God is an inexhaustible constant, and it results in His constant activity in the world in the lives of His children, His people. He is not a disaffected watchmaker, creating the timepiece, then winding it up and departing to some far-flung regions of space. He is faithful to His promises, consistent in watching over the many on His marvelous heart. As Isaiah 41:10 states so eloquently, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (TLV)
Verse 2 goes on: “Lammah yomru haggoyyim, ‘ayyeh-na Elohehem?’”, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God now?’”. (TLV) In Ezekiel 36, after saying how our faithless idolatry had caused God’s Name to be “profaned among the nations”, in the 22nd verse, Adonai would act to rescue not just for their sake, but, for His Holy Name’s sake. Future generations needed to know that the God of the Exodus is still around and available for the 9-1-1 call to Heaven.
Verse 3: “Eloheynu bashamayyim, kol asher-chafetz asah,”. “Our God is in the heavens. He does whatever pleases Him!” (TLV) Elohim has gone nowhere; He acts as He sees fit. He still rescues, He still delivers.
The gods of the mocking pagans are then described in verses 4-8. They have the gleam of gold and silver, but, because they are created by the hands of their disciples, they are of less power and relevance than they. The pagans’ gods have mouths that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, noses that cannot smell, unfeeling hands, motionless feet, voiceless throats. Those trusting in those gods will become as lifeless as they.
The Psalmist then implores Israel, “Yisrael, b’tach b’Adonai…” “O Israel, trust in Adonai…” He is their help and shield. The house of Aaron is also called on to trust in Adonai because He is also their help and shield. The call is then broadened to all who revere the Lord, because He is help and shield available to any and all, whether of high or low standing.
Verse 12: “Adonai zakharnu…”, “Adonai has been mindful of us…” (TLV). “Zakhar” might be better understood here as “remember”. The verb is undergirded by the Hebraic concept of knowing, which, in Hebrew understanding, is more than cognitive awareness. The verb “know”, “yada” is frequently used of the kind of relationship resulting in conceiving children. To remember means to continue this knowledge. In our text here, “zakhar” occurs in the perfect tense, seeing the action as one point on a timeline, making it very decisive. The time component is less important than the kind of action. Thus, the sense here is that Adonai actively, aggressively, maintains full awareness of us and our plight and is ready to spring into action on our behalf. And, “y’varekh”, “He will bless”. (TLV). The verb, “barakh”, here occurs in the imperfect tense, signifying continuous action; Adonai is always on the job, stooping down from His Throne to save.
The remainder of the Psalm continues paralleling the Aaronic Benediction from Numbers 6:24-6, invoking the Name and blessing of Adonai. As the writer closes, his building excitement leads him to resolve in verse 18, “V’anachnu n’varekh Adonai meattah v’ad olam!” Halleluyah!”, But we, we will bless Adonai both now and forever. Halleluyah!” (TLV)
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.