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Psalm 104  Print

The Inner Meaning of "Hallelujah"

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel

Psalm 104: The Inner Meaning of "Hallelujah"

Hallelujah is an remarkable word. In the Bible, it appears only in the book of Psalms; yet this exuberant exclamation of joy and gratitude has overcome the passage of centuries, transcending the barriers of language and culture. What exactly does it mean?

According to the Talmud, Hallelujah is the most sublime expression of God's praise, combining together in one word both praise ('hallel') and God's Name (the two-letter Name 'Ya-H'). Hallelujah does not appear throughout the book of Tehillim, however; only in the last third of the book, starting with chapter 104.

"Let sin be finished from the earth, and evil be no more. My soul will bless God, Hallelujah!" [Ps. 104:35]

What is special about this particular verse, that it contains the very first usage of the word Hallelujah? The Sages noted that the theme of this verse is the destruction of evil. King David, they explained, only began employing this declaration of God's praise after he witnessed the downfall of the wicked.

  • In what way does Hallelujah relate to the 'downfall of the wicked'?

  • Why does it contain the short, two letter Name of God, and not the full Name of God (consisting of four letters), which is more commonly used?

We need first to determine the inner meaning of the Name 'Ya-H'. This Name for God appears in the Torah after Amalek's unprovoked attack on the Jews, as they left Egypt. God took an oath, as it were, "upon the throne of Ya-H, a war against Amalek throughout the generations.[Ex 17:16] The Sages explained that as long as evil exists in the world - as long as Amalek has not been destroyed - God's Name is incomplete, containing only two letters.

Thus the Name 'Ya-H' refers to the state in which the world is not yet perfected. As long as there is room for evil and violence in the world, God's rule is incomplete. God's full Name belongs to the era in which the corrupted spirit will be destroyed, evil will dissipate like smoke, and all will acknowledge and praise God with His complete Name.

The most elevated praise, combining God's praise with His full Name, belongs to a future time. But the praise of Hallelujah reflects a sublime form of praise suitable for our days.

If we can raise our sights and understand the purpose of evil, if we can grasp that a world in which evil existed and was subsequently overcome is greater than one in which evil never played a part, then we can honestly combine God's praise with the Name 'Ya-H'. This combination indicates that we recognize the value of a world in which corruption is allowed to exist. Hallelujah is an expression of this lofty outlook, acknowledging God's praise in an incomplete world.

King David succeeded in reaching this level when he witnessed the fall of the wicked. "Let sin be finished and evil be no more." He understood the function of the wicked and their downfall, and at that point was able to call out: Hallelujah!

[Ayn Aya I:47-8 on Berchot 9]