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Chanukah Hallel: Paragraph One: An Internal Conversation

The words of this psalm are to be considered in light of the verse, “I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance neginati in the night; I commune with my own heart.” (Psalm 77:6-7) What is meant by, “I call to remembrance neginati”? Rabbi Aibu and Rabbi Yehudah bar Shimon differed. Rabbi Aibu took it to mean that the congregation of Israel said to the Holy One, Blessed is He, “I call to remembrance the breaking of my enemies’ power,” neginati, meaning, ‘the breaking,’ as indicated in the verse, “God, the Most High has delivered (miggen) your enemies into your hands.” (Genesis 14:20) And so the congregation of Israel says, “Because I call to remembrance the breaking of my enemies’ power in the night, therefore I commune with my own heart.” (Midrash Tehillim 113.1)

I. One way to understand this Midrash is that Rabbi Aibu reads this first paragraph of Hallel as “communing with myself,” triggered by remembering God breaking our enemies’ power. What would the Congregation of Israel say to itself as it recalled the breaking of its enemies?

Would Israel reflect on the why did God break the Egyptians’ power, or, in our case, the power of the Syrian-Greeks? There would be a significant difference between the breaking of the Egyptians, to which Israel was a passive observer, and the breaking of the Syrian-Greeks, in which we were active participants.

Perhaps their internal conversation focused on whether they were deserving of the miracle. They may have wondered on what they could learn from their victory. The conversation may have centered on, “What’s next?”

The first step toward applying Rabbi Aibu’s teaching to our Chanukah Hallel is to prepare for this paragraph by wondering what our internal conversation would have been had we lived at the time of the Chashmonaim’s great victory.

We can use our response to miracles we have witnessed or from which we have benefited to guide us in imagining that internal conversation. We can then use this paragraph to express that internal conversation.

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