Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | February 5, 2017
He brought out his people with rejoicing,
his chosen ones with shouts of joy;
he gave them the lands of the nations,
and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—
that they might keep his precepts
and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord [Hallelu Yah]. — Psalm 105:43–45
Hallelujah is an amazing word. It spans continents, cultures, and languages. Hallelujah beautifully expresses our praise of the Lord. Yet, the only place that it actually appears in the Hebrew Bible is in the book of Psalms. Even then, it isn’t introduced until the last third of the book. It first appears in the last line of Psalm 104, or according to some, the first line of Psalm 105. And it is in Psalm 105, which concludes with “Hallelu Yah” that we can understand its full meaning.
What does hallelujah really mean?
Hallelujah is made up of two words – Hallelu – which means “praise” and Yah – one of the biblical names for God. There are many names for God, and each one has a special meaning. So we must ask ourselves what does the name ‘Yah’ convey?
The first time Yah appears was just after the children of Israel were attacked and defeated by the nation of Amalek. In Judaism, Amalek is the biblical paradigm of evil, and as such, it represents all evil in the world. At the end of the battle, God says, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the LORD, the LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). The Hebrew name used for Lord here is Yah.
The name Yah represents God in an imperfect world — a world where evil, as represented by Amalek, still abounds. It’s the world that we find ourselves in today. When we say hallelujah, we are praising the God of the imperfect world. But how can we praise God when we see evil? Psalm 105 has the answer.
Psalm 105 recalls events of the past. It focuses on the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and then the great Exodus that followed. The psalm recalls the wonders done in Egypt and the miracles done in the desert — water gushed from rocks and bread came from heaven. All of this culminated with the giving of the Torah and the land of Israel.
The psalm reveals a pattern. Bad things happened, but they ultimately led to good things. While it may not be readily apparent, evil has a purpose, and having faith means recognizing that God’s plan is divine. In this psalm, King David is able to look at evil and understand how everything is for the best. This is why he can say hallelujah! David praises the Lord who allows evil to exist because he understands that it leads to a more perfect world.
Hallelujah reminds us to see the big picture. It reminds us that evil is temporary, but goodness lasts forever. Let us remember that even as evil continues to exist in this world, it, too, serves a purpose in God’s world. Let us bless God who brings perfection out of imperfection. Hallelujah!