The Structure of Hallel

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Overview

Hallel is made up of six consecutive chapters in Tehillim, Psalms 113-118.  Though they are all clearly centered around the theme of praising Hashem for salvation, it is not as obvious how each psalm flow into the next and whether there is an overarching structure to the prayer as a whole.  Three possible ways of structuring the prayer follow, each highlighting a somewhat different relationship between the various chapters.

Collective and Individual Salvation

Hallel can be divided into two main units, Chapters 113-115 which focus on collective salvation, and Chapters 116-118, which focus on individual salvation.  Each half can be further subdivided into chapters of praise and request. Whereas the first half begins with praise and ends with request, the second half does the opposite, starting with request and ending with praise. This ensures that Hallel is appropriately book-ended by praise, with the requests sandwiched in the middle. :

I. Collective Salvation (Chapters 113-115)

A) Praise (Chapters 113-114)

i. General Providence: (Chapter 113).
ii. National Providence (Chapter 114)

B) Request (Chapter 115)

II. Individual Salvation (Chapters 116-118)

A) Request (Chapters 116)

B) Praise (Chapter 117-118)

This division might reflect the two types of occasions on which Hallel is recited, on national holidays, and in thanksgiving for "any calamity" which befalls one.

Praise, Request, and Thanks

Hallel can be divided into three units, which, like the Amidah prayer,  move from praise, to request, to thanksgiving:

I. Praise (Chapters 113-114)

  • Universal: God's providence in the World (Chapter 113)
  • National: God's providence over Israel (Chapter 114)

II.Request: Call for Salvation (Chapters 115-116)

  • National (Chapter 115)
  • Individual  (Chapter 116)

III. Thanksgiving: Salvation Granted (Chapters 117-118)

  • Universal: Recognition of God by Foreigners (Chapter 117)
  • Individual: Thanksgiving and Fulfilling of Vow (Chapter 118)

This structure might view the first unit as an introduction, and the second and third units as the heart of Hallel, in which a prayer is proffered and answered, leading to thanks.  The numerous points of contact between these latter units highlights the correlation between the request and thanksgiving

  • In Psalm 115 the speaker calls on three groups, יִשְׂרָאֵל, בֵית אַהֲרֹן, יִרְאֵי י"י, to trust in God, and requests of Hashem to bless each group. In chapter 118, the speaker calls on these same groups, this time to thank Hashem.
  • In Psalm 115, as part of his request for salvation, the psalmist says, "לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ יָהּ".  In Chapter 118, when thanking Hashem, the speaker echoes: "לֹא אָמוּת כִּי אֶחְיֶה וַאֲסַפֵּר מַעֲשֵׂי יָהּ".
  • In Psalm 116 the speaker promises to bring a thanksgiving offering for his salvation ("לְךָ אֶזְבַּח זֶבַח תּוֹדָה").  This vow is fulfilled in Chapter 118, as the speaker says, "אִסְרוּ חַג בַּעֲבֹתִים".
  • Psalm 116:3 speaks of being surrounded by cords of death ("אֲפָפוּנִי חֶבְלֵי מָוֶת"), while 118:10 speaks of being surrounded by enemies ("כׇּל גּוֹיִם סְבָבוּנִי").
  • In 116:3 the speaker requests salvation from "מְצָרֵי שְׁאוֹל". Psalm 118:5 echoes, "מִן הַמֵּצַר קָרָאתִי", adding "עָנָנִי בַמֶּרְחָב יָהּ".
  • When requesting salvation, the speaker says, וּבְשֵׁם י"י אֶקְרָא ‎(116:4). When expressing thanks he says, "קָרָאתִי יָּהּ" ‎(118:5).
  • In 116:8, the speaker requests salvation from death: "כִּי חִלַּצְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִמָּוֶת". In Psalm 118, he praises Hashem for saving him: "וְלַמָּוֶת לֹא נְתָנָנִי" ‎(118:18).

Praise and Thanksgiving

Hallel divides into two very uneven units, with Chapters 113-117 constituting praise (הלל) and Chapter 118 comprising thanksgiving (הודאה).

  • Praise (Chapters 113-117)
    • Praise (113-114)
    • Request (115-116)
    • Praise (117)
  • Thanksgiving (118)
    • Thanksgiving – "הוֹדוּ לַי"י כִּי טוֹב"
    • Request – "אָנָּא י"י הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא"
    • Thanksgiving – "הוֹדוּ לַי"י כִּי טוֹב"
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