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SIDIC Periodical XIV - 1981/3
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Pages 20 - 21)

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I Was Glad When They Said to Me... The Gradual Psalms
Samson Raphael Hirsch


Enshrined in the Psalter are fifteen Songs of Ascent which correspond to the fifteen steps which led to the vestibule of the Temple of Jerusalem. On these steps would stand the choirs of Levites who used to chant the Temple hymns. These Songs of Ascent — Psalms 120-135 — are an ascending ladder, leading Israel up from the humiliations of exile to the spiritual loftiness of its vocation as symbolized by the holy Temple of the Lord. These psalms help one to strive upward, to ascend from the depths of misery. They view the very strength involved in such upward striving as a demonstration of God's might, and they proclaim it as such.

In these gradual psalms can be found a theology of the Holy City, Jerusalem, of the dwelling of God with his people. With simple but powerful images, they express the faith of the people after the exile, of those who are called the anawim — the Poor of the Lord.

Throughout these songs the Psalmist displays a constant interplay on four levels: the actual pilgrimage being undertaken at the moment, which recalls the going up from Egypt followed by the Exodus and the entrance into the Promised Land; then the going up from Babylon at the return from exile. Finally, he looks forward to the going up of the nations to Jerusalem at the end of time — the messianic age.

The Christian celebrates and awaits all of these ascents, these goings up, in the certitude that they have already been lived in the going up of Jesus Christ from the cross to his Father through the Risen Life which he shares with us.

Psalm 122 — A Song of Ascents — Shir ha-Ma'alot. Of David

I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the Lord!'
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!

When we came to Jerusalem our feet stood still within its gates, transfixed by the view of the city spread out before our eyes.

Jerusalem, built as a city
which is bound firmly together,

The style in which Jerusalem was built clearly showed that it was bound firmly together, bearing its focal point within itself, that is to say, the Temple, the House of the Lord. On entering the city gates, one could readily see that all paths led to this focal point, and that all its houses were grouped around it.

to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

Jerusalem was not the ultimate goal of the tribes that journeyed up to the House of the Lord. They went up, as tribes, to pay homage to the Name of the Lord and to testify to his Law, his Torah.

There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the House of David.

The Law of the Lord was the power which sat enthroned and reigned over both the thrones of justice and those of kingship.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
"May they prosper who love you!
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers!"

The pilgrims wish Peace — Shalom — for Jerusalem, with a play on the popular etymology of Jerusalem — City of Peace. The fervent wish that peace may dwell within the walls of Jerusalem is part of our messianic hope.

For my brethren and companions' sake
I will say, "Peace be within you!"
For the sake of the House of the Lord our God
I will seek your good.

The fulfilment of this wish will benefit all those who would join Israel as brethren and companions — all the People of God. In the salvation that will blossom forth for Jerusalem may we see at long last the time when…

the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of mountains, .
and all the nations shall flow to it,
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

(Isaiah 2:2,3)

Adapted from Samson Raphael Hirsch: The Psalms, Feldheim, New York 1960, pp. 371 ff.


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