Shiur #38: "When The Lord Brought Back The Return Of Zion" Psalm 126 (Part III)

  • Rav Elchanan Samet





This week of Torah learning at the Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion is being sponsored by Ronni & Nachum Katlowitz in honor of Ronni's mother's birthday - Happy Birthday Mrs. Lucia Pasternak!




Lecture 38:

"WHen the Lord brought back the return of Zion"

Psalm 126 (part iIi)


Rav Elchanan Samet





5            (4)     Bring back, O Lord,

                        our return,

                        like the streams in the south.

6            (5)     Those that sow in tears

                        will reap in joy.

7            (6)     He who goes out weeping,

                        bearing the sack of seed,

8                      will come home in joy,

                        bearing his sheaves.


            Like the first half of our psalm, the second half is also comprised of four short stanzas. This half is divided into two unequal halves. Stanza 5 contains Israel's request of God - "Bring back, O Lord, our return…" The speakers in this stanza in first-person plural are the same speakers as in stanzas 1, 2 and 4. The stylistic connection between stanza 5 and the beginning of the first half of the psalm is readily apparent: "When the Lord brought back the return of Zion" – "Bring back our return, O Lord." The expression "la-shuv shevut" (in slightly different forms) connects the openings of the two halves.


            This connection, however, raises a serious question, one that we already mentioned at the end of section II, as formulated by Prof. Yechezkel Kaufmann: "According to verse 1, the return already took place, whereas according to verse 4, the return will only take place in the future!" He sees this as an "irresoluble contradiction."


            The second part of the second half of the psalm is comprised of stanzas 6-8. These three stanzas deal with one issue - the distress of those who sow, stemming from their worry about the success of the coming year's crop, and the joy of those who reap and gather in their produce.


            These stanzas do not seem to be a continuation of stanza 5, with which the second half of the psalm opens, and in essence they seem to be alien to the entire psalm. What connection is there between the historical nature of our psalm until stanza 5, as we have explained our psalm thus far, and the agricultural nature of stanzas 6-8?[1] Stanza 6 and stanzas 7-8, which develop what was said in the previous stanza, seem to be wisdom sayings meant to guide man in his practical life. Their appropriate place would seem to be in the book of Mishlei or in the book of Kohelet.[2]


            Is there a common denominator between the two parts of the second half of the psalm? Does the second half convey one uniform idea, as does the first half? In order to answer these questions, let us first discuss each part of the second half separately.


1.     STANZA 5


We already discussed the meaning of the expression "bring back our return" in section I of this study. But why does this expression appear here as a request made of God after it was already said at the beginning of our psalm, "When the Lord brought back the return of Zion, we were like dreamers"?


The answer to this question depends in large measure on the closing line of stanza 5: "like the streams in the south." These words constitute the novelty of stanza 5 in comparison to stanza 1, and they contain an analogy that establishes the nature of our request of God regarding the bringing back of our return. What is the character of this return for which we are petitioning?


Before we explain this analogy, let us return to what we said in our study of psalm 128 (section VI) regarding the role of analogy in poetry in general and in biblical poetry in particular. An analogy raises in the reader's mind a living and familiar picture, and this picture casts some of its qualities on that which is likened to it. In this way, a multi-faceted and variegated statement is made without words. Accordingly, analogy serves as one of poetry's most important artistic devices. With an analogy, much content can be conveyed in very few words, this being one of the main traits of poetry. And with an analogy, a poem can stir up the reader's imagination and interpretative skills, and thus turn him into an active partner in the poem's creation.


There is, however, a stipulation, namely, that the image presented by the poem must be familiar to the reader. Superficial familiarity does not suffice; the reader must be familiar with the details of the image and with the context from which it is taken.


This stipulation sometimes constitutes a barrier for the modern reader, preventing him from understanding ancient poetry. Modern man's way of life, the scenery with which he is familiar, and his occupations are all very different from those of biblical man. Some of the analogies found in biblical poetry are, therefore, totally unfamiliar to him, or at least insufficiently familiar to him. Hence, the benefit that an analogy provides the reader is diminished, and his entire understanding of the poem is impaired.


Here the reader might be assisted by a commentator who is familiar with the analogy through personal experience and infuses it with life before the reader, clarifying the various possible ramifications that it may have on that which is likened to it.


What, then, is the meaning of the analogy "like streams in the south" ("ka-afikim ba-negev)"? In Scripture, "afik" refers to a channel through which water flows (similar to the Arabic "wadi"), and "negev" refers to the southern, desert-like region of Eretz Yisrael, south of Be'er-Sheva, which has only a small quantity of precipitation. But even after we have explained each word, the meaning of the analogy remains unclear.


The meaning of the analogy in our verse has been clarified at length by Yosef Breslavi in an article dedicated to our psalm – "Ka-Afikim Ba-NegevTehilim 126 Ve-Ha-Shitfonot Ba-Negev," published in his book, Ha-Yadata et Ha-Aretz.[3] Here is part of what he says (the divisions into sections and the headings to each section are ours).[4]


1. The commonly accepted explanation and the difficulties that it raises


From a geographical perspective, our primary interest lies in the prayer: "Bring back our return, O Lord, like the streams in the south," which gives rise to the question: Is there room to explain this prayer in light of our unmediated observation of the nature of our land, the way we explain most of Scripture's images, analogies and metaphors?

Rashi explains "like the streams in the Negev": "Like streams of water in an arid land, which moisten it, so too we shall be moistened when You bring back our return." The Radak maintains that "the Negev is an arid region, as in 'For You have given me the land of the Negev' (Shoftim 1:15). It itself is thirsty for water, and if streams of water would pass through it, it would be a great novelty and favor. So, too, the return of our exile: the exile is likened to the Negev and the salvation to streams of water." And similarly the Ibn Ezra: "The exile is likened to the Negev, where there is no water, and the salvation to streams of water." Several modern commentators offer explanations in a similar spirit… All of these explanations and those like them would accord well with Scripture if the analogy "like the streams in the south” were taken from dry streambeds that fill with water only in the winter, and then send forth grass and pasture in abundant manner… and if the prayer would refer to the general flowering of the return to Zion. But these explanations do not accord with Scripture if we say that the geographical analogy is borrowed from the Negev, which stretches out from south of Be'er-Sheva, and if we assume that the prayer itself relates to the redemption from exile of the scattered of Israel.[5]

The streambeds in the Negev cannot serve as an encouraging symbol even in the winter. They are usually filled with stones, silt, and sand. The great streams of water that sometimes pass through them are rare and usually last for only a few hours or days. The streambeds in the Negev do not return to their former strength during the winter; they do not even fill with water, and they are not covered with rich flora, which might serve as a symbol of flowering and for encouragement…

If our assumption is correct, that chapter 126 was written… as a cry for a broad, massive, and all-embracing return to the land of our forefathers in the spirit of the prophet Zekharya,[6] then we must seek a stronger image than the resurrection of the streambeds in a parched land during the days of the summer, and all the more so than the resurrection of the streambeds in the land of the Negev.


2. The phenomenon of flashfloods in the Negev's streams, and the reasons for it


As stated above, only a meager amount of rain falls in the Negev, but even the Negev is sometimes visited by raging rainstorms. According to D. Eshbal,[7] the rainstorms in the Sinai peninsula and in the Negev are caused by a collision between the warm and moist air streaming in from the south and the cold and heavy air coming from the north. "The area in which these two types of air meet is the place where exceedingly severe thunderstorms come into existence, and they are what cause floods even in the Negev. These thunderstorms stand out in their sudden appearance and in the enormous amount of electricity that they discharge, as well as in the tremendous torrents of water that fall in a limited area…

It is easy to conjecture that these raging rainstorms turn the dry and desiccated riverbeds of the Negev into strong and enormous streams; and indeed, the Negev stands out with the strongest floods…

However, the strength of the floods in the streams of the Negev does not depend on the quantity of rain falling in the heart of the Negev and to its west. Sometimes, only a small amount of rain falls in a particular area in the Negev, but the floods in the streambeds of that area are enormous, and very often there is a great amount of rain, but the streams themselves are small and short-lived… The strength of the flood depends more upon the size of the rainy area than upon the quantity of rain. Most floods come from the more distant eastern Negev mountains, and therefore the drainage area of the Negev streams is very large and the currents of water passing through them is sometimes strong and mighty.

The most surprising sight in the Negev is a flood without rain… The clouds glide over the Negev plateau without releasing a single drip of rain. The clouds are carried further east and the skies clear up, but somewhere far off in the mountains, heavy rain begins to fall. Water begins to stream from every side towards the Negev streambeds; it grows stronger and stronger without pause; and in the end it bursts forth with enormous power towards the Negev plateau westward, astonishing the person who had seen no rain whatsoever that day…

Flooding is a common sight in our little country that is built of mountains and valleys, but only in the parched and semi-desert areas like the Negev are mighty currents likely to take a person totally unawares and become engraved in his memory. And indeed, there are floods in the Negev that are so deeply engraved in the memories of the Beduins… that they date other events in relationship to them…


            How do the words of Breslavi, who gives life to the analogy of "like the streams in the south," help to answer the question regarding the contradiction between the description in the first half of the psalm and the prayer appearing at the beginning of the second half?


            In the first part of his article, Breslavi resolves this contradiction without any connection to his explanation of the analogy of "like the streams in the south." Here is the essence of what he says:[8]


We must first clarify for ourselves the political and economic fate of those who returned to Zion following the proclamation of Koresh, king of Persia.

In 538 B.C.E. Koresh, king of Persia, put an end to the kingdom of Babylonia. An unexpected hour of redemption arrived for those scattered across the exile: the king who had defeated "the daughter of Babylon, marked for devastation," proclaims throughout his kingdom, saying: "Thus says Koresh king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judea. Whoever is among you of all His people, let his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judea, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is the God) which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:2-3). The leaders of the people could not believe what they were hearing, and they felt like dreamers. Joy and gladness spread throughout the dispersion, and the people stirred to return to their homeland. In practice, however, only a small portion of the people responded to the historic call of the hour. Only "those whose spirit God had stirred to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem" (ibid. v. 5). The sum total of returnees was only forty-three thousand (ibid. 2:64-65; Nechemya 7:66-67)…  The returnees to Zion, together with the remnant of Jews in the land of Judea and Benjamin, are surrounded by enemies and adversaries. What was certainly difficult for them was standing up to the Edomites who had penetrated from the south and spread northward as far as Hebron and to the Philistines who had penetrated from the west. The small number of returnees and their weak standing among their antagonistic neighbors could not satisfy those who sought to resurrect the people in the land of their forefathers, and they cried out for a heightened ingathering of the scattered of Israel from the lands of their exile. The prophet Zekharya, who prophesied about twenty years after Koresh's proclamation, still called out to the people living in the exile: "Ho, ho, flee then from the land of the north, says the Lord. For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, says the Lord. Escape, O Zion, that dweller with the daughter of Babylon" (Zekharya 2:10-11) – this is only because the return over the course of the twenty years since Koresh's proclamation did not embrace great masses. The prophet's sorrow over his people who were scattered in exile is also reflected in his words of consolation: "Thus says the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will save My people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them in, and they will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they will be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness" (ibid. 8:7-8)….

The political situation of those who returned to Zion was very difficult. The people had hoped for unification and reinforcement by way of additional mass aliyot, for only with maximal concentration of the dispersed of Israel across its country would it be possible to restore national life to its earlier state.

The commentators who attribute the composition of psalm 126 to the days of the return to Zion are correct in their assumption. For only if we date the psalm to the first decades after the proclamation of Koresh, king of Persia, can we resolve the contradictions in time in all six of its verses. [Only] in the first decades following the return to Zion could the psalmist have spoken of the return to Zion in past tense and [still] utter a prayer, words of encouragement and consolation in the imperative and in the future tense.

In the first half of chapter 126, the psalmist describes the festive return of the people to their land, whereas in the second half he prays on behalf of the people, consoles them and encourages them. But the very prayer and encouragement testify that the fate of those who had returned to Zion in the psalmist's time needed improvement and Divine mercy. In my opinion, the words of prayer and encouragement allude to the difficult political and economic situation of those who returned to Zion during the period under discussion. Most of the commentators see in the prayer, "Bring back, O Lord, our return, like the streams in the south," an abstract prayer for the general success of the return to Zion… It seems to me, however, that the said prayer refers to those scattered across the exile, who had not yet been redeemed. The psalmist petitions on behalf of the limited return to Zion in his day that it should grow and be likened to "streams in the south."


            Let us now complete our discussion of the meaning of the analogy "like the streams in the south," and see how Breslavi connects his explanation of the prayer at the beginning of the second half of our psalm to the analogy contained in that prayer:


If we return now to the psalmist's prayer in chapter 126, "Bring back, O Lord, our return, like the streams in the south," and ask ourselves about the psalmist's analogy and request, we must say: The psalmist was well familiar with the streams of the Negev, which during the winter turn into powerful currents. The small ingathering of the exiles did not satisfy him, and he too, like the prophet Zekharya, prayed for a massive return from all across the Diaspora. Therefore, "Bring back, O Lord, our return, like the streams in the south" – bring back our return in strong, powerful, and unforeseen currents, like the great currents of water that occasionally flow in the streambeds of the Negev! The nation that returned to Zion must pass through areas of wilderness. Its masses are likened to the streams in the Negev which all of a sudden bring great amounts of water.[9]


Let us once again ask the question that had been raised by Kaufmann and was cited at the end of section II of this study: "There is an irresoluble contradiction between verses 1-3 and verses 4-6: According to verse 1, the return already took place, whereas according to verse 4, the return will only take place in the future. It cannot be assumed that the same expression denotes two different things in adjacent verses!"


The truth is that we are not dealing here with two different matters, but rather the same matter from different perspectives, stemming from the difference in time between the two halves of the psalm. The first half describes the reactions to Koresh's proclamation, and perhaps also to the beginning of the return to Eretz Yisrael (as argued by Breslavi), whereas the second half expresses the feelings of disappointment that eventually took hold when the people sobered up from the dreamlike quality of the first return – when they understood the wretched state of those whose had returned, how few they were, and how the vast majority of the people remained in exile.


It was precisely in order to express this painful disillusionment that the psalmist uses the same words with which he had opened the psalm and turns them into a prayer for the future: "Bring back, O Lord, our return." But not in the way that You brought back our return thus far, in drips of small numbers of returnees, but rather "like the streams of the south" – with a big wave of returnees, that will totally transform the shaky state of the return to Zion at that time.


2.     STANZAS 6-7-8


These three stanzas constitute a single unit, as is evident already upon first glance. Stanza 6 seems like a wisdom saying, and it is marked by chiastic and contrasting parallelism:


                                      Those that sow                     in tears

                                      in joy                                       will reap.


            The chiastic parallelism emphasizes the words, "in joy," which is the novelty that stands out in this stanza.[10]


            Stanza 7 constitutes an expansion of the first line of stanza 6, "those who sow in tears," which contains a dramatic description of the act of sowing that is accompanied by weeping. Between these two lines there is chiastic, synonymous parallelism:


Those that sow                                                  in tears

He who goes out weeping                               bearing the sack[11] of seed.


            In stanza 7 the chiastic parallelism emphasizes the weeping of the sower by placing the description of the weeping ahead of the description of the sowing. Furthermore, stanza 7 does not speak merely of "tears,” but of protracted and continuous weeping, "he who goes out weeping."


            Stanza 8 is an expansion of the second line of stanza 6 -
"will reap in joy." This stanza does not speak of the joy of the reaper, but rather of the joy of one who brings in his sheaves, a stage that follows that of reaping; it stands to reason that this person's joy is even greater. The shift from the act of reaping to that of bearing the sheaves necessitates that the words "halokh yelekh" in stanza 7 be replaced by the words "bo yavo" in stanza 8.[12] This creates direct, contrasting parallelism between stanzas 7 and 8:


He who goes out                  weeping,             bearing the sack of seed.


Will come home                    in joy,                   bearing his sheaves.[13]


            Against our argument that stanzas 7-8 come to expand upon what is stated in stanza 6, it may be asked: Why are these stanzas formulated in the singular, when stanza 6 is formulated in the plural? The answer to this is that the shift from plural to singular allows the creation of a concrete picture of what had been said in stanza 6 in the generalized manner of wisdom literature. Stanzas 7-8 are no longer wisdom sayings like stanza 6, upon which they are based, but rather they present two concrete and dramatic pictures. But, it may be asked, for what purpose?


            In order to understand how stanzas 6-8 fit in to the psalm as a whole, and especially the second half, let us return to Breslavi's article on our psalm:[14]


The lot of those who returned to Zion in those days was also difficult from an economic perspective. The returnees had just arrived from the land of the Tigris and Euphrates to the hilly and rocky land of Judea and Benjamin, and they had to adjust to the new and difficult climactic and soil conditions. It is close to certain that the first decades included years of harsh drought that made the adjustment process even more difficult. In practice, the people's struggle with the difficulties of settling the land caused them to push off rebuilding the Temple, for the sake of which Koresh had issued his proclamation. In 518 B.C.E, about 20 years following Koresh's festive proclamation, the prophet Chaggai, a contemporary of the prophet Zekharya, sees the droughts visiting the land as the people's punishment for delaying to rebuild the Temple, which was now sitting in ruin: "Because of My house that lies waste, and everyone of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is restrained from giving dew, and the earth is restrained from giving its produce. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands" (Chagai 1:9-11). The prophet admonishes the people, saying that as long as God's Temple is not rebuilt, a curse will attach to whatever they do. Only when His sanctuary stands in place will they be visited with blessing: "And now, I pray you, consider from this day onwards. Before a stone was laid upon a stone in the Temple of the Lord, when one came to a heap of twenty measures, there was but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty measures of the press, there were but twenty. I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labors of your hands… But now consider from this day onwards… from the day that the foundations of the Lord's Temple was laid… from this day I will bless you" (ibid. 2:15-19). The prophet Zekharya also consoles the people: "The vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall yield its increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things… Let your hands be strong" (Zekharya 8:12-13). This is because during the first several decades following the return to Zion, the years of drought were frequent and difficult.


            Based on this account of the economic difficulties encountered by the returnees to Zion owing to drought and other natural disasters, Breslavi adds:


As for the words of consolation in the last two verses in the psalm, they certainly reflect the gloomy agricultural lot of those who returned to Zion during the years of drought following Koresh's proclamation. During these years, it was not infrequent that the returnees sowed in tears, and that they wept as they bore their sacks of seed along the furrows of their rocky fields. Only during a period of drought, like the period of the prophets Chaggai and Zekharya, and only during the difficult years of adjustment to the agricultural conditions in the mountains of Judea and Benjamin, like the first decades of the return to Zion, could the wonderful words of encouragement and consolation have been written: "Those that sow in tears will reap in joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing the sack of seed, will come home in joy, bearing his sheaves."


            Breslavi sees stanzas 6-8 as words of encouragement and consolation, but it seems preferable to see them as a continuation of stanza 5, as a wish and request: O that the wisdom saying be fulfilled in us, "Those that sow in tears will reap in joy." Surely in each and every one of us there has already been fulfilled, "he who goes out weeping;" may there be fulfilled in us also the continuation, "           come home in joy…"


            It turns out, then, that the second half of our psalm reflects a single historical reality, that which became evident to those who returned from exile not long after their arrival - that they were facing grave problems in several areas. Turbid reality is especially painful when it follows upon the elevated spirits and dreamlike feeling that characterized the beginning of the historical process. Therefore, the second half of the psalm contains a wish and prayer that the two main problems facing the returnees would be resolved:


1) Corresponding to the small number of returnees and the fact that most of the people remained in exile, there is the prayer, "Bring back, O Lord, our return, like the streams in the south." A large number of returnees would solve the security and settlement problems vis-a-vis the hostile nations surrounding the returnees.


2) Corresponding to the economic difficulty stemming from drought and other natural disasters comes the wish expressed in the stanzas that follow. The returnees pray that their great difficulty in sowing the land will be resolved, as is stated in the wisdom saying, in the joy of reaping. At that time, the joy of one who bears his sheaves will merge with the joy that filled our mouths "when the Lord brought back the return of Zion."




            At the beginning of this study, we noted that psalm 126 is connected in our consciousness to psalm 137 and is perceived as its contrasting partner. An examination of psalm 126 justifies this perception. These two psalms reflect the two opposite ends of a single historical period – the Babylonian exile. In neither do we find a description of a static situation relating to a single historical moment, but we rather find a progressive historical reality over the course of which changes occur. In accordance with these changes, the human response that finds expression in these two psalms also changes.


            Psalm 137 opens with the crisis arising from the initial encounter with exile – "there we sat and wept…," but continues with adjustment to the new situation and a normalization of life in exile and with the manner in which each of the exiles preserved the memory of Jerusalem even in his time of joy.


            Psalm 126 opens with the first encounter with the tidings of redemption from the exile, "when the Lord brought back the return of Zion" – an encounter associated with laughter, joy and gladness. But it continues with the painful disillusionment that set in later with the resettlement in Zion and the tremendous difficulties that the returnees faced when they took hold of the land, disillusionment that is accompanied by prayer and strengthening.


            Both psalms open in the plural, as they express the collective experience of the entire people at a time when they encounter far-reaching, historical changes. But they both shift into the singular, and thus express the gap between the historical event as it is felt on the national level and the life and troubles of the individual that don't always fall in line with the national feeling. This gap also expresses a gulf in time, over the course of which there are changes in the historical reality, to the point that it may be argued that the personal feelings of each individual reflect the new situation in which the entire nation finds itself.


            Psalm 126 expresses the feelings and emotional responses of the people of Israel to contemporary and local historical events, but it also expresses universal truths that are valid in similar situations in every generation. Whenever a dream turns into reality, the transition from the one to the other involves crisis and disillusionment. When reality is closely scrutinized, it is always disappointing in comparison to the hopes that were entertained during the dreaming period. Fortunate is he who, even during the stage of disillusionment, which at times can be bitter, does not forget or forsake the dream that brought him this far and does not despair from the possibility that the current situation, with all its problems, will serve as a bridge to the full realization of his dream in the near or distant future.


This lesson may be learned from our psalm, as well as from the prophecies of Chaggai and Zekharya, who were members of that same generation. To the despairing among the returnees to Zion, Zekharya calls out (8:9), "Let your hands be strong," and he admonishes them saying (4:10), "For who has despised the day of small things." The days of small things of the return to Zion, with all their wretchedness, served as a vital foundation for the days that followed, during which many Jews settled throughout Eretz Yisrael, enjoying political independence, with the Temple and the Divine service at the center of their lives. Thus, Chaggai's promise to the disappointed of his generation was fulfilled:


Who is left among you that saw this house in its first glory? And how do you see it now? Is it not in your eyes as nothing?

Yet now be strong, O Zerubavel, says the Lord; and be strong, O Yehoshua, son of Yehotzadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work, for I am with you…

The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give peace, says the Lord of hosts.[15] (Chaggai 2:3-4, 9)


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] As may be recalled, at the end of section I of this study we brought the views of Kaufmann and Amos Chakham, who give an agricultural interpretation to the entire psalm, in part because of the psalm's closing stanzas.

[2] The wisdom sayings in our psalm can be compared to those in Kohelet 11. Verse 1 there reads: "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days;" and verse 4 reads: "He who observes the wind shall not sow; and he who regards the clouds shall not reap."

[3] Published by Kibbutz Ha-Me'uchad (5716), vol. 2 – Eretz Ha-Negev, pp. 311-328. This article is divided into two parts: 1) the historical background of Tehillim 126; 2) "Bring back, O Lord, our return, like the streams in the south." The citations below are brought from the second part of the article (pp. 317-328), but our position in this study also agrees with Breslavi's main arguments and analysis of the psalm in the first part of his article. Later, we will bring citations from the first part as well.

Yosef Breslavi (Breslavski), 1897-1972, came to Eretz Yisrael with the Second Aliya. He engaged in research about Eretz Yisrael, and was one of the first tour guides to operate in the area. He dealt extensively with biblical research connected to the geography of Eretz Yisrael, and his studies in this area were published in the series Ha-Yadata et Ha-Aretz and in his book, Mi-Yeda ha-Aretz la-Mikra (Hotza'at Tarbut Ve-Chinukh, 5730).

[4] The many omissions (which we have marked here with three dots) include examples, testimonies of travelers, and data from measurements taken in the first half of the twentieth century.

[5] According to the commentators that he brings earlier, the prayer relates to the general flourishing of the redeemed nation, whereas according to Breslavi the prayer relates to the nature of the ingathering of the exiles.

[6] The quotations from the words of Zekharya will be brought below.

[7] Prof. Dov Ashbel (1896-1995) was a climatologist who specialized in the study of the climate of Eretz Yisrael. He taught in the department of meteorology and climatology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

[8] See note 18. The quotations below are taken from pages 312-315.

[9] Breslavi concludes with the following comment: "Something of our explanation is already found in the explanations of Ibn Ezra, R. Menachem ha-Meiri, and the Metzudat David. Ibn Ezra explains: 'Like streams in the south' – like the strong waters in the south.' R. Menachem bar Shlomo ha-Meiri, in his commentary to the book of Tehillim (Mekitzei Nirdamim, Jerusalem 5696), explains: 'Excavations filled with great and strongly flowing waters.' The Metzudat David also says: 'Like strongly flowing waters.'"

[10] It does not say "those who sow in tears will merit reaping," or something similar, but rather "will reap in joy."

[11] The noun "meshekh" appears again in one other place in Scripture - Iyov 28:18. Based on the context, it is usually understood as referring to a sack that is tied to a person's body, in which he carries his load, and in our psalm this load consists of seeds.

[12] The act of reaping, like the act of sowing, is performed by the farmer while going out and walking ("halokh yelekh") through his field. When he carries his sheaves, however, he comes ("bo yavo") home with them.

[13] There is direct and synonymous parallelism between stanza 8 and the second line in stanza 6:

in joy                     he will reap

he will come home in joy            bearing his sheaves.

[14] See note 19. The citations below are taken from pp. 314-316.

[15] Rumor has it that at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, R. Maimon z"l proposed that psalm 126 be accepted as the national anthem. This finds expression in the Israeli Rabbinate's enactment that this psalm be recited at the end of the evening and morning service on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut. And indeed, there is none like this psalm, as it has been understood in our study, to express the national experience connected with the establishment of the State and the days that followed (until today). During the period of the establishment of the State, the words of the psalm, "we were like dreamers," were fulfilled in us. There was great joy among all the Jews, and we said, "The Lord did great things for us." But immediately following its establishment, the new-born state, with its six hundred thousand Jews, was forced into a difficult war against the enemies that surrounded it; and as soon as that war was over, it faced a deep economic crisis, which led to a period of austerity and shortages. But the prayer of the returnees to Zion, "Bring back, O Lord, our return, like the streams in the south," was fulfilled. Great waves of immigrants "flooded" the state shortly after its establishment, and later as well. The economic situation gradually improved, and the state advanced in all areas. Nevertheless, real life is complex and complicated, far removed from the hopes and dreams that everyone set on the State when it was created. O that the days of smallness in which we are living lead to ascent and prosperity in those very areas that are so absent but necessary for the continued existence and development of the State of Israel.