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Psalm 136, the Great Hallel (Hallel HaGadol), is a series of praises of Hashem. It is ordered starting with the wonders of creation, moving onto taking us out of slavery, followed by the miracles needed to bring us into the land of Israel. All of these seem to be ordered chronologically. However, the psalm culminates in thanking Hashem for giving sustenance to all creation (136:25).

If this psalm is ordered chronologically, where does the penultimate line fit in? If it's not chronological, how is the psalm ordered?

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  • I'm a little shaky on the question...does HKBH not continuously provide sustenance to all His creations? May 28, 2023 at 9:26
  • @יהושעק Sure - I would have expected this praise of sustenance to be included shortly after creation and before discussing redemption from Egypt.
    – NJM
    May 28, 2023 at 12:09

3 Answers 3

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The Alshich (quoted as a commentary to the link you posted) provides an explanation, but you have to first read the verse before the penultimate one to understand it.

The verse before says

ויפרקנו מצרינו כי לעולם חסדו

This is commonly translated as "And He saved us from our enemies for His kindness is eternal." However, the Alshich seems to use the more literal translation for מצרינו , which would be "from our pain", and understands the verse as follows. When Yehoshua circumcised the Jewish people, that pain stood in place of our lives, and effectively stood as some sort of atonement, saving the Jewish people. Then he goes on to say the part that's relevant to our line: if there is no Jewish people, there is no world. Therefore, He saved us with our pain by circumcision, for "He renders His kindness to the world" = כי לעולם חסדו. (Note that he does not translate עולם in the phrase כי לעולם חסדו as "eternal", but rather literally, as "world". )

Now for our line (...נותן לחם לכל בשר), he says that after the circumcision, the Jews would not have had anything to eat until the Omer sacrifice would be brought, when they would be allowed to use the newly planted grain in the land (typically Jews can use old grain, but this was the first crop so they didn't have any). Therefore, Hashem miraculously gave them bread until that Passover (when they would be able to offer the Omer), which again saved the Jewish people, which saved the world as we explained with regard to the previous verse. Once again, this is כי לעולם חסדו "for He renders His kindness to the world".

I believe that according to the Alshich, you are right that it's chronological, since he ascribes our line to an event after the events of the previous one.

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The Gemara in Pesachim 118A says that the entire point of this psalm is to extol The kindness of Hashem, that he provided sustenance to the world for 26 generations until the Torah was given:

אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: הָנֵי עֶשְׂרִים וְשִׁשָּׁה ״הוֹדוּ״, כְּנֶגֶד מִי — כְּנֶגֶד עֶשְׂרִים וְשִׁשָּׁה דּוֹרוֹת שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּעוֹלָמוֹ וְלֹא נָתַן לָהֶם תּוֹרָה, וְזָן אוֹתָם בְּחַסְדּוֹ.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: These twenty-six mentions of the word hodu, give praise, in this hallel (Psalms 136), to what do they correspond? He explains: They correspond to the twenty-six generations that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, and to whom He did not give the Torah. There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, another ten from Noah to Abraham, and six generations from Abraham to Moses and the revelation at Sinai, i.e., Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kehat, Amram, and Moses. And why did these generations survive, despite the fact that they did not learn Torah or perform mitzvot? They survived only because God sustained them through His mercy, even though they were undeserving.

Based on this, the reason it finishes off with praise for providing sustenance, is because that’s ultimately what we’re trying to praise throughout the 26 phrases.

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I seem to recall that same gemara tells us that the very reason Tehillim 136 is called Hallel Hagadol is for that passuk ' nosen lechem lekol basar'. The miracle of finding sustenance for every living creature at supercedes even the miracles of creation and of yetziat mitzrayim in the eyes of the author of the perek tehillim.

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  • Welcome to mi yodeya! Adding a source would greatly improve this answer
    – Lo ani
    Dec 19, 2023 at 21:16

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