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Psalm 96:12 The field and all that is in it will rejoice; then all the trees of the forest shall sing.
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Springing from one of the traditional Sukkot readings - "On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the L-RD your G-d seven days" (Vayikra 23:40, JPS) -Pesikta Rabbati (Piska 51.6) jumps to this verse from the Psalms to encompass the trees and all of nature in the coming celebration when the Day of the L-rd comes.
The verse, like much biblical Hebrew poetry uses parallelism; in this case, synthetic - in which the second semi-stich1 of the verse amplifies or completes the meaning of the first. Two verbs that have overlapping meanings - , a Qal prefix 3ms from the root , to exult or rejoice, and , a Pi'el prefix 3mp from the root , to shout, sing, rejoice, are used to describe the exulting and rejoicing. The opening phrase of the English translation - the field and all that is in it - covers all the cultivated trees (i.e. fruit-bearing) and plants, while "all the trees of the forest" covers all the wild tree which may not bear fruit. The word that starts the second semi-stich is an adverb, meaning 'then' or 'at that time'; here 'then' is used to convey a sequence: the cultivated trees lead and the wild trees follow.
Pesikta Rabbati starts (paralleled by Vayikra Rabbah 30:4) by suggesting that (a poetic form of the more usual ) stands for the world because Cain and Abel were dividing the world between them (B'resheet Rabbah 22:7) when "they were standing in the field" (B'resheet 4:8), while "all that is in it" refers to the world's inhabitants, as in the verse "The earth is the L-RD's and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants" (Psalm 24:1, JPS). Rabbi Aha said that "trees of the forest" usually refers to tree which do not bear fruit, but since the phrase as prefaced by 'all', it should be taken to include fruit-bearing trees as well. The Pesikta goes on to point out that the lulav cluster (from the Vayikra 23:40 traditional reading) is also made from fruit-bearing (the etrog, a citron and the lulav, the date-palm) and non-fruit-bearing (the myrtle and the willow) trees. "Why?" the Pesikta wants to know, "and before whom do they rejoice and sing?" The Psalmist provides the answer: "before the L-RD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world in righteousness, and its peoples in His faithfulness" (Psalm 96:13). The repetition, the Pesikta explains, is because He comes on Yom Teruah and because He comes again on Yom Kippur.
The same repetition comes again in another psalm, this time including a wider participation by the creation in welcomingHaShem: "Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains sing together for joy before the L-RD; for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity" (Psalm 98:7-9, NASB). Not just trees and plants now, but the rivers, seas and mountains will apparently show physical manifestations as HaShem comes to judge - also possibly translated as 'rule' - the earth and all its people. The language is clearly poetical and allowance must be made for metaphor - rivers don't have hands - but the overall picture is of great rejoicing among the elements of the physical creation when HaShem's righteous judgement and rule are established on the earth.
Another psalm, interpreted sometimes to suggest the gates of heaven opening to allow a ceremonial entrance of the King into His own realm, warrants some investigation: "Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in!" (Psalm 24:7, NASB). Who is this king, the psalmist asks? "The L-RD strong and mighty, the L-RD mighty in battle ... The L-RD of hosts, He is the King of glory" (vv. 8,10, NASB). But since HaShem is already in the heavens, it makes little sense for Him to "come in" there. Instead, the ancient doors will open to allow Him to enter into the world, to enter the physical domain, from which He has withheld most of His presence because of the physical manifestations that would result if He were here.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the one who will come from the root of Jesse - a parallel to King David, but without the deterioration of the generations that followed him - and judge not only G-d's people but the earth: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the L-RD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the L-RD. And His delight shall be in the fear of the L-RD" (Isaiah 11:1-3a, ESV). This is the one we pray for each day in synagogue: "May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower, and may His pride be raised high by Your salvation, for we wait for Your salvation all day" (Amidah, Sacks). How will He judge? Isaiah continues: "He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His waist, and faithfulness the belt of His loins" (vv. 3b-5, ESV). This bears a strong resemblance to Yeshua as described by Rav Sha'ul - "Then the one who embodies separation from Torah will be revealed, the one whom the Lord Yeshua will slay with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the glory of His coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8, CJB) - and John: "From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:15-16, ESV). He will judge will justice and righteousness, with fairness and equity, but with absolute power and authority.
At this time of year, the Jewish High Holy Days, we rehearse the coming of Yeshua with our people as we go through the liturgy and services of Rosh HaShanah, the New Year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Sukkot, Tabernacles. The theme of repentance and preparation for the coming of Messiah is acute, from the start of Elul - the previous month - through to the closing act of Yom Kippur when we blow the shofar and proclaim G-d's forgiveness to be accomplished. This is a vivid reminder of Yeshua on the cross, crying out "It is finished!" (John 19:30, see also Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46) as He gave up His spirit. Repentance then gives way to feasting and celebration as we build the sukkah and live in it for seven whole days, celebrating what G-d did for our people in the desert during the Exodus from Egypt and what He is going to do for us in the future when "everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths" (Zechariah 14:16, ESV). Even now, in these days, Jew and Gentile celebrating together in the sukkah is a prophetic picture of what is to come: a practical outworking of the One New Man, celebrating G-d's goodness now.
In that moment of rejoicing, we see a glimpse of Isaiah's words: "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12, ESV). The sukkah is made of harvest residue and is decorated with the produce of the fields: barley, wheat, pomegranates, olives, dates; our praises ring out as we worship the L-rd and heaven itself shakes as we declare Him king of our lives, our communities, our peoples and the whole earth. Come, Lord Yeshua, come!
1. - A stich is a line or measured unit of poetry - in this particular case, a verse. It comes from a Greek word meaning: a measured part of something written, especially in poetry. For example, six-line poems can be described as a hexa-stich, ten lines would be a deca-stich. A semi-stich, then, is half a line.
Further Study: Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 8:19-25
Today is a day to rejoice and to declare the goodness of G-d. Build your
sukkah and celebrate the feast to the L-rd as a proclamation of your
faith and His faithfulness.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.