Psalm 81: Aiming for Greatness

This psalm charges us to sing out in joy, as God answered our prayers and rescued us from the bondage of Egypt.

"I am Hashem your God Who raises you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." [81:11]

What is the connection between acknowledging the redemption from Egypt and "opening our mouths wide" to receive God's blessings?

Perpetual Elevation

A careful reading will note two things about the word hama'alcha, "Who raises you up." First of all, it does not say that God "took you out" of Egypt, but that He "raises you up." It was not merely the act of leaving Egypt that made its eternal impact on the fate of the Jewish nation, and through it, all of humanity. The Exodus was an act of elevation, lifting up the people's souls — "Who raises you up."

Additionally, we may note that the verse is not in the past tense but in the present, "Who raises you up." Does the psalm not refer to a historical event? We may understand this phrase in light of the words of the Midrash [Tanchuma Mikeitz 10] concerning the creation of heaven and earth. The Midrash states that when God commanded the formation of the rakiya, "an expanse in the middle of the water" [Gen. 1:6], the heavens and the earth began to expand, and would have continued to stretch out indefinitely, had the Creator not halted the expansion by admonishing them, 'Enough!' In other words, unless they are meant only for a specific hour, divine acts are eternal, continuing forever. So too, the spiritual ascent of "raising you up from Egypt" is a perpetual act, constantly influencing and uplifting the Jewish people throughout the generations.

There is no limit to this elevation, no end to the attainable heights of our spiritual aspirations. The only restriction comes from us — if we choose to limit our wishes and dreams. But once we know the secret of hama'alcha, and internalize the message of a divine process that began in Egypt and continually raises us up, we can always aim for ever-higher spiritual levels.

It is instructive to note the contrast between the word 'Egypt' (in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, meaning limitations), and "opening up wide." God continually frees us from the narrowing constraints of Mitzrayim, allowing us to aspire for the broadest, most expansive goals.

Now we understand why the verse concludes with the charge, "open your mouth wide." Let us not restrict ourselves. We need to rise above all limitations, and overcome smallness and petty goals. If we can "open our mouth wide" and recognize our potential for greatness, then "I will fill it" — God will help us attain ever- higher levels of holiness.

[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I pp. 219-220]

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