Psalm 126: We Were Like Dreamers

This psalm offers an inspiring description of the redemption of the Jewish people and their return to the Land of Israel:

"A Song of Ascents. When God brings about the return to Zion, we were like dreamers. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with joyous song." [126:1-2]

The verb tense, however, is confusing. Presumably, this is a vision of the future redemption, when "our mouths will be filled with laughter." Yet the psalmist also speaks of the past - "we were like dreamers." Is this taking place in the past or the future?

Dreams of Redemption

We need to understand the significance of these dreams and their connection to our national redemption.

Several times in history, dreams served as a means to redemption. Joseph became viceroy of Egypt and saved his family from famine through the dreams of Pharaoh. Daniel attained his position of importance through the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar. What is the function of dreams in the world?

Every soul has certain special segulot, hidden talents or qualities that seek to be realized. The more intense the segulah, the greater it will struggle to be fulfilled. One of the ways in which these inner qualities express themselves is through dreams.

The nation of Israel also has special segulot - a unique potential for spiritual greatness. As it says [Ex. 19:5], "You will be a segulah among the nations." When the Jewish people are exiled and downtrodden, this segulah quality seeks ways to be realized. It is this inner drive for national greatness that is the source for our dreams of redemption.

Anticipating the Redemption

After death, the Talmud teaches, the soul is questioned by the heavenly tribunal: "Tzapita layeshua?" "Did you anticipate the redemption?" [Shabbat 31a] The fact that the soul is judged by this trait indicates the great importance of anticipating the redemption. We also find that the Sages spoke of the obligation to pray for our national return to the Land of Israel. Yet the logic of this approach is not obvious. What purpose is there in yearning for that which is beyond our control, dependent either upon the actions of the entire Jewish people, or a divinely-ordained hour?

To understand the significance of our dreams and prayers, it is instructive to recall the Talmudic saying, "Do not disregard any blessing, even that of an ordinary person" [Megillah 15a]. Why should we take note of the simple wishes of a neighbor or friend? The Sages, however, are imparting an important lesson: do not underestimate the power of a few encouraging words, for they may awaken and help realize our hidden potential.

The concept is valid for both the individual and the nation. Secreted in the national soul of Israel is a potential for greatness. By mentioning and anticipating this national destiny, we strengthen it and prime it to be realized. The value of looking forward to the redemption lies in its power to help bring it to fruition. This is not a mystical notion, but a plain historical fact. Without a doubt, the unprecedented return of the Jewish people to their homeland after thousands of years of exile could not have occurred without the continual yearnings and prayers over the centuries. The Zionist movement could not have convinced millions of Jews to uproot themselves if not for the people's deep-rooted longings for the Land of Israel. It is our faith and anticipation of redemption that enables the realization of the national segulah of Israel.

Now we can understand why the verse says that "we were like dreamers," in the past tense. This refers to our dreams of redemption during the long years of exile. "God brings about the return to Zion" because, throughout the ages, "we were like dreamers." Our dreams and trust in God's promises of redemption enable our return to the Land. Just as our private dreams are an expression of our inner talents, inspiring us to develop them, so too, our national dreams, even in the darkest hours, facilitate the return to Zion and the future fulfillment of our complete redemption.

[adapted from Midbar Shur pp. 226-227]

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