Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 68: Song from the Womb

The psalm describes the outburst of joy and thanksgiving when God delivered Israel out of Egypt, and led them across the wilderness:

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“In full assemblies bless God; my Lord, from the source of Israel.” (Ps 68:27)

What does this phrase — mi-makor Yisrael, ‘from the source of Israel’ — mean?

The Talmud gives a curious interpretation. R. Meir explained that at the Red Sea, even the fetuses in their mothers’ wombs sang God’s praises (Berachot 50a). What is the significance of this puzzling statement? Did the fetuses really sing?

Natural Holiness

There are several factors which contribute to the love and fear of God which are bound in the inner heart of the people of Israel. Certainly Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvoth play their part. And suitable education cultivates the soul’s inner emotions.

But beyond any such didactic efforts, there resides a natural holiness in the soul. This innate holiness does not require any particular actions or external influences in order for the soul to be uplifted in spectacular song and joy in God’s magnanimity. It is enough to appreciate the simple fact that one emanates from “the source of Israel,” that one belongs to this remarkable nation whom God watches over and protects.

When did the people of Israel first experience the privilege of God’s favor? At the Red Sea. On the basis of their deeds, Israel at that time was no better than other nations. They had not yet received the Torah. The angels were unable to distinguish between them and their Egyptian persecutors. Nonetheless, they merited ’seeing God’s great hand’ deliver them. Physically they were saved from their enemies, and spiritually their souls were uplifted to sing prophetic songs of praise and thanksgiving.

A child, as soon as he is born, is influenced by what he sees and experiences. But a fetus in his mother’s womb has never undergone any form of education, formal or otherwise. A fetus only has the inner awareness of his origin. It was this innate ‘fetal’ realization of the source of their souls which was awakened in those who merited to witness the splitting of the sea. They were struck with the true significance of this unique gift — and broke out in song.

In full assemblies, bless God.” Great individuals can magnify their inner emotions of love for God through external factors; but the potential exists equally in all. Both the scholar and the ignoramus, together “in full assemblies,” express their gratitude, ennobled by the inner awareness of the special merit that they originate “from the source of Israel.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah II:228)

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