Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 68: Song from the Womb


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

“בְּמַקְהֵלוֹת בָּרְכוּ אֱ-לֹהִים; אֲדֹ-נָי, מִמְּקוֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל.” (תהילים ס"ח:כ"ז)

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

What does this phrase — “from the source (makor) of Israel” — mean?

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

Innate Holiness

There are several factors that deepen our feelings of love and awe of God. Certainly, Torah study and the performance of mitzvot play their part. A good education cultivates the soul’s loftier sensibilities and emotions.

But beyond these didactic efforts, the soul has an innate source of holiness. This natural holiness does not need any specific actions or external influences for the soul to be uplifted in song and joy in God’s kindness. It is enough to appreciate the simple fact that we come from “the source of Israel,” that we belong to this remarkable nation that God watches over and protects.

When did the Jewish people first experience the privilege of God’s favor as a nation? At the Red Sea. Based on their deeds, the Jewish people at that time was no better than other nations. They had not yet received the Torah. The Midrash says that the angels were unable to distinguish between the Israelites and their Egyptian persecutors: “these are idolaters and these are idolaters.”

Nonetheless, the Israelites merited “seeing God’s great hand” deliver them. Physically, they were rescued from their enemies. And spiritually, their souls were uplifted to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving.

As soon as babies are born, they are influenced by what they see and experience. But a fetus in its mother’s womb has never experienced any form of education, formal or otherwise. A fetus only has awareness of its immediate surroundings — its origin.

The Jews who witnessed the miraculous deliverance at the Sea gained this ‘fetal’ awareness of the source of their souls. Struck with the true significance of this unique gift, they broke out in jubilant song and thanksgiving.

In full assemblies, bless God.” Individuals can deepen their feelings of love for God via external efforts, but the potential for this love exists equally in all. Scholars and simple folk, together “in full assemblies,” sang their feelings of gratitude and love. They were elated by this sudden awareness of the great privilege that their souls were rooted in “the source of Israel.”

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 228)