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Mizmor 126 – It was a Bad Dream
(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת בְּשׁוּב ה’ אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן הָיִינוּ כְּחֹלְמִים:
(1) A song of the steps. When Hashem brings [us] back [from] the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers [who have woken up].
NOTE: For a PDF of this mizmor, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev. 4]
Key Concepts of Mizmor 126 – It Was a Bad Dream
As in the previous mizmorim of this series, the mizmor speaks of a time when the Jewish people are in Exile, but eagerly looking ahead to the Geulah (Redemption). The singer anticipates that the transition from captivity to freedom will bring about a dramatic change in our lives. It will be like waking up from a bad dream. The nations will also be amazed. Their scorn will change to respect and they will be surprised at not having seen it coming. We, however, will be able to remind them that our joy preceded the actual event because we had bitachon (trust) that the Geulah was on its way.
The singer then speaks for the Jewish people in offering an urgent tefillah (prayer) to Hashem to bring the Geulah even sooner than it was meant to be. The words of his tefillah are uttered with renewed hope and joy as he compares the Geulah to the sudden appearance of fresh water in the desert and to the joy a farmer feels when reaping a bountiful harvest after the anxiety of cultivating a parched field.
Navigating Tehillim (1). This is the seventh in the series of 15 mizmorim to be sung by the Leviim in the Beis HaMikdash while standing on the 15 steps leading up from the women’s courtyard to the men’s courtyard.
Navigating Tehillim (2). Mizmor 126 completes a cycle of seven mizmorim in which David anticipates a tragic time of Exile for the Jewish people. The cycle begins in a sombre mood with Mizmor 120, but the tone becomes gradually elevated to reflect how the bitachon of the people in the coming Geulah is gradually strengthened, despite all the tribulations of the Exile. Thus, we joyfully sing this last mizmor just before Birkas Hamazon (Grace After Meals) on Shabbos and Yom Tov, as we contemplate returning to our Land and gratefully partaking in the produce of its fields.
Exploring the Mizmor
PART 1. ANTICIPATING THE GEULAH. The singer looks forward to the Geulah. It will be like waking up from a bad dream. The nations will be amazed at what has transpired, but we will not be surprised. We had bitachon that this day would come.
(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת בְּשׁוּב ה’ אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן הָיִינוּ כְּחֹלְמִים: (ב) אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה אָז יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם הִגְדִּיל ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם אֵלֶּה: (ג) הִגְדִּיל ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים:
(1) A song of the steps. When Hashem brings [us] back [from] the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers [who have woken up]. (2) Then our mouths will be filled with laughter [and there will be] joyous song on our tongue. Then they will talk among the nations [saying], “Hashem has done great things for these [people].” (3) [We will respond,] “Hashem has done great [things] for us. We were [already] gladdened.”
PART 2. BRINGING THE GEULAH. The singer calls upon Hashem to bring the Geulah now to the Jewish people.
(ד) שׁוּבָה ה’ אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב: (ה) הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ: (ו) הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ וּבָכֹה נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ הַזָּרַע בֹּא יָבוֹא בְרִנָּה נֹשֵׂא אֲלֻמֹּתָיו:
(4) Hashem, bring back our capitivity as streams of running water in the desert. (5) [It will be like] those who sow in tears but reap in glad song. (6) [The farmer] goes out [to the fields] weeping, carrying precious seed, but returns in exultation, carrying his sheaves.
Learning the Mizmor
(א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת
This is the seventh song of the steps.
בְּשׁוּב ה‘ אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן 
הָיִינוּ כְּחֹלְמִים:
At the end of this bitter Exile, when Hashem brings us back  בְּשׁוּב ה‘  from the captivity of Tzion — אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן , it will all seem to have been a bad dream. Returning to our own land will be so wonderful that it will be hard to believe that the suffering was real. We will be like dreamers — הָיִינוּ כְּחֹלְמִים  who have woken up.
(ב) אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ 
וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה
In our present situation any joy we feel is tinged with grief. It is only when we are in our own land that will we be able to feel unmitigated joy. Only then will our mouths be filled with laughter  אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ . Only then will the praise of Hashem that is on our tongue be a totally joyous song — וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה .
אָז יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם 
הִגְדִּיל ה‘ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם אֵלֶּה:
Then they will even talk  אָז יֹאמְרוּ  about this miracle among the nations — בַגּוֹיִם  who have scorned us. Our rebirth to a new life will be so unexpected and so obviously a miracle that the nations will be amazed and will say, “Hashem has done great things for these people.  הִגְדִּיל ה‘ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם אֵלֶּה .” They will wonder how they could have looked down upon us. They will realize that it is You, Hashem, Who did it and that it is not an accident of history.
(ג) הִגְדִּיל ה‘ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ 
הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים:
But we will reply that we are not surprised. We anticipated this even in our darkest days. It was a foregone conclusion that Hashem has done great things for us — הִגְדִּיל ה‘ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ . We were already gladdened — הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים ,” because although we didn’t deserve it we hoped that the kindness of Hashem would overcome the harsh judgment of the Exile.
(ד) שׁוּבָה ה‘ אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ 
כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב:
Hashem, don’t delay any further, but bring us back from our captivity — שׁוּבָה ה‘ אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ  now. We will be overjoyed like those who receive the blessing of an unexpected rainfall in a parched land. The transition will be as energizing to us as streams of running water that suddenly appear in the desert — כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב , which bring moisture to the arid earth.
(ה) הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה 
בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ:
Our spirits will then be fully restored like those who sow — הַזֹּרְעִים  dry land in tears — בְּדִמְעָה  because of their concern that the crops won’t grow, but reap in glad song — בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרוּ  because of the water that has refreshed the land. So it is with the Jewish people in exile. We sow our seeds of doing mitzvos and learning Torah even under the most difficult conditions, but we hope to reap our reward of joy in the future.
(ו) הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ וּבָכֹה 
נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ הַזָּרַע
We will be like the hard-working farmer that goes out to his fields weeping  הָלוֹךְ יֵלֵךְ וּבָכֹה  in anxious fear that the grain won’t grow. Nevertheless, he does his duty carrying his precious seed — נֹשֵׂא מֶשֶׁךְ הַזָּרַע  as he plants his crops for the coming year. But Hashem sees his tears and has mercy on him.
בֹּא יָבוֹא בְרִנָּה נֹשֵׂא אֲלֻמֹּתָיו:
The farmer is gratified to be rewarded with an abundant harvest that is much greater than the paltry seeds that he has sowed. And so, the farmer returns in exultation — בֹּא יָבוֹא בְרִנָּה , carrying his sheaves — נֹשֵׂא אֲלֻמֹּתָיו . Our tefillah is that we will also be able to rejoice at the sudden Geulah when we reap the reward for our devotion to Torah and mitzvos.
Living the Mizmor
Listed below are some of the thoughts you might have in mind when you say the words of the mizmor as tefillos expressing your gratitude to Hashem and as tehillos expressing your recognition of Hashem.
Lessons for Life – Your Attitude.
[126:1] A DREAM. – בְּשׁוּב ה’ אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן הָיִינוּ כְּחֹלְמִים – “When Hashem brings [us] back [from] the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers [who have woken up].” Even if things seem bleak now, remember that the Geulah will surely come.
Lessons for Life – Your Behavior.
[126:2] LAUGHTER. – אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה – “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter.” Full-throated joy is reserved for the time of the Geulah. Only then will our mouths be filled with laughter.
Tehillos for Life – Public Acclaim.
[126:2] GREAT THINGS. – אָז יֹאמְרוּ בַגּוֹיִם הִגְדִּיל ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִם אֵלֶּה – “Then they will talk among the nations [saying], Hashem has done great things for these [people].” Encourage the nations to acknowledge the greatness of Hashem.
[126:3] OUR RESPONSE. – הִגְדִּיל ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים – “Hashem has done great [things] for us. We were [already] gladdened.”
Tefillos for Life – Your Geulah.
[126:4] TO FLOW AGAIN. – שׁוּבָה ה’ אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב – “Hashem, bring back our capitivity as streams of running water in the desert.” After each meal, thank Hashem and ask Him to bring the Geulah now.
The primary sources used in the interpretation of the verses of this mizmor are listed below.
א – רד”ק, מצודות, נר לרגלי
ב – ספורנו, מצודות, מלבי”ם, רשר”ה, נר לרגלי,
ג – אבן עזרא
ד – רש”י, ספורנו, אבן יחייא, מלבי”ם, נר לרגלי
ה – רד”ק, המאירי מצודות, נר לרגלי
ו – רש”י, רד”ק, אלשי”ך, מצודות, מלבי”ם