1 A song of ascents. In my distress I called to Hashem and He answered me.
SHEER ha-ma-a-LOT el a-do-NAI ba-tza-RA-tah LEE ka-RA-tee va-ya-a-NAY-nee
א שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת אֶל־יְהֹוָה בַּצָּרָתָה לִּי קָרָאתִי וַיַּעֲנֵנִי׃
120:1 A song of ascents
What is the meaning the Hebrew word maalot (מעלות), translated here as ‘ascents,’ which appears in the opening phrases of the next fifteen psalms? According to Rashi, it is a reference to the fifteen steps in the Beit Hamikdash upon which the Leviim stood while reciting these fifteen psalms. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the ascent in a spiritual way. He understands it to mean that from our low spiritual depths, we call, pray, and sing to Hashem to lift us up, or to give us the ability to ascend to the greatest heights. According to this interpretation, one can see a clear reflection of this in the beginning of Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I call You, Hashem.” Other commentators suggest that these Tehillim were sung by those who returned to Eretz Yisrael from the Babylonian exile in the times of Ezra, upon their ascent to the Holy Land, as reflected in Psalm 126:1 “A Song of Ascents. when Hashem restores the fortunes of Tzion…” Travelling to the Land of Israel is always considered an ascent, as the verse in Ezra 7:9 says: “On the first day of the first month, the journey up from Babylon was started.” Even today, moving to Israel is referred to as making aliyah, i.e, ‘ascending’ to live in the Land of Israel.