The perek can easily be divided into four parts:
We shall begin with the main section, as its pattern is quite easy to discern. It contains four cases when a person or group is required to thank Hashem for its salvation. Each case follows the same basic four-stage pattern.
A) Tzarah - A Situation of Distress
In each case a different crisis is presented.
B) Tza'akah - Crying Out to Hashem for Assistance
In each case - the same pasuk (6,13,19,28):
"V'yitzaku el Hashem b'tzar lahem, mim'tzukatam yoshi'aym."
C) Yeshuah - The Salvation
In each case the specific salvation is presented.
D) Hodayah - Thanks
Each case begins with the same general pasuk (8,15,21,31):
"Yodu l'Hashem chasdo, v'nifl'otav livnei adam"and is followed by a more specific pasuk of 'hodaya.'
We are all familiar with these four cases of distress presented by the perek, as they are the four cases when a person today is required to "bench gomel":
The simple lesson that we are to learn from the main section is quite obvious. When a person is in distress (A), he is expected to pray to Hashem for assistance (B). He should also relate to the possibility that his distress is in punishment of his wayward behavior (see psukim 11, 17, and 20). Upon his deliverance (C), he is expected to thank Hashem and tell the story of his salvation in public (D).
The additional section (33-41) relates to Hashem's 'hashgacha' (providence) - God's control over nature in response to the deeds of man. God can take a fruitful land and cause it to become a desert (33-34). He can also do the exact opposite (35). A society can prosper and then fail, the failure being in punishment of their deeds (36-39). Hashem can uplift the afflicted by this society and return him to prosperity (40-41). (See Board #3.)
The two internal sections of the perek both deal with the recognition by man of Hashem's 'hashgacha' in his individual and communal life. Man is expected to realize that his distress may possibly be in punishment for his deeds. In any case, he is expected to call out to Hashem for assistance. Man is also expected to find the hand of God in his history, in the rise and fall of societies. This understanding strengthens and directs his relationship with God.
The opening pasuk (1-3) relates this concept to the historical aspect of our national existence.
"Hodu L'Hashem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo. Yom'ru ge'ulei Hashem asher g'alam miyad tzar, umei'artzot kibtzum mimizrach u'maarav, mitzafon, u'miyam."Jews in distress who were saved and gathered together from all four corners of the earth are required to praise Hashem (say Hallel) for their deliverance. The perek then continues with several examples of Hashem's hashgacha in the two sections explained above. In the closing pasuk, "Mi chacham v'yishmor ay'leh, v'yit'bon'nu chasdei Hashem," we find the lesson of this perek. One who is wise will understand this concept of 'hashgacha' and be able to find the "chesed" and hand of Hashem in the history of mankind.
From the opening pasukim, it becomes clear why this perek was chosen to read on Yom Ha'Atzma'ut. During the first half of the twentieth century, especially the Holocaust, Am Yisrael was in terrible distress. The State of Israel became the refuge for tens of thousands of Jews who had no where else to turn. Olim from all directions returned to Israel. There were many cases of individual and group salvation, but their return to the land of their ancestors was their common denominator. A desolate and swampy land which thousands of years ago was once fruitful, became fruitful and prosperous once again. One who is wise can perceive through the events of the last century God's message to His people. On Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, we must not only thank Hashem for the salvation of the previous generation; we must take this challenge to guide the direction of our own generation.