This pasuk is mentioned towards the end of birkas hamazon. On weekdays we say “He Who makes great…” and on Shabbos, Yom Tovim, and Rosh Chodesh it is read: “He Who is a tower…” The Etz Yosef says that the phrase from Tehillim was chosen for the less holy, weekdays because it was written before King Dovid became king. The phrase from Shmuel Beis was composed when King Dovid was at the peak of his greatness, and it therefore better suits Shabbos and Yomim Tovim.
If you delve into the Medrish Shochar Tov on Tehillim, it elaborates a bit more when discussing what it means when it says that Moshiach will come little by little. “Rebbe Yudan said that because the redemption of this nation does not happen all at once, rather little by little, then what does ‘makes great’ refer to? That it [the salvation] grows bigger and bigger before the Jews, because they are now wallowing in great anguish and if the redemption would come instantaneously they would not be able to withstand the great salvation which comes through such anguish, therefore it comes little by little and grows greater and greater. This is why the redemption is compared to dawn as it is written, ‘Then your light shall break forth as the dawn’ (Yeshayahu 58:8). Why is it compared to dawn, for there is no greater darkness then the time right before morning and if the ball of sun would just pop up at that time all species would go blind, so rather at dawn a ray of light first enlightens the world and then the ball of sun rises and sheds light and no species is blinded as it says, ‘But the way of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the day is perfect’ (Mishley 4:18).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Many people, upon being liberated from the Nazi concentration camps, were given a hearty meal by their emancipators. This they quickly consumed; but their fragile bodies were not able to handle food in that quantity, and they perished. Similarly, this is what the Medrish is referring to, but on a psychological level. If salvation, which is likened to the “great tower” of Moshiach would come for the downtrodden Jews out of the blue, then the effects of going from such a state of suffering to the opposite end of the spectrum, perfect bliss, would be devastating. Barely anyone would be able to handle such a rollercoaster; therefore, the Medrish says that Hashem’s plan is to prepare us little by little for the coming of Moshiach, so when we are ready we will be able to embrace such a lofty and perfect existence, without going from one extreme to another.
One can ask, and often does ask, why Hashem puts us through all this suffering to begin with. This can be answered with another parable. Have you ever observed chulent cooking or a soup in the process of being made? The raw, unrefined ingredients are put into a pot with liquid and spices to help it taste good and to transform it into something edible. Then the heat causes all the food to boil up and get scalding hot. Everything is tossed around, things bumping into each other, sometimes even spilling over, but in the end, more times than not, you have a delicious chulent or soup. All those violent turns and motions in the pot transform an imperfect, raw dish, with the right ingredients, into a savory delicious delicacy. So too Hashem puts us “through the ringer” even in the most treacherous circumstances, in order to refine and smooth out all our imperfections, clear away all the impurities, so that we will be ready for a time when everything will be in a perfect state of existence.
May we be in tune with the steps Hashem is taking to making great our coming salvation in due time, perhaps even proactively work on ourselves to speed up the process so we will be rightfully prepared for the coming of Moshiach and the tower of salvation for His king.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder