Our Rosh Hashana 5777 Vort is being sponsored by Avraham and Miriam Deutsch of Efrat who wish Zahal and Kol Am Yisrael L’Shana Tova! To the Deutsch family, many thanks for your continued kindnesses. Avraham and Miriam, may you know only simcha, success in all endeavors, good health, nachas from your children, and only good things in the year to come and in all years to at least 120!
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This Rosh Hashanah vort looks to build on an ongoing theme connecting Unsaneh Tokef and Aleinu toward extension, both of the fervor of Rabbi Amnon’s declaration of Hashem’s All-Encompassing Kingship, and of Our Duty — Aleinu to declare it thrice daily, to every aspect of our daily tefillot, including Aleinu, and to carry this spirit outside of tefillot into the interactions of our daily lives.
This author has, in previous Rosh Hashanah vorts, considered the inner-strength and courage of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, as well as focusing on the link between our tefillah expressing our recognition of Hashem as our Creator, as expressed in the tefillah of Unsaneh Tokef, composed by Rabbi Amnon in his tortured and crippled state by the hand of Bishop or Governor (whatever the correct title was) of Mainz over his adamance in not betraying his Jewishness and Hashem, and our tefillah heralding Hashem’s Universal Kingship — as expressed by the tefillah of Aleinu.
Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, upon his refusal to convert, was carried home from the Bishop’s palace as a mutilated cripple, along with his amputated hands and feet, and composed Unsaneh Tokef on that Rosh Hashanah, reciting the tefillah with his final breaths. (Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Machzor Nusach Ashkenaz, page 481-482, Yom Kippur Machzor):
When Rosh Hashanah arrived…, R’ Amnon asked to be carried to the Ark [Aron HaKodesh]. Before the congregation recited Kedushah, he asked to be allowed to sanctify Hashem’s Name in the synagogue as he had in the bishop’s palace. He recited Unsaneh Tokef and then died. R’ Amnon’s wish was carried out, and the prayer became an integral part of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. (citing from Or Zarua)
We recite R’ Amnon’s praise of Hashem during each repetition of the Mussaf tefillah of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed shortly thereafter by Kedusha, our joining with the melachim (angels) as we proclaim our declaration of Hashem’s greatness. (Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Machzor Nusach Ashkenaz, pages 480-481, 486, Yom Kippur Machzor).
But while Unsaneh Tokef serves as R’Amnon’s personal expression of Kedusha: the Glory of Hashem, our Creator and Creator of All Who Fills the world with His Glory, it seems also to express Hashem’s attribute of Mercy in Kingship, just as does Aleinu. The first posukim of Unsaneh Tokef rendered to English in Artscroll Machzorim say:
Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your Throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth.
The Artscroll Machzorim comment on the posuk “Your throne will be firmed with kindness” (Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Machzor Nusach Ashkenaz, page 481):
Hashem’s greatness is confirmed when he goes beyond the bounds of judgement by showing mercy. By definition, judgement is inflexible because it depends on deeds and laws. By overriding judgement, Hashem shows that there are no limits to His power.
Now let us review excerpts from translation of Aleinu rendered by Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit in his sefer, “The Power of Aleinu.” (pages 31, 36, 38, 59):
Aleinu: It is our duty to praise the Master of Everything. To ascribe greatness to the One Who formed Creation. For He did not make us like the nations of the lands…. We bow, prostrate and acknowledge our thanks to the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He….
So we see that Aleinu, our duty to praise our Creator is NOT just a once-a-year rite, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. We know that Torah commands us to give honor and respect to our parents at all times, not merely once a year when the rest of society designates a day for Mothers and a day for Fathers with cards, family dinners, etc. The state of expressing perpetual honor and respect for our parents is meant, as a microcosm, to mirror our duty to praise, honor, recognize the greatness of, and have emunah (belief) in Hashem our Creator.
Rabbi Wegbreit writes in his sefer, “The Power of Aleinu.” (pages 35-36, 60):
… The World generally doesn’t apply the term “great” where it truly belongs — with Hashem.
Their reasoning begins with a flawed… assumption that the Creator of the Universe Who is lofty enough to create the universe would never “lower Himself” to become involved with the lower world that He made…. They don’t feel that the Creator relates to his creations.
We know that the Creator does relate to his creations (Rav Chaim Friedlander, Sifsei Chaim,”Aleinu.”) This recognition makes the Jewish people unique and obligates us “to ascribe greatness to the One Who formed Creation.” (Malbim on Tehillim 34:4)
There are two reasons why Jews are inspired to humble themselves… The first is an overwhelming sense of gratitude…
Hashem is referred to as the One who “made us” into a people at Mount Sinai — in order to heap blessing upon us for all eternity and make us unique.
The second reason why we are inspired to humble ourselves in the dread and awe that we feel at having the great privilege of being in the presence and service of Creator of the universe.
If one meets an eminent person… who wields vast power and authority, he feels dwarfed and intimidated. Even more so,when one meets a powerful king, one is legally required to show respect. It follows, then, that we can barely comprehend the dread and reverence warranted by a single encounter with the “King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He.”
It seems to this author that if our fervor in davening a serious, melodious Aleinu tefillah on both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur extended to a consistent thrice daily serious, melodious recitation of Aleinu all year long, and if our internalization of R’ Amnon’s praise of Hashem was constant, throughout the entire year — both inside of Shul or Beit Medrash and outside, we would bring all of us, by dint of our fervor, much closer to the fulfillment of Hashem’s Divine Mission for Am Yehudi — showing the nations how a Holy people conducts themselves in their land — Eretz Yisrael, and thus bring us closer to the Geula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption.
And perhaps, if we would extend this fervor and kavanah (intent) of Aleinu to a more deliberate attentiveness to the entire body of our tefillot thrice daily, and not rush to leave the Beit Knesset/Beit Medrash immediately upon the conclusion of davening, while showing more care and respect in the way we replace our siddurm, chumashim and other s’forim back on their respective shelves, rather than haphazardly leaving gaps and creating third rows on shelves which were designed to hold two rows of siddurim, this might just “close the deal.”
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of two years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
L’Shana Tova! May You, All of My Brothers, Sisters, be Inscribed and Sealed, for a Year of Life, Health, Simcha, Success and only good things… Now and Always!
Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.