Ata Yatzarta – An Unusual Beracha

Question #1: An Unusual Blessing

“Why does Shabbos Rosh Chodesh have a completely different middle beracha rather than simply having a Rosh Chodesh insert in the Shabbos davening, or a Shabbos insert in the Rosh Chodesh davening?”

Question #2: Missing My Chatas

“Why is no korban chatas offered on Shabbos?”

Question #3: Shortchanged Yom Tov

“Why is Rosh Chodesh the only special day mentioned in the Torah that is not a Yom Tov?”


When a holiday falls on Shabbos, the tefillah that we recite is usually the regular prayer either of the holiday or of Shabbos, with an addition or additions to include mention of the other special day. For example, when the major Yomim Tovim (Sukkos, Pesach, Shevuos, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) fall on Shabbos, we recite the regular Yom Tov prayer, with added mention of Shabbos in the middle beracha. On the lesser holidays (Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim), for most tefillos we recite the customary Shabbos prayer and add an extra paragraph, either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, at its appropriate place, to reflect the sanctity of the holiday. On Musaf of Shabbos Chol Hamoed, we recite the Musaf of Yom Tov with added mention of Shabbos in the middle beracha.

Ata Yatzarta — A special prayer

The one exception to this rule is the Musaf that we recite when Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos. On Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, the middle beracha of the Musaf is an entirely new beracha that does not simply combine the elements of the Shabbos Musaf and that of the weekday Rosh Chodesh Musaf. Rather, it includes aspects of the Musaf of Yom Tov, and the prayer includes a unique introduction that appears in no other prayer. Thus, the sum is greater than its parts – the combination of Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh creates a greater kedusha than either has on its own. Explaining this phenomenon is the thrust of this week’s essay, but first I need to explain certain themes more thoroughly.

A Review of Rosh Chodesh Musaf

Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and the Yomim Tovim are embellished with a tefillah called Musaf. While each of our three daily tefillos, Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv corresponds to a part of the service that was performed daily in the Beis Hamikdash (Berachos 26b), Musaf corresponds to the special korbanos described in parshas Pinchas that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.

With this background, we can now begin to examine the unique text of the Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Musaf. As I mentioned above, the central beracha of this tefillah is unusual; it contains aspects of four different themes. The beracha begins with a declaration, Ata Yatzarta Olamcha Mikkedem, “You fashioned Your world from the very beginning,” a declaration that certainly reflects the inherent concepts of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh; yet, this declaration appears in none of the four regular Shabbos tefillos, nor in the weekday Rosh Chodesh Musaf. This is highly unusual, particularly when we realize that, on all other occasions when Shabbos coincides with another special day, the wording of the prayers always reflects the exact text of either Shabbos or Yom Tov, and never a new version.

The special Musaf beracha then proceeds: Ahavta osanu veratzisa banu, “You loved us and desired us,” a text that appears in the Musaf of Yom Tov. Again, this is unusual, since this wording never appears either in the usual Shabbos or in the usual Rosh Chodesh prayers. How does a theme unique to Yom Tov find its way into Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which is not a Yom Tov?

The next sentence, beginning with the words Yehi ratzon, is a text that is common to both the Shabbos and the Yom Tov Musaf prayers, and this passage then introduces the actual korbanos of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. From this point onward, the prayer continues along predictable patterns, blending together the Musaf of a common Shabbos and a weekday Rosh Chodesh into one beracha commemorative of both occasions.

Yismechu Bemalchuscha

Included in the Ata Yatzarta prayer is the passage, Yismechu bemalchuscha shomrei Shabbos, “Those who observe the Shabbos shall celebrate Your kingship,” a special prayer that the Jewish people will enjoy their celebration of Shabbos as they recognize Hashem’s dominion and beneficence. In Nusach Ashkenaz, this prayer is recited every Shabbos Musaf, even when Shabbos coincides with Yom Tov or Rosh Chodesh. Nusach Sefard includes this passage also in Maariv and Shacharis of Shabbos. (The Avudraham records a custom in some communities not to recite Yismechu bemalchuscha in regular Shabbos Musaf and to recite it only on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. The Avudraham himself disapproves of this practice, and I am unaware of any community that follows this custom today.)

Closing the beracha

Returning to Ata Yatzarta, we close this beracha with a text that is standard for the central beracha of all Shabbos and Yom Tov prayers. The conclusion of the middle beracha of Musaf always notes the special features of the day we are celebrating.

Why Ata Yatzarta?

At this point, let us address the original question we posed: “Why does Shabbos Rosh Chodesh merit its own special Musaf prayer, rather than simply having a Rosh Chodesh insert in the Shabbos davening, or a Shabbos insert in the Rosh Chodesh davening?”

To explain why we recite the unique beracha of Ata Yatzarta, we need first to understand that each korban Musaf reflects something special about that day. An obvious example is the offering of bulls that is incorporated in the korbanos Musaf of the seven days of Sukkos. Over the seven days of Sukkos, we offer seventy bulls as part of the Musaf in a particular order, beginning with thirteen on the first day and decreasing by one each day until we offer seven on Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of Sukkos. These seventy bulls correspond to the seventy nations of the Earth who descended from Noah. Thus, one theme of Sukkos is that our korbanos service is to benefit not only the Jewish People, but is for the sake of the world and its entire population.

One unusual goat

The vast majority of korbanos offered as part of the Musaf are korbanos olah, which, Rav Hirsch explains, are to assist in our developing greater alacrity in observing Hashem’s commandments (Commentary to Shemos 27:8). In addition to the many korbanos olah offered as part of the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh and of all Yomim Tovim, there is also always one goat offered as a korban chatas. A chatas is usually translated as a “sin offering” and, indeed, in most instances, its purpose is to atone for specific misdeeds. The offering of a korban chatas on every Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh provides specific atonement on that day that we cannot accomplish on an ordinary weekday (see Mishnah, Shevuos 2a; also see Vayikra 17:10 and Rashi ad loc.).

The Shabbos Musaf

However, the Musaf offering for Shabbos contains no korban chatas. As a matter of fact, Shabbos is the only special day mentioned by the Torah on which a korban chatas is not offered. Clearly, the purpose of Shabbos is not to atone, but to commemorate the fact that Hashem created the entire world in the six days of Creation and then stepped back. Thus, observing Shabbos is our acknowledgement of Hashem as Creator of the Universe, but the discussion of sin and its atonement is not part of the role of Shabbos.

Uniqueness of Rosh Chodesh

The celebration and role of Rosh Chodesh in our calendar is different from Shabbos or any of the Yomim Tovim. The monthly waning and waxing of the moon that Rosh Chodesh commemorates symbolizes that people occasionally wane and wax in their service of Hashem (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 12:1-2). Although we sometimes falter or are not as devoted to serving Hashem as we should be, we always can and do return to serve Him. Rosh Chodesh is celebrated at the first glimmer after the disappearance of the moon, after one might lose all hope. The reappearance of the first sliver of the new moon brings hope that, just as the moon renews itself, so, too, we can renew our relationship with Hashem. The chatas offering of Rosh Chodesh, therefore, allows atonement for our shortcomings of the past month, and, at the same time, reminds us to focus on our mission as Hashem’s Chosen People.

Uniqueness of the Rosh Chodesh Korban Musaf

While the Musaf of each of the Yomim Tovim also includes a korban chatas, and each Yom Tov therefore includes a concept of judgment and atonement (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 16a; Mishnah, Shevuos 2a), the Torah’s description of the korban chatas of Rosh Chodesh differs from its description of the korbanos chatas that is offered on the other Yomim Tovim. The chata’os of the other Yomim Tovim are always mentioned immediately after the other Musaf offerings of the day. However, when the Torah teaches about the Musaf of Rosh Chodesh, the Torah first lists the other Musaf offerings, then sums up with the statement, Zos olas chodesh bechodsho lechodshei hashanah, “these are the olah offerings of Rosh Chodesh for all the months of the year,” as if it has completed the discussion of the Musaf for Rosh Chodesh. Only then does the Torah mention the chatas offering, implying that the chatas of Rosh Chodesh fulfills a unique purpose – almost as if it stands alone.

More significantly, the wording of the chatas of Rosh Chodesh is different from that of the other chatas offerings. Whereas in reference to all the chata’os of Yom Tov the Torah simply says that one should offer a chatas, on Rosh Chodesh the Torah says that one should offer a chatas to Hashem.

The Gemara itself notes this last question and provides a very anomalous answer: Hashem said, this goat is atonement for My decreasing the size of the moon (Shevuos 9a). From here, Chazal derive that the sun and moon were originally created equal in size, and that later Hashem decreased the size of the moon.

This statement sounds sacrilegious – how can one imply that something Hashem did requires atonement?

Indeed, I have seen commentaries say that the explanation of this Gemara is kabbalistic and should be left for those who understand these ideas.

Others explain that the korban that the Jews offer on Rosh Chodesh appeases the moon for its stature being decreased (Ritva, Shevuos 9a). What does this mean?

Man’s relationship with G-d

This could be understood in the following way: Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Bamidbar 28) explains that the “atonement for decreasing the moon” means that Hashem created man with the ability to sin, and thereby he can create evil and darkness. For, after all, sins committed by human beings are the only evil in the world. Thus, someone might “accuse” Hashem of creating evil, by creating man with the ability to sin. This can be called “decreasing the size of the moon,” since the moon’s waning and waxing carries with it the meaning of the waning and waxing of the relationship of man to Hashem.

The message of the chatas of Rosh Chodesh, then, is that man can return to serve Hashem, and that, on the contrary, this was the entire purpose of Creation. In error, someone might have accused Hashem of having brought sin into the world, and therefore decreasing the moon. In reality, man’s serving Hashem is the only true praise to Him. The offering of the korban chatas on Rosh Chodesh demonstrates this. Indeed, man is fallible, but when fallible man serves Hashem this demonstrates the truest praise in the world for Him.

Why Rosh Chodesh is not Yom Tov

According to a Midrash, prior to the debacle of the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf, the eigel hazahav, Rosh Chodesh was to have been made into a Yom Tov. Unfortunately, when the Jews worshipped the eigel hazahav, this Yom Tov was taken from them and presented exclusively to the women, who had not worshipped the eigel (Tur, Orach Chayim 417, and Mahalnach commentary ad loc.). The sin of the eigel hazahav demonstrates how low man can fall. This is symbolically represented by the decrease of the moon. As a result of this sin, Rosh Chodesh could not become a Yom Tov, but had to remain a workday.

However, when Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh coincide, no melacha is performed on Rosh Chodesh, so that it can now achieve what it would have accomplished as a Yom Tov. This is the goal of a Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, and for this reason, we include a Yom Tov aspect to our davening.

And not only does Shabbos increase the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh, but Rosh Chodesh increases the sanctity of Shabbos. The Gemara conveys this idea by declaring that the korban Musaf of Shabbos has more sanctity when Shabbos falls on Rosh Chodesh (Zevachim 91a).

The significance of this unusual beracha

Shabbos is our acknowledgement of Hashem as Creator of the Universe, whereas Rosh Chodesh demonstrates the role of mankind as the purpose of the Creation of this world. Since man is the only creation capable of sinning, he is the only one able to make a conscious choice to serve his Maker.

Based on this, we can understand why the coming of Shabbos, which demonstrates the Creation of the universe, together with Rosh Chodesh, which demonstrates man’s role in Creation warrants a special beracha and a special declaration — Ata Yatzarta, You created the world.


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