Reb Hershel, the chazan of the shul, decided to ask Rav Goldberg for a “chavrusah” to study the tefilos of Yomim Nora’im in greater depth.
“I understand the basic translation of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ‘Shemoneh Esrei’,” began Rav Hershel. “But, I would like to have a deeper comprehension of the tefilos and piyutim of the Yomim Nora’im davening.”
“Let us begin with the basic themes of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf,” began Rav Goldberg. “As you know, Rosh Hashanah is the only time we have a Shemoneh Esrei of nine berachos. Shabbos or Yom Tov Shemoneh Esrei has seven berachos: the three introductory berachos which are praises of Hashem, the middle beracha in which we mention the special sanctity of the day (kedushas hayom), and the regular, final three berachos. These final berachos are “Retzei,” which is a request that our prayers (and the offerings in the Beis Hamikdash) be accepted, Modim, in which we acknowledge the kindness Hashem performs for us daily, and the beracha for peace (Sim Shalom or Shalom Rav)
“On Rosh Hashanah we add four inserts to the three introductory berachos: Zachreinu is inserted in the first beracha, Mi chomocha av horachamim in the second, and we make two changes to the third beracha. We insert a lengthy prayer ‘U’vechein tein pachdecha’, and we close the beracha ‘Hamelech Hakodosh’ rather than ‘Ha’keil Hakodosh’. With the exception of Hamelech Hakodosh, none of the other changes is mentioned in the Gemara (Berachos 12b). This makes a difference in halacha.”
“I believe that one who omitted Hamelech Hakodosh must repeat Shemoneh Esrei,” observed Reb Hershel, “whereas someone who omitted any of the other inserts does not” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 582:1,5).
“Precisely. We paskin that any addition to the tefila not mentioned in the Gemara does not require repeating the tefila if it is omitted. Of these four additions, only Hamelech Hakodosh is mentioned in the Gemara (see also Mishnah Berurah 582:17). For the same reason, one does not repeat Shemoneh Esrei if he omitted U’chesov or Besefer that are added to the last berachos of the Shemoneh Esrei. You should know that there are Rishonim who paskin differently, contending that one must repeat Shemoneh Esrei when omitting any of these additions (R’I quoted by Tur). However, the accepted psak is as you mentioned.”
“There is much discussion among early poskim about adding Zachreinu to the first beracha,” continued Rav Goldberg. “Some of the Geonim were opposed to adding it to the davening (see Tur 582).”
“But what could be wrong with adding it?” asked Reb Hershel. “It’s a beautiful prayer, asking Hashem to grant a year of good life and write us into the Sefer HaChayim (the Book of Life).”
“The first three berachos of Shemoneh Esrei are intended to be praise of Hashem to set the tone for the rest of the davening. There are no requests of any type in the first three berachos. For this reason, Behag and other Geonim took issue with inserting any prayer into these berachos.”
“So why do we include it?” inquired Reb Hershel.
“Rav Hai Gaon and other Geonim contend that a prayer request that is for a public need may be recited during the first berachos. Therefore, they ruled that we recite Zachreinu in the first beracha and U’chesov and Besefer in the last berachos. Furthermore, a source for the practice is found in the following statement of Chazal: ‘Just as the conclusion of the (middle) beracha of Shemoneh Esrei is different on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so to the tefila itself is different. One does not mention (supplications) in the first three and the last three berachos of Shemoneh Esrei except on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. Even on these days, it was permitted only with difficulty’ (Maseches Sofrim 19:8).
“Could you explain why we add such a lengthy insert to the third beracha, a beracha that rarely has anything added?” requested Reb Hershel.
“Yes,” replied the rav. “According to our minhag, this special insert, u’vechein tein pachdecha, is added to all the tefilos on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Indeed, some opinions contend that one should recite it even on the weekdays of the Aseres Yemei Teshuva (Tur 582). Of course, we do not follow this approach, and we recite it only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I personally feel a very close connection to this prayer, based on Klal Yisrael’s current situation.”
“Why is that?” asked Reb Hershel.
“Let us study the prayer. The prayer begins with three paragraphs, with an obvious progression. First, we ask Hashem to place His awe upon all the nations. The result is that all the peoples of the world will live in trepidation of Hashem’s existence and power. This is indeed somewhat unusual. We, the Jews, are asking Hashem to make all the nations of the world yirei Hashem — G-d fearing. We ask Him that they form a United Nations, whose sole purpose is to serve Hashem.”
“Why should we be concerned about whether the non-Jews are G-d fearing?”
“The purpose of the world is that Hashem’s presence should be so obvious that everyone fears Him. Anytime that this is not the case, Hashem’s presence is in Galus. We should feel tremendous loss as long as Hashem’s presence remains hidden. The seforim hakedoshim (holy writings) state that one should recite the words “galei kevod malchuscha,” “Reveal the glory of Your kingdom” with much emotion, ideally, bringing oneself to tears (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avoda). This is because we realize how the world should appear, and how far it is from that point now.”
Rav Goldberg continued. “In the next paragraph, u’vechein tein kovod, we add to our previous request. Now that the entire world is completely united in Hashem’s service, we ask Him that His people and leaders be given a special place of honor. This would be the equivalent of the United Nations resolving that Jewish people have a special unique mission, and that the only true leaders are the Gedolei Yisrael. This is exactly what will happen when Moshiach comes and all the nations of the world voluntarily accept his authority.”
“I never thought of it that way,’ admitted Reb Hershel. “In light of current events, the possibility of this becoming the purpose of the organization sounds almost humorous.”
“Only because we fail to accept that Hashem’s salvation can come with the blink of an eye,” explained Rav Goldberg. “As evil as the nations of the world are, Hashem could bring them to teshuva in a moment. The nations would realize the error of their ways, and they would recognize that the Torah and the Jews represent the only goals that one should strive for. This is the first part of this prayer.”
“I can see why you identify so closely with this prayer,” responded Reb Hershel. “When we see how the Jews are treated so shabbily by the nations of the Earth, how Jewish blood has no value in the eyes of the world, and they have the chutzpah to judge us without any basis in human decency!”
“And all this can change in an instant,” replied the Rav. “In actuality, they are making the job easier for Hashem,”
“What do you mean?” asked Reb Hershel.
“The Gemara teaches that in the days of Moshiach, the nations of the world will claim that they have committed no evil and that all the good they did was for the benefit of the Jews. Hashem will prove them wrong and they will accept His judgment (Avodah Zarah 2b). But, based on their current activities, all that is necessary is to open the records and minutes of the United Nations. I can’t imagine what kind of defense they will offer!”
Rav Goldberg continued his explanation. “In the third paragraph, we pray that the tzadikim will celebrate the fact that Hashem’s presence in this world is so obvious, and that all evil will dissipate like smoke.”
“This theme repeats itself in the prayer of Aleinu,” continued the rav, “which we say daily, but figures significantly in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh Hashanah. We coronate Hashem and emphasize how different we are from the nations of the earth.”
“Is this why we ‘fall korim’ and kneel when reciting Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah, but not the rest of the year?” interjected Reb Hershel.
“Precisely,” replied the rav. “However, I want to point out that according to many poskim, there is a difference in custom between ‘falling korim’ at Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah and falling korim on Yom Kippur as part of the ‘Seder Avodah.’ When we ‘fall korim’ at Aleinu, we should place our knees on the floor and bow our heads, but not completely prostrate ourselves. Only on Yom Kippur do we prostrate ourselves completely, when we emulate what was done in the Beis Hamikdash. However, on Rosh Hashanah it is sufficient to demonstrate our total subservience to Hashem by kneeling and bowing. Other authorities contend that on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur one should bow completely prostrate.” (Each community should follow the psak of its rav or custom.)
“In the second part of Aleinu, Al kein Nekaveh,” continued the rav, “we express our hope that the entire world will also reach this recognition — similar to the message of u’vechein tein pachdecha.”
“But, Aleinu is part of Malchiyos, the fourth beracha of Musaf, whereas u’vechein tein pachdecha is part of Kedusha, the third beracha,” asked Reb Hershel. “Shouldn’t the entire theme be expressed in one place?”
“That is a very good question,” responded Rav Goldberg. “Let me explain. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 32a) quotes a dispute whether Malchiyos is included in the beracha of kedusha (the third beracha) or the fourth beracha which emphasizes the sanctity of the day. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri contends that Malchiyos is included in kedusha, because Hashem’s sanctity is manifest in His unique dominion (Aruch Laneir). Therefore, the appropriate place to discuss Malchiyos is together with kedusha. Rabbi Akiva rules that Malchiyos should be included with kedushas hayom, since it is the major theme of the day. Although we paskin that Malchiyos is included in the fourth beracha, this is not because we reject Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s concepts. We accept the idea that Hashem’s unique monarchy is a manifestation of his Kedusha. Therefore, we add u’vechein tein pachdecha to the beracha of Kedusha.”
The rav continued, “Returning to the insertion of the prayer of uvechein, the word uvechein reminds us of the words spoken by Esther as she entered King Achashveirosh’s inner chamber (Tur Orach Chayim 582). In the words of Megilas Esther, ‘u’vechein avo el hamelech asher lo kadas,’ – ‘And, with this I will approach the king, which is against the law.’ When we daven, there is an element of ‘lo kadas,’ against the law. If we were to measure our sinfulness, we would not be permitted to daven. We do not approach Hashem to pray on the basis of our own merit, because we are deficient. Rather, we pray only on the basis of Hashem’s kindness.
“Thus we compare our request to Esther’s statement, ‘And, with this I will approach the king, which is against the law.’ Esther acknowledged that she had no ‘right’ to pray. Yet, she did so, anyway. In the same vein, we ask Hashem to accept our tefilos, even though we have no claim that He should.”
“You mentioned the theme of Malchiyos and the three special berachos recited in Rosh Hashanah Musaf,” Reb Hershel began to ask. “What is the origin of this triple theme?”
The rav replied, “The Gemara states ‘Said the Holy One, blessed is He, ‘Recite before me on Rosh Hashanah Malchiyos, so that you will coronate me; Remembrances, so that you will be remembered before me for good; and with what? With the Shofar!’ (Rosh Hashanah 16a). Based on this source, Chazal established three special berachos in the Musaf Shemoneh Esrei to observe these themes. In each berocha, we recite ten pesukim, three from Chumash, three from Kesuvim, three from Nevi’im and then a final concluding pasuk from Chumash. The ten pesukim recited as part of Malchiyos all reflect Hashem’s dominion, the ten of Zichronos all mention that He remembers and is concerned about what we do, and the ten of Shofaros all refer to the shofar. As one reads the pesukim of Malchiyos, one should think, ‘With these words I coronate Hashem as King.’ While reciting Zichronos one should acknowledge that all one’s deeds are recorded and reviewed by Hashem’s besdin (Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avodah). When reading the pesukim of Shofaros, one should think through all the wondrous events that have happened in Jewish history that were punctuated by the blowing of the shofar, including Akeidas Yitzchok, Matan Torah, the conquest of Yericho. We should yearn to hear the blowing of Shofar that will accompany the arrival of Moshiach. ‘Vehayah bayom hahu yitaka beshofar gadol,’ ‘And it will be, on that day, that the great shofar will be sounded.’”
“But, the last pasuk of Malchiyos is Shma Yisrael, which makes no mention of Hashem as king?” queried Reb Hershel.
“Shma Yisrael is the ultimate coronation of Hashem as king. Parshas Shma is referred to by Chazal as the passage whereby one accepts kabalas ol malchus Shamayim, the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven (Mishnah, Berachos 13a). In the same vein, the Gemara states that one who has in mind that Hashem is King over everything above and below and all four directions of the world has satisfied the requirements of kavanah (Berachos 13b).
“I have a question,” asked Reb Hershel, “the specific tefilos that we say on Shabbos or Yom Tov are not required min haTorah. Even the poskim who rule that davening is a mitzvah min haTorah contend that only one tefila a day is min haTorah, and that the details of the requirements are only mi’derabanan. So, how can the Gemara state that Hashem said that we are to recite three themes of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, when the details of our tefilos are required only mi’derabanan?”
“You are raising a very important question,” replied the rav, “that was asked many hundreds of years ago. The Ritva (Rosh Hashanah 16a) asks why the Gemara says that ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said,’ when there is no commandment of the Torah to say Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.”
The rav continued, “Indeed, although there is no direct commandment in the Torah about Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, there is an indirect reference. Rashi (Bamidbar 10:10) derives from the verse, ‘And you shall blow the trumpets… and they will be for you a remembrance before your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d’ a reference to Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros. These references are called ‘asmachta,’ meaning that there is a hint in the pasuk, although it is not a mitzvah.”
The rav proceeded to explain, “Ritva explains that it is inaccurate to explain ‘asmachta’ as using a pasuk to remember a ruling Chazal introduced. Asmachta is a source for a practice that Hashem wants us to perform, although he did not require it. My Mashgiach, Rav Dovid Kronglas, zt”l, used to explain the difference between asmachta and mitzvah in the following way:
“A man is thirsty and wants his son to bring him a cup of water. There are two ways the man can convey this message to his son. He can ask him, ‘Please bring me a cup of water’ or he can tell him, ‘I am thirsty.’ In both instances, the son knows that he should bring his father a cup of water. In the first instance, the son was commanded to bring his father water, and, in the second instance, he was not. However, in both instances, a decent person brings a cup of water.
“Similarly, a mitzvah is similar to the first scenario described above, while an asmachta is similar to the second. The asmachta means that Hashem showed us in His Torah that He wants us to mention Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, and to internalize these messages. However, Hashem did not command us to do it. Chazal commanded us to recite these pesukim. Thus, although one who recites the Musaf is technically fulfilling a mitzvah mi’derabbanan, he is carrying out Hashem’s desires.”
“Therefore,” pointed out Reb Hershel, “one who davens the prayers of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros with proper emotion is fulfilling a very high level of Hashem’s mission for us on Rosh Hashanah.
“Thank you very much for your time, Rav Goldberg. I know that my tefilos will have more of a focus, based on a deeper understanding of the themes of the various parts of the tefila. I can only hope that I am a worthy representative for the congregation, and that our tefilos are accepted.”