A Prayer and a Thought:
The Nussach on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur is filled with deep significance, and the melodies chosen are reflective of this. On this Day of Judgement, we pray and sing so many of the tefilot that have been part of our tradition for hundreds if not thousands of years.
"Hineni" was originally formulated as a private and personal petition by the chazzan. Perhaps in an effort to arouse the emotions, chazzanim have allowed the congregants to share the feelings of inadequacy and trepidation when facing G-d and pleading on their behalf.
It moves from articulating an overwhelming sense of fear upon standing face to face with G-d who awaits Israel’s prayers, to introducing the mission as their representative to plead for His mercy. In hushed undertones, he confesses his sins and asks that they be no impediment to the presentation of his requests on their behalf. Suddenly, he breaks away from the soliloquy, dramatically and passionately asking that G-d neutralize Satan’s interference, thereby allowing the congregation to enjoy G-d’s overwhelming love. Finally, the congregation partakes in the transformation of all suffering and unhappiness into joy, life, and peace together with all of Israel.
Unessana Tokef is undoubtedly the most passionate and heart-wrenching piece of the day, highlighting the central and core features of this Day of Judgment.
The first part dwells on the theme of the re-assertion of G-d’s sovereignty, which is manifested on Rosh Hashanah through His judgment based on each person’s recorded deeds. Beginning in minor mode, the movement intensifies as the section ends in acknowledging the undeniable record of the “Book of Remembrance” bearing each one’s personal signature. The next section starts with the reference to the “Shofar Gadol” – the Great Shofar – heralding the imminence of the judgment process, and becomes more dramatic as it enters into major mode. The contrast between the sounding of the Great Shofar and the emanation in response, of a “whispering voice” which terrifies even the angels, is reflected amply by the nussach.
The mode now changes into a march and song movement as the theme of the pastoral shepherd relationship between G-d and humanity is developed. It closes dramatically with the confident assertion that He alone will decide our fate.
The final paragraph is ominous and pensive, bringing to the fore of our consciousness the core realities of life and death. The nussach attempts to color and portray the various endurances we may have to experience, as well as ‘natural’ catastrophes, and their implications. Poverty or health, tranquility or flight, acclaim or disgrace: all are being determined this day subject only to being mitigated by teshuva, tefila and tzedaka.
As if to illustrate our absolute confidence in the power of these three to effect a change in the judgment, and following the assertion (in the paragraph “Ki V’Shimcho”) of G-d’s hope in man’s realization of his own vulnerability and eventual return to Him, the tenor changes dramatically into a joyous if not rapturous song celebrating our good fortune in being the representatives of the sanctity of a timeless and enduring Creator.
This song, “Eyn Kitzva,” leads into Kedusha.
THE THREE CONCEPTUAL PILLARS OF OUR FAITH
Creation - G-d is King
Providence - G-d is Judge
Revelation - G-d is Guide
are articulated in the three central brachot of the Musaf Amidah
Malchiyot follows Kedusha as the bracha common to every Shabbat or Yom Tov which describes the holiness of the day we are celebrating.
But Rosh Hashanah, besides commemorating creation of man, the culmination of Creation, requires acknowledgement of the corollary which follows from the concept of creation--namely, that we submit to His authority. There are no other powers!
These ideas are developed in V’Chol Ma’Aminim and Aleynu. The Aleynu can almost be described as the “Cinderella” prayer, everyone being in a hurry to leave shul as it is said throughout the year at the close of the service.
On Rosh Hashanah, its dignity is finally restored with its placement at the very center of what is perhaps the most important concept of this day--G-d is supreme. Acknowledged presently by Israel, He will be so by all of mankind eventually. No less than major mode is appropriate for the bracha of Malchiyot!
Zichronot serves as the second principal theme, which deals with the recognition of G-d’s awareness of man’s behavior and His involvement with human history. Reward and punishment, measure for measure, are necessary components for the moral education and refinement of humanity. No act is ever forgotten. Each, however small, leaves an indelible impression, the effects of which are present despite passage of time.
Accountability is the corollary of Zichronot - “remembrance.” Sung throughout, in minor mode, its highlights are first, the well-known Lewandosky composition for “Haben Yakir Li Efrayim”. This follows Jeremiah’s prophecy assuring us of G-d’s constant remembrance of Israel’s betrothal to Him in her youth. Nothing is forgotten! The relationship is eternal!
The closing highlight is the invoking of the remembrance of the Akeida. It is as if we declare our identification with Abraham and Isaac’s selfless surrender to G-d’s will--an act which has been repeated millions of times throughout Jewish history and in whose merit we ask G-d to “Remember” us too, today, as we acknowledge Him as the righteous dispenser of justice tempered with mercy.
Shofarot intertwines with the third theme, which reawakens subconscious memories of Sinai where the guiding ‘manual’ for living was revealed for all time -- Torah. Sung entirely in major mode appropriate to its majestic themes, it draws from the Torah narrative of the revelation at Sinai and from references in Tehillim and Neviim to the sounding of the blasts of Shofar, heralding the awaited manifestation of G-d’s re-entry into the historical process in vindication of Israel.
The tempo, style, and flourish attempt to evoke the emotion of standing once again at Sinai. The conclusion will borrow a moving song from the late Shlomo Carlebach sung to the words “Halelu."
Let us pray and sing together. May the Almighty grant us a year of peace health and happiness and may he listen to our prayers!