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Thoughts on the Malchuyot Section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf

When I have written about the Amidah in past posts, I have noted the difference between the number of blessings recited on weekdays and those on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  While every Amidah begins with the same three blessings and concludes with the same three, on weekdays we recite 13 petitions in the middle and on Shabbat and Yom Tov, we omit those petitions and insert a single blessing known as Kedushat Hayom, the holiness of the day, in between the other six.  This blessing varies depending on the occasion and on Shabbat, there are different opening passages preceding the closing blessing for each of the four services.  On Rosh Hashanah, at shacharit, there are seven blessings in the Amidah as on any holiday service but with some additional poetry added in,  However for Musaf on Rosh Hashanah only, we have nine blessings. The number nine is purposeful.  It is based, we're told, on the nine mentions of God's name in the prayer of Hannah who becomes the mother of the judge and prophet Samuel.  We read this prayer and the story around it as our haftarah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.  Hannah's prayer is seen as teaching us how to properly pray to the Almighty and the sages draw a number of lessons from it.  

 

How do we get nine blessings?  According to the Mishnah, we insert into the middle of the Amidah three special sections on Malchuyot (God’s sovereignty), Zichronot (God’s remembrance of us), and Shofarot (verses on the sounding of the shofar).  The problem is what to do with the blessing of Kedushat Hayom, the usual middle blessing, the fourth blessingrecited on any holiday.  If we can only have nine blessings and we're adding three more to the usual seven, then two blessings need to be combined in order to get nine. (This is assuming that we disregard the opinion of the School of Shammai, who say that ten blessings is fine by them.)   Accepting the view of the School of Hillel, that should only be nine, there is a difference of opinion stated already in the Mishnah as to whether the Malchuyot section should be included in the Kedushat Hashem, the third blessing which most of us know simply as Kedushah, or in the Kedushat Hayom, the added holiday blessing, since both blessings conclude with a mention of God as King, so either would be compatible. Two second century authorities differ on this question. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri holds the former view that we should insert this into the Kedushah section and that view was followed in the northern portion of Israel. Rabbi Akiva holds the latter opinion and the folks in the area of Judah in the

south, followed his ruling, incorporating the Malchuyot prayers into the Kedushat Hayom blessing.  Ultimately Rabbi Akiva’s view prevailed and nowadays we combine the Malchuyot prayers with Kedushat Hayom.

 

Once we conclude the third blessing with its holiday ending of HaMelech Hakadosh, we are ready to enter the Kedushat Hayom section, the fourth blessing.  However, before we get to the Malchuyot prayers included in this blessing, we need to first take a quick look at the opening paragraphs of the Kedushat Hayom, that lead into the Malchuyot section.  This blessing begins pretty much the same as on any other holiday musaf with the prayers beginning with “Ata b’chartanu,” You chose us from among all the nations, followed by “U’mipnei chataeinu galinu meiartzeinu,” the passage beginning with “because of our sins we were exiled from our land.”  I’ve discussed this passage previously.  It goes on to pray for the return to Zion and the rebuilding of the Temple where we will once again offer our sacrifices.  As mentioned in earlier posts, the more liberal traditions, including our machzor, Lev Shalem, tend to speak of the Temple worship in the past tense, sacrifices brought by our ancestors, rather than praying for the restoration of animal sacrifice by us, their descendants.  After these prayers, we quote the specific offerings, enumerated in the book of Numbers, that were brought on what the Torah refers to as “Yom Teruah,” the day of sounding the shofar.  When Rosh Hashanah begins on Shabbat, we add the verses about the Shabbat musaf offering and the Yism’chu passage as well.  The closing blessing for Kedushat Hayom that we had said earlier during the Shacharit amidah, now is held in abeyance as we turn to the insertion of the Malchuyot prayers.  

 

It is at this point in the liturgy that we find the original location of the familiar Alenu l’shabeiach prayer that we now use to close every service.  Here it makes great sense to talk about the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, the principal topic of this prayer unit.  Unlike our usual behavior for alenuwhere we bend our knees and bow for the line, “Va-anachnu kor’im umishtachavim umodim,” there are a variety of practices found.  In some synagogues, the entire congregation falls to their knees at this point and bows in place, while in many other places such as our synagogue, the custom is for the leader alone to “fall kor’im” as we refer to this practice and to prostrate himself before the ark.  Before the second paragraph of the Alenu various litrugical poems (piyyutim) may be inserted.  The Lev Shalem Machzor includes an abridged version of the piyyut, Melech Elyon, Supreme Sovereign, usually chanted or read responsively.  It contrasts the supreme King, the Almighty, to an earthly king, very much in keeping with the theme of Malchuyot.  Prior to the Alenu in Lev Shalem we find two prayers that the traditional machzor places after the first section of Alenu.   Our editors feel that they introduce the entire section of these three themes of Musaf, so they place these prayers before we even start the Alenu.  

 

The first prayer is offered by the congregation on behalf of the shaliach tzibbur.  In it, we pray for the successful offering of prayers by the prayer leader, the cantor or lay leader.  “Our God and God of our ancestors, be with the messengers of Your people Israel as they stand praying for the ability to plead before You, on our behalf.  Teach them what to say, inspire them in their speech, respond to their requests, instruct them how to properly glorify You.”  Lev Shalem provides a short version of a much longer prayer found in more traditional machzorim.  If this prayer is said at all, it is usually offered silently, though I believe there may be some musical settingsfor it as well.

 

The second prayer, Ochilah LaEl, is a reshut, a prayer offered by the shaliach tzibbur, the prayer leader himself, who in a very few verses expresses his hope that he may fulfill the expectations of those who sent him.  “I pray to You God, that I may come into Your presence.  Grant me proper speech, for I would sing of Your strength amidst the congregation of Your people and utter praises describing Your deeds.  A person may have the best of intentions, but it is God who grants the ability of expression.”  The prayer concludes with two familiar verses, one that we recite prior to every Amidah, “Adonai, sefatai tiftach, open my lips that my mouth may declare Your glory.”  The other verse is one we recite as we conclude the Amidah, “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts in my heart be acceptable to You, Adonai, my stronghold and my redeemer.”  

 

In Lev Shalem, the reader proceeds to Alenu.  In the traditional Orthodox machzor, while there are a variety of additional poetic pieces that some may choose to add, basically one heads into the second paragraph of the Alenu at this point, “Al ken n'kaveh.”  If you recall, this paragraph speaks of our hope for a future day on which all peoples will come to recognize God's sovereignty in the world  “Then all who live on earth will recognize and understand that to You alone knees must bend and allegiance be sworn.  All will bow and prostrate themselves before You, Adonai our God....May You soon rule over them forever and ever, for true dominion is Yours; You will rule in glory until the end of time.”  Throughout the year, we conclude this passage by citing two verses of Kingship, Malchuyot verses, one from the Torah and one from the prophets.  However, here we are instructed to include at least ten verses.  The rabbis do not list those verses, but instruct us to pick appropriate verses for each of the three themes that have a positive message and are not condemnatory.  So here in Malchuyot,  we first have three verses from the Torah, then three from Psalms, and three more from the prophets.  At the end we conclude with a familiar verse from the Torah as number ten.

 

The first Torah verse which is still part of our regular daily version of Alenu is from the conclusion of the Song at the Sea, “Adonay yimloch l'olam va-ed.”  “Adonay will reign forever and ever.”  The second Torah verse, interestingly, is from the words of Balaam, the non-Jewish prophet hired to curse Israel, but whom God forces to bless them instead.  Balaam says to his sponsor, King Balak of Moab, in explanation for his failure to utter curses, “Lo hibit aven b'Ya'akov, v'lo raah amal b'Yisrael, God does not gaze upon the sins of Jacob, nor look upon the errors of Israel, Adonay Elohav imo ut'ruat melech bo, Adonay their God is with them, their sovereign's acclaim is in their midst.” Not only does this verse mention sovereignty, but it also is a comforting thought on a day of judgment.  The third verse from the Torah takes us to the end of Deuteronomy, to Moses's farewell blessing of his people.  There he says, in a verse which has a rollicking tune played at many a wedding reception, “Vay'hi biY'shurun melech, b'hitasef rashei am, yachad shivtei Yisrael, God became sovereign in Jeshurun (a term for the Jewish people), as the leaders of the people gathered with the tribes of Israel.”  Some commentators note that it is only when the people of Israel gather as one, are united, that God is recognized as sovereign.

 

While in Machzor Vitry, the 12th century prayerbook from the school of Rashi, the verses from the prophets come next, following the sequence in the Tanakh, the general practice is to take the verses from Psalms next, on the theory that they were written by King David, who chronologically preceded the various prophets.  We begin with a verse from Psalm 22, that may be familiar from the concluding lines of the preliminary service, “Ki ladonay ham'luchah umoshel bagoyim, For sovereignty is Adonai's; God rules over the nations.”  The second verse is taken from Psalm 93, the Psalm recited by the Levites on Fridays and which we include at the end of the Kabbalat Shabbat, “Adonay malach gei-ut lavesh, lavesh Adonay oz hitazar, af tikon tevel bal-timot, Adonay is sovereign, robed in splendor, girded in strength.  So the earth is established on a firm foundation.”  The third quotation from Psalms is actually four verses from Psalm 24, the Psalm which we sing when we return the Torah to the ark on festival days.  I generally chant a melody by the 19th century composer Louis Lewandowski for this section which begins: “S'u shearim rasheichem us'u pitchei olam v'yavo melech hakavod,  Lift up high, O you gates; lift up the eternal doors, so that the Sovereign of Glory may enter.  Who is the Sovereign of Glory? Adonai, mighty and valiant, Adonai, mighty in battle...” and the passage concludes, “Who is the Sovereign of Glory, Adonai Tzva'ot is the Sovereign of Glory forever.”  These verses are intended to prepare us to receive God’s authority over our lives, to crown him as our sovereign and accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, ol malchut shamayim.

 

After these verses, we turn to the books of the prophets for three verses on kingship.  We begin with a quotation from the 44th chapter of Isaiah, “Koh amar Adonay, Melech Yisrael v'Goalo, Thus said Adonay, sovereign and redeemer of Israel, Adonai Tzevaot: I am first and I am last, and there is no God but Me.”  This is followed by a prophecy by the prophet Obadiah, whose one chapter book ends with the verse included in our daily prayers, “V'alu moshi'im b'Har Tziyon lishpot et Har Esav, v'hayta ladonay hamelucha, Liberators shall ascend Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau; then sovereignty shall be Adonay's.”  Esau is considered to represent the Roman Empire and its successors who ruled over Israel through the centuries, but the prophet foresees a time when Israel will triumph and God will be recognized as sovereign by all nations.  The third citation from the prophets re-affirms that belief, with the familiar verse which remains at the conclusion of Alenu at the end of every service today, a verse from Zechariah, “V'hayah Adonay l'melech al kol ha-aretz, bayom ha-hu yih’yeh Adonay echad ush'mo echad, Adonay shall be acknowledged sovereign over all the earth. On that day, Adonay shall be one, and the name of God, one.”

 

For the tenth verse of Malchuyot, we return once more to the Torah, to a verse which does not explicitly mention sovereignty, but certainly proclaims God's rule over the world as we accept the yoke of His kingdom each day, “Sh'ma Yisrael, Adonay Eloheinu, Adonay echad, Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone.”

 

After these ten verses emphasizing God's sovereignty in the world, we come to the closing blessing which, as mentioned is the same blessing recited during Shacharit as the Kedushat Hayom.  Its wording is most appropriate for both roles;  “Our God and God of our ancestors:  In Your glory, rule over the entire universe; in Your splendor, be exalted over all the earth; in the majestic beauty of Your overwhelming presence, appear to all the inhabitants of Your world.  Then, all that You have made will recognize You as their maker, all that You created will understand that You are their creator, and all living beings will say:  Adonay, the God of Israel, is sovereign, ruling over all.”  Perhaps that first section of the blessing originated in Malchuyot and remained connected to the rest of the Kedushat Hayom blessing of Rosh Hashanah which follows.  That second part is very similar to what we say on other festivals and on Shabbat, “Our God and God of our ancestors, make us holy through Your commndments, Kodsheinu b'mitzvotecha, and let the Torah be our portion.  Fill our lives with Your goodness and gladden us with Your triumph.  Purify our hearts to serve You truly, v'taher libeinu l'ovd'cha be-emet.”  At this point, just before the conclusion another phrase is added for the high holidays, “ud'varcha emet v'kayam la-ad, Your word is true, eternal and unchanging.”  The blessing at the end is usually sung by the whole congregation, as the reader begins, Baruch ata Adonay, Melech al kol ha-aretz, m'kadesh Yisrael, sung four times, before he concludes, “Melech al kol ha-aretz, m'kadesh Yisrael v'Yom HaZikaron. Ruler of all the earth, who makes the people of Israel and the Day of Remembrance holy.”  When the holiday falls on Shabbat, there are several phrases added into the blessing recognizing the Sabbath day and the conclusion inserts Shabbat before mentioning Israel and Yom HaZikaron, since Shabbat preceded both the people of Israel and the holidays as well.

 

Those who are very familiar with the holiday liturgy, may wonder what became of the passage of V’hasienu, that we find on the other holidays before this closing blessing.  It seems there is some controversy over whether or not that passage which speaks of the blessings of the festivals and of the ancient pilgrimage to the Temple is appropriate for the High Holidays.  While some congregations in the past did include that paragraph, the prevailing view was to omit it since it speaks of bringing offerings on pilgrimage which does not apply to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

 

After each of these three additional sections of Musaf, the baal tokea comes forward and sounds the shofar ten times.  Some see these thirty blasts as being the primary mitzvah of sounding the shofar, while others favor the thirty sounded during the Torah service.  Two closing passages are added following each of the three themes, Hayom harat olam and Areshet s'fateinu.  Since these prayers recur after each section, I'll save my comments on them for the next two pieces on Zichronot and Shofarot, that I plan to write in the next two weeks.


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