Reb Hershel, the chazan of the shul, arranged a meeting with Rav Goldberg in order to understand the tefilos of Yomim Norayim in greater depth.
"I understand the basic translation of the Yom Tov ‘Sh’moneh Esrei’," began Rav Hershel. "But I would like to have a deeper comprehension of the special Tefilos and Peyutim."
"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 Sh’moneh Esrei of nine b’rachos. The Shabbos or YomTov Sh’moneh Esrei has seven b’rachos; the three introductory b’rachos which are praises of Hashem, the middle b’racha in which we mention the special sanctity of the day (kedushas hayom), and the final three b’rachos. These final b’rachos are ‘R’tzei,’ where we request that our prayers (and the offerings in the Beis HaMikdash) be accepted, ‘Modim’, where we acknowledge Hashem’s daily kindness, and the b’racha for peace (Sim Shalom or Shalom Rav).
"On Rosh HaShanah we make four changes in the three introductory b’rachos. We add Zachreinu to the first b’racha and Mi Chomocha Av Horachamim to the second, the lengthy prayer ‘U’ve’chein Tein Pachdecha’ to the third b’racha, and we close the third b’racha with ‘Hamelech Hakadosh’ instead of ‘Ha’keil Hakadosh’. Only the very last change is mentioned in the Gemara (Berachos 12b), which makes a difference in halacha."
"I believe that someone who omits Hamelech Hakadosh must repeat Sh’moneh Esrei," observed Reb Hershel, "whereas someone who omits any of the other inserts does not" (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 582:1,5).
"Precisely! We pasken 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 Hakadosh is mentioned by the Gemara (see also Mishnah Berurah 582:17). For the same reason, one does not repeat Sh’moneh Esrei if he omitted U’chesov or B’sefer that are added to the last b’rachos of the Sh’moneh Esrei. You should know that some Rishonim paskin differently, contending that one must repeat Sh’moneh Esrei when omitting any of these additions (R’I quoted by Tur). Apparently, in their opinion their insertions have the same status as Ya’aleh Vi’Yavo on Yom Tov. We see therefore how important it is not to forget these passages. However, the accepted psak is as you mentioned that someone who omits any of the other inserts does not repeat the davening."
"There is much discussion in early poskim about adding Zachreinu to the first b’racha at all," continued Rav Goldberg. "Some Geonim were opposed to adding it to the davening (see Tur 582)."
"But what could be wrong with that?" asked Reb Hershel. "It’s a beautiful prayer asking Hashem to grant us a year of good life and write us in the Sefer HaChayim (the Book of Life)."
"The first three b’rachos of Sh’moneh Esrei are intended to praise Hashem and set the tone for the rest of the davening. This is why they generally contain no requests of any kind. For this reason, Bahag and other Geonim took issue with inserting any prayers into these b’rachos."
"So why do we include them?" inquired Reb Hershel.
"Rav Hai Gaon and other Geonim contend that requests for public needs may be recited during the first b’rachos. Therefore, they ruled that we indeed recite Zachreinu in the first b’racha and U’chesov and B’sefer in the last b’rachos. Furthermore, a source for this practice is found in the following Chazal: ‘Just as the conclusion of the (middle) b’rachah of Sh’moneh Esrei is different on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, so too the tefilah itself is different. One does not mention (supplications) in the first three and the last three b’rachos of Sh’moneh Esrei except on the two days of Rosh HaShanah and on Yom Kippur. Even on these days it was only permitted with difficulty’ (Maseches Sofrim 19:8).
"Could you explain why we add such a lengthy insert to the third b’racha, a b’racha that rarely has anything added to it?" requested Reb Hershel.
"Yes. Actually, even though our minhag is to add this special insert, U’v’chein Tein Pachdecha, only to the the tefilos of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, some opinions contend that one should also recite it on every weekday of the Aseres Y’mei T’shuvah (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 because of Klal Yisrael’s current situation."
"Why is that?" asked Reb Hershel.
"Let us study the prayer. It begins with three paragraphs that have an obvious progression. First, we ask Hashem to place His awe upon all the nations so that they live in trepidation of Hashem’s existence and power. This is somewhat unusual. We, the Jews, ask Hashem to make all the nations of the world yirei Hashem- G-d fearing and toform a United Nations whose sole purpose is to serve Hashem."
"Why should we be concerned about whether the non-Jews are G-d fearing or not?"
"Because the purpose of creation is that Hashem’s presence should be so obvious that everyone fears Him. Whenever this is lacking, Hashem’s presence goes into Galus. Therefore we should feel tremendous loss and mourn over the non-acknowledgement of Hashem’s glory. The seforim hakedoshim (holy writings) state that one should recite the words "Galei k’vod malchuscha," "Reveal the glory of Your kingdom" with much emotion and ideally bring oneself to tears (Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah) when we realize the vast contrast between how the world should be and how it actually is.."
Rav Goldberg continued. "In the next paragraph, U’v’chein Tein Kavod, we add to our previous request. Even after the entire world becomes completely united in Hashem’s service, we beg that Hashem’s people and leaders be given a special place of honor. This would be the equivalent of the United Nations resolving that the world’s true agenda is that of the Jewish people and that their gedolim are the only true leaders. 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 U.N. is almost humorous."
"Only because we fail to accept that Hashem’s salvation can come with the blink of an eye. As evil as the world’s nations may be, Hashem could bring them to Tshuvah in a moment. The nations would then realize the error of their ways, and recognize that the Torah and the Jews represent the only goals for which one should strive. This is what we plead for in the first part of this prayer," concluded Rav Goldberg.
"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 gentile nations, how Jewish blood is valueless in their eyes, and how they have the chutzpah to judge us without the most basic human decency!"
"And all this can change in an instant," replied the Rav. "In fact, 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 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, to prove this it will only be necessary to open the minutes of the United Nations. I can’t imagine what kind of defense they will offer!"
Rav Goldberg continued his explanation of U’v’chein Tein Pachdecha. "In the third paragraph of U’v’chein Tein we pray that the tzadikim should soon celebrate Hashem’s manifest presence in this world, and we beg that all evil dissipate like smoke."
"We actually mention this theme every day in Aleinu," continued the Rav. "But it figures even more significantly in the Musaf Sh’moneh 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 unlike 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 and emulate what was done in the Beis HaMikdash. On Rosh HaShanah, it is sufficient to demonstrate our total subservience to Hashem by kneeling and bowing. Other poskim feel that both on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur one should bow completely prostrate." (Each community should follow the psak of its Rav or its custom.)
"In the second part of Aleinu (Al kein Nekaveh)," continued the Rav, "we express our hope that the entire world should also reach this recognition of Hashem - similar to the message of U’V’chein Tein Pachdecha."
"But why did Chazal establish Aleinu in Malchiyos, the fourth b’racha of Musaf, and V’chein Tein Pachdecha in the third b’racha," 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 b’racha of kedusha (the third b’racha) or the fourth b’racha 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 LaNer). Therefore, the appropriate place to discuss Malchiyos is together with kedusha. But Rabbi Akiva rules that Malchiyos should be included with Kedushas HaYom since it is the major theme of the day.
"Although we pasken that Malchiyos is included in the fourth b’racha, this is not because we reject Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s concept. We accept the idea that Hashem’s unique monarchy is a manifestation of His kedusha. Therefore, we add U’v’chein Tein Pachdecha to the b’racha of kedusha."
The Rav continued, "Returning to the prayer U’v’chein. The first word of the prayer, U’v’chein, reminds us of the words spoken by Esther as she entered King Achashveirosh’s inner chamber (Tur 582) - " U’v’chein
avo el hamelech asher lo kadas," "and with this I will approach the king (a hint to Hashem), which is against the law". In our davening too, there there is an element of ‘lo kadas’, against the law, because if we measure our sinfulness, we would not be permitted to daven. We do not daven on the basis of our own merit because we are deficient, but only because of Hashem’s kindness.
"Thus we compare our prayer to Esther’s statement, ‘And with this I will approach the king, which is against the law’. Esther acknowledged that her prayer was undeserving, yet she prayed anyway. In the same vein, we ask Hashem to accept our tefilos even though we have no right to approach him."
"You mentioned the theme of Malchiyos, which is the first of the three special b’rachos 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 Malchiyus before me on Rosh Hashanah, so that you will coronate me over you; (recite) 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 b’rachos in the Musaf Sh’moneh Esrei to observe these three themes.
"In each b’rocha, we recite ten pesukim, three from Chumash, three from Kesuvim, three from Nevi’im and a concluding pasuk from Chumash. The ten pesukim recited in 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 Beis Din (Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’Avodah). When reading the pesukim of Shofaros, one should think of all the wondrous events that 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 shofar blowing that will accompany the arrival of Moshiach as it says, ‘V’hayah b’yom ha’hu yitaka b’shofar 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. Chazal refer to Parshas Shma as kabalas ol malchus Shamayim, accepting the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven (Mishnah Berachos 13a). In the same vein, the Gemara states that someone 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 that Shma Yisrael demands (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 tefilah a day is min haTorah, and that the detailed requirements are only midarabbanan. 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 only midirabanan."
"You are raising a very important question that was asked many hundreds of years ago," replied the Rav. "The Ritva (Rosh HaShanah 16a) asks why the Gemara says that ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said’ when there is no Torah commandment to say Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros.
"However, although there is no direct commandment in the Torah concerning Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros, there is an indirect reference. Rashi (Bamidbar 10:10) derives a reference to Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros from the pasuk, ‘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’. Such references are called ‘asmachta’, meaning that they are a hint in the pasuk, but not a Torah mitzvah."
The Rav proceeded to explain, "Many people errantly assume that ‘asmachta’ involves nothing more than using a pasuk to remember a ruling of Chazal. But the Ritva expains that this is not the case at all. Asmachta means Hashem wants us to perform this practice, although he did not command it. My Mashgiach, Rav Dovid Kronglas zt"l, used to explain the difference between asmachta and mitzvah in the following ways:
"A thirsty man wants his son to bring him a cup of water. There are two ways he can convey this message. He can either ask his son, ‘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 will bring the cup of water.
"Similarly, a mitzvah is like the first scenario described above, while an asmachta is like 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 and prayers. Therefore, although one who recites the Musaf is technically fulfilling a mitzvah midabanan, he is carrying out Hashem’s desires."
Reb Hershel pointed out, "According to what you are explaining, someone who davens the prayers of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros with proper emotion is fulfilling the Rosh HaShanah agenda that Hashem wants.
"Thank you very much for your time, Rav Goldberg. I hope that my tefillos will have greater focus now that I have a deeper understanding of the tefilla. I hope that I am a worthy Shaliach for the congregation and that our tefillos are accepted."
This article was originally published in the American edition of Yated Neeman