The Musaf Prayer of Rosh Hashana

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

 

TOPICS IN HALAKHA

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In Memory of Herbert Perlman, Chaim be Aryeh z”l by Vera Perlman

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Dedicated by Rabbi Uzi Beer in Honor of Rachel Beer

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Dedicated by Joel Mandelbaum

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The Musaf Prayer of Rosh Hashana

By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

 

 

A.           NINE BERAKHOT

 

The centerpiece of each one of our prayer services is the Amida, the silent, standing prayer, which usually follows one of two templates: the weekday nineteen-berakha (blessing; plural, berakhot) structure or the holiday seven-berakha structure.   The first three and last three berakhot are basically the same in all cases, but the middle thirteen berakhot of bakkasha (request) on a weekday are replaced on holidays with one central berakha focusing on Kedushat ha-Yom, the sanctity of the day.

 

The Musaf (additional) prayers of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, Yom Tov and Yom Kippur all follow this model and contain seven berakhot.   Only on Rosh Hashana does the Musaf prayer contain a total of nine berakhot: with the middle berakhot incorporating Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot, the themes of Divine Majesty, Remembrance and sounding the shofar, respectively.  The source for including Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot in the Rosh Hashana service is found in the Gemara (Rosh Hashana 34b; all Talmudic citations are from there unless otherwise noted).[1]

 

The Holy One, Blessed be He said: “Recite before me Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot on Rosh Hashana.

“Malkhuyot — so that you may coronate Me over you as King;

“Zikhronot — so that your remembrance may come before Me positively;

“And with what?  With a shofar.”

 

Yet, despite the addition of three additional themes, three berakhot cannot be added to the regular seven of Musaf, because the Rosh Hashana service may include only nine berakhot, not ten (Berakhot 29a):

 

To what do the nine [berakhot] recited on Rosh Hashana correspond? 

Rabbi Yitzchak from Carthage said: “To the nine times that Channa mentions the Divine Name in her prayer” (I Shmuel 2). 

 

How then do we incorporate the three special berakhot of Rosh Hashana into the seven berakhot of the standard Musaf prayer?  The Mishna determines that one should include the blessing of Malkhuyot in one of the seven berakhot of the regular Musaf prayer, and the Sages argue about the precise way to go about this (Mishna 32a): according to Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri, the blessing of Malkhuyot should be incorporated in the third blessing, that of Kedushat ha-Shem (sanctity of God’s name), while according to the view of Rabbi Akiva, the blessing of Malkhuyot should be incorporated in the fourth blessing, the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom. 

 

Ostensibly, the amalgamation of these two themes into a single berakha violates one of the widely-accepted rules of berakhot.  The Gemara in Berakhot (49a) asserts, “We do not conclude with two” — i.e., one berakha cannot encompass two discrete themes.  As such, how is it possible to include the berakha of Malkhuyot within another berakha?

 

An answer to this question (at least according to the view of Rabbi Akiva, whom the halakha follows) may be found in the words of Rabbi Chayim of Brisk, who explains that the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom and the berakha of Malkhuyot are intrinsically linked.  The essential theme of Rosh Hashana is the coronation of God as Sovereign over the world.  Consequently, Malkhuyot may be incorporated into the berakha which deals with the uniqueness of the day.  Indeed, the conclusion of the fourth berakha, “King over the entire land, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance,” is shared by all the prayers of Rosh Hashana; it is not unique to the Musaf prayer, the sole place where the berakha of Malkhuyot is found. 

 

Thus, the description of “King over the entire land” is the essence of Rosh Hashana, and one should mention it in all of the services of the day.  Because of this, Rabbi Chayim rules that if a person concludes the fourth berakha with only “Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance” (comparable to the berakha recited on a regular Yom Tov) and omits “King over the entire land”, that person must repeat the Amida.[2]  God’s dominion over the universe, “King over the entire land”, is the entire essence of Rosh Hashana, and a person who does not mention it does not fulfill the obligation.

 

The incorporation of these three special berakhot of Rosh Hashana is so central to the holiday that we find that some of the Rishonim assert that one should recite Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot in all the prayers of Rosh Hashana.  The Baal ha-Maor suggests as much (Rosh Hashana 12a, Rif pagination):

 

In principle, Rosh Hashana should not have seven berakhot, but there should always be nine — whether at Arvit, Shacharit, Musaf or Mincha.

 

The Baal ha-Maor recognizes that “the custom handed down to us by our fathers and our fathers’ fathers is that we do not have nine in our prayers except for Musaf” — and he concedes that one should follow this in practice.  Nevertheless, he believes that “In principle” — each of the prayers of the day should include nine berakhot.[3] 

 

It is worth noting that the model which the Sages chose for the Musaf service is the prayer of Channa, mother of Shmuel.  The Sages derive that just as God’s name is mentioned nine times in this prayer, so must the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hashana contain nine blessings.  The prayer of Channa indeed is a private prayer, in that she expresses gratitude for the son she was granted after long years of infertility; however, Channa include universal themes, e.g. “God will judge the ends of the land” (I Shmuel 2:10).  Perhaps, the Sages seek to teach us through this that even when a person makes a personal request at the opening of the new year, each individual must see himself or herself as part of the greater whole: the entire Jewish nation and the entire world.  One must seek personal redemption as part of the collective redemption.     

 

 

B.           THE STRUCTURE OF THE BERAKHOT

 

Each of the special berakhot of Rosh Hashana — Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot — is composed of three parts.  Each opens with an introduction, which explains the theme of the berakha; it continues with verses from Torah, Ketuvim and Neviim which pertain to and develop this theme; and it concludes with bakkasha, asking God to favor us in accordance with the vision set forth in that theme.[4]

 

This can be seen in the berakha of Malkhuyot.  The berakha opens with the familiar prayer of “Aleinu,” which describes God’s dominion over the entire universe and our anticipation of the day that God will remove false gods from the earth.  (This passage was eventually adapted for use at the conclusion of every prayer service, but Malkhuyot is its original setting.)  In the second section we cite verses which speak of God’s sovereignty over the universe; and in the conclusion of the berakha, we make a request for the future: “Rule over the whole word, in its entirety, in Your glory….”

 

This can also be seen in the berakha of Zikhronot.  The berakha opens with an introduction describing God’s providence over the universe and His remembrance and attention to all He has created; next, we cite verses which exemplify that theme and establish it; and we conclude with a request that God recall for us the merit of the Patriarchs, along with our own merits, thereby remembering us in a good light.

 

This can also be seen in the berakha of Shofarot.  The introduction to the berakha details the Convocation at Mount Sinai, in which the shofar heralds in the Divine revelation within the world.  Then we cite verses in which the shofar is mentioned, and we conclude the berakha with a petition to hasten the day on which the great shofar of redemption will be sounded: “Sound the great shofar for our emancipation”.     

 

 

C.           TEN VERSES

 

The centerpiece of the berakhot of Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot is the citation of verses from across Tanakh.  In each of these berakhot, ten verses are mentioned: three from the Torah, three from Ketuvim, three from Neviim, and finally an additional verse from the Torah.  The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 32a) describes the reason for the Sages’ institution of citing ten verses for each berakha:

 

These ten [verses] of Malkhuyot, to what do they correspond?

 

Rabbi Levi said: “They correspond to the ten praises which David uttered in the Book of Tehillim.”

 

But there are far more praises than that!

 

Still, this is [the number] written in [the final psalm, which mentions] “Praise him with the blowing of the shofar” (Tehillim 150:3).

 

Rav Yosef said: “They correspond to the Ten Commandments which were said to Moshe at Sinai.”

 

Rabbi Yochanan said: “They correspond to the Ten Utterances with which the universe was created…”

 

As we know, in Tanakh (acronym for Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim), the books of Neviim precede the books of Ketuvim.  Why then did the Sages place the verses of Ketuvim before the verses of Neviim in the Musaf of Rosh Hashana?

 

Admittedly, this question is not overwhelming; after all, many of the prophecies found in Neviim are subsequent to some of the compositions in Ketuvim.  The Book of Tehillim, for example, was written by King David, and could be placed chronologically among the early books of Neviim, between the books of Shmuel and Melakhim.  Thus the Ritva (32a, s.v. Rabbi Yosei) answers this question by explaining: in fact, Neviim and Ketuvim are essentially contemporaneous, and they have an equal level of holiness.  According to him, the Sages chose to put the verses from Ketuvim first “so that [people] would not deride their holiness; to show that they are all imbued with Divine inspiration, [the Sages] instituted to say them first.”

 

Nevertheless, in the accepted order of Tanakh, we put the books of Neviim before the books of Ketuvim (see Bava Batra 13b), and it appears that the divergence from this sequence in the Rosh Hashana service requires an explanation.

 

One answer to this question — at least regarding the verses cited in the berakha of Shofarot — is offered by Rabbi Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin (Peri Tzaddik, Derush Le-Rosh Hashana, Vol. V, p. 168), who writes:

 

One may then understand why they established, in the text of the prayer, in the ten verses of Shofarot, to say the verses of Ketuvim before the verses of Neviim…

 

For in the verses from the Torah, the sounds of the shofar at the Giving of the Torah are cited, and they allude to the straight (tekia) sound at the beginning…

 

And in the three verses of Ketuvim, the issue of the mitzva of blowing the shofar on our part is mentioned, which is an allusion to the terua in the middle, as we have noted. 

 

And in the three verses of Neviim, the sounds of the shofar in the end of days are mentioned, which will be the realization of the Divine perfection of the world, alluding to the straight (tekia) sound at the end, as we have mentioned.

 

Consequently, through this they have also instituted the order of the verses of Malkhuyot and Zikhronot in this sequence.

 

Rabbi Tzadok explains that the tekia, “the straight sound,” symbolizes the actions of God, which are straightforward and upright.  The variable, staccato sounds of the terua and the shevarim are an allusion to the actions of human beings.  Just as the order of sounding the shofar is tekia-terua-tekia, so too the Sages wanted us to open the verses of Shofarot with the shofar sounds made by God (described in the verses from the Torah), to continue with the human shofar sounds (as in the verses from Ketuvim), and to conclude once again with Divine shofar sounds (in the verses from Neviim).  This alludes to the human role in the world and the interrelationship between God’s actions and human activity, and therefore the Sages arranged the verses of Shofarot in this manner.

 

In the formulation of the Rambam’s ruling on this issue (Hilkhot Shofar 3:8) we find a unique description for the verses of Ketuvim:

 

Three verses come from the Torah, and three from the Book of Tehillim, and three from Neviim, and a verse from the Torah concludes it. 

 

Why does the Rambam rule that one should say three verses “from the Book of Tehillim” instead of ten from “Ketuvim” (as the Gemara phrases it)?  Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (cited in Harerei Kedem, Ch. 26) explains that the goal of the verses of Ketuvim is to praise God through them, and therefore the Rambam emphasizes that one should mention verses from the Book of Tehillim specifically, which is (quite literally) the Book of Praises — paeans, songs and hymns to God.  According to his view, one may explain in an additional way why we put the verses of Ketuvim before the verses of Neviim: since the essential aim of the ten verses is to praise God, and this aim is fully realized with the verses from the Book of Tehillim, the Sages chose to arrange the verses in such a way that the verses of Tehillim would be said in the middle of the sequence of verses and not at its end.[5]

 

Until this point, we have assumed that that the advancement of the verses of Ketuvim before the verses of Neviim reflects the special uniqueness of the verses of Ketuvim.  However, in fact, it may be that the Sages chose that the verses of Ketuvim should precede the verses of Neviim specifically in order to position the verses of Neviim as the climax of the list.  This is how the Ritva (s.v. Rabbi Yosei) explains the placement of the verses from Ketuvim before the verses of Neviim, “Because it befits the prophet’s honor to serve as the conclusion.”    

 

Furthermore, it may be that the verses of Neviim serve as the conclusion not only because of the honor of the prophets and the importance of their books, but because of the content of these verses.  The verses of Neviim cited generally deal with a vision of the future and with redemption.  This is true of the verses of Malkhuyot: “And God will be king over the entire land” (Zekharya 14:9); the same is true of the verses of Zikhronot: “And I will recall my covenant with you in the days of your youth and I will fulfill for you an eternal covenant” (Yechezkel 16:60); and in the verses of Shofarot: “And it will be on that day, a great shofar will be blown” (Yeshayahu 27:13).  As mentioned, the final portion of each blessing — after the ten verses — is bakkasha.  As such, it is most appropriate for us to conclude the biblical portion with verses from Neviim, focused on the hopeful supplication for redemption; thus, these verses serve as a fitting segue to the bakkasha.  

 

 

D.            TENTH VERSE

 

As mentioned, after the recitation of the nine verses — three from the Torah, three from Ketuvim and three from Neviim — we complete the ten verses with an additional verse from the Torah.  The Mishna (32a) asserts that the tenth verse should be from Neviim, however the Gemara cites the words of Rabbi Yosei (32b), that “whoever concludes with the Torah is praiseworthy”, and this is our practice.[6]

 

Regarding the placement of the tenth verse within the berakha, there is a discrepancy between the berakha of Malkhuyot and the berakhot of Zikhronot and Shofarot.  In the blessing of Malkhuyot, immediately after the first nine verses, a tenth verse is cited: “And in Your Torah the following is written, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’”  On the other hand, in the berakhot of Zikhronot and Shofarot, the tenth verse is not cited just after the first nine verses.  Rather, in these berakhot, the tenth verse (“And I will recall for them the covenant of the first ones;” “And on the day of your happiness and at your set times”) is cited in the concluding section part of the berakha — in the part of prayerful request — separate from the first nine verses.

 

Why are the tenth verses of the berakhot of Zikhronot and Shofarot separated from the first nine verses?  The Tur (OC, Ch. 591) cites an answer to this question in the name of the Ra’avya:

 

Why did they distance them?  This is because the verse dovetails with the language of the prayer. 

 

The tenth verse, if so, is a verse of bakkasha.[7]  Consequently, it is only appropriate to integrate this verse into the concluding section of the berakha — the section dealing with conciliation, petition and request — and not together with the rest of the verses, which are designated to recall the theme of the berakha and to support it with proofs from Tanakh.

Shofarot

Zikhronot

Malkhuyot


 

Revelation of God’s Presence with the shofar

Providence and remembrance

Aleinu — God’s universal sovereignty

Introduction

3 Torah

3 Ketuvim

3 Neviim

3 Torah

3 Ketuvim

3 Neviim

3 Torah

3 Ketuvim 

3 Neviim

Nine verses

1 Torah

 

1 Torah

 

1 Torah

 

Tenth verse

“Sound the great shofar”

“Remember us favorably”

“Rule over the entire world”

Request to realize the idea

 

However, given this explanation, let us reconsider and ask about the berakha of Malkhuyot: why is the tenth of verse of the berakha of Malkhuyot recited immediately after the first nine verses, and not in the part of the prayerful request?  It seems that the reason for this is related to the fact that the concluding section of the berakha of Malkhuyot is connected to the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom.  As we recall, the Sages did not establish the berakha of Malkhuyot as a berakha on its own.  Rather, they included it in the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom.  Thus the concluding section of this berakha is in fact part and parcel of the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom, and its formulation is the same for all of the prayers of Rosh Hashana, and not specific to the prayer of Musaf.  Therefore, the Sages chose not to integrate the tenth verse in the final part of the berakha of Malkhuyot, as this might interrupt the textual flow of the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom; rather, they instituted it immediately after the first nine verses.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that even in the berakha of Malkhuyot, the tenth verse is employed in the context of bakkasha.

 

Based on this distinction between the nature of the first nine verses and that of the tenth verse, we can understand a difficult issue pertaining to the dispute between Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri and Rabbi Akiva.  As we have mentioned above, Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri believes that one should insert the berakha of Malkhuyot in the berakha of Kedushat ha-Shem (the third berakha), while Rabbi Akiva holds that this blessing must be integrated in the blessing of Kedushat ha-Yom (the fourth berakha).  The Gemara (32a) cites a challenge raised by Rabbi Akiva against the view of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri:

 

Rabbi Akiva said to him: “If one does not sound the shofar for Malkhuyot… why [recite] ten [verses]? Let one say nine.  Once it has been altered, let it be altered.”

 

It is difficult to understand what Rabbi Akiva is asking.  Rabbi Akiva claims that according to the view of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri that Malkhuyot is included in the berakha of Kedushat Ha-shem, it is isolated from the sounding of the shofar, and as such one should recite nine verses instead of ten.  But what connection is there between the sounding the shofar and the number of verses that should lead us to such a conclusion?

 

In light of the approach delineated above, that the tenth verse particularly is connected to the bakkasha segment, Rav Soloveitchik explains this issue beautifully.  As we know, the first three berakhot of the Amida prayer are blessings of praise, and we do not generally make requests of God in these berakhot.  As such, as Rabbi Akiva understands Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s view, the verses of Malkhuyot can be integrated into the blessing of Kedushat ha-Shem only because they contain no request, and are limited to the praise of God.  Thus, Rabbi Akiva asks, there is no place for the tenth verse of the berakha of Malkhuyot in the berakha of Kedushat Ha-Shem — because this tenth verse belongs to the realm of bakkasha.  Thus, Rabbi Akiva’s challenge to Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri can be understood as follows: On your view, in which the berakha of Malkhuyot is included in the third berakha, it is appropriate to mention only nine verses, in order not to include a verse that constitutes a bakkasha in the first three berakhot.  Indeed, the Gemara does not bring an answer to this strong question, and halakhically, we follow the view of Rabbi Akiva, integrating the berakha of Malkhuyot into the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom.

 

May this renewed understanding of the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hashana guide us as we stand before God on these days of awe and judgment.

 

(Translated by Rav Yoseif Bloch)



[1]          The Gemara (32a) cites alternative biblical derivations for mentioning Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot on Rosh Hashana.

[2]          Indeed, the Chayei Adam (28:17) disputes this and rules that one who omits “King over the entire land” in the prayers of Rosh Hashana need not repeat the prayer, and the Shaarei Teshuva rules accordingly (OC 582, s.v. Omer ba-Tefilla).  These Acharonim raise a doubt about the status of a person who omits “King over the entire land” in the conclusion of the fourth berakha of Musaf. 

[3]          A view indicating the opposite approach, minimizing the recitation of nine berakhot, is that of Rav Amram Gaon and Rav Natronai Gaon, cited by the Rosh (Rosh Hashana 4:14); according to them, even in the Musaf the congregation recites seven berakhot, and only the cantor recites nine berakhot. 

[4]          At the beginning of the berakha of Malkhuyot, two passages appear which focus on Kedushat ha-Yom.  These paragraphs are not part of the berakha of Malkhuyot; rather, they belong to the berakha of Kedushat ha-Yom, and they appear in the fourth berakha of all the services of the day.  These are followed by a section introducing and detailing the Musaf offerings of the day.  The Malkhuyot section begins with Aleinu. 

[5]          The Penei Yehoshua (32a, s.v. ba-Mishna) advance a similar explanation: “For this very reason, we put Ketuvim before Neviim here, since these ten verses were instituted, inter alia, to parallel the ten praises of Tehillim, which is [what is meant here by] Ketuvim.”

[6]          It should be noted that in the berakha of Shofarot, four citations appear from Ketuvim rather than three.  The reason for this may be that the last verse from the Torah (Bamidbar 10:10) does not actually mention the shofar, but rather the trumpets; as such, the Sages sought an alternate manner to cite ten verses in which the shofar is mentioned.  On the other hand, the content of the tenth verse of the berakha of Shofarot — “And on the day of your happiness and at your set times…” — befits the content of this berakha, and therefore it is acceptable as a verse for the berakha of Shofarot, despite the fact that it does not mention the shofar.   

[7]          The Rosh (4:3) cites a similar explanation in the name of the Raavya to explain why the tenth verse of the berakha of Shofarot is “And you will blow the trumpets.”  Even though the shofar is not mentioned all, nevertheless “it cites matters of conciliation and compassion.”