What feelings do we experience as we turn the pages of our Machzor to the Amida for the Yomim Noroim? Do we think of the Text as a well trusted Mentor to guide us spiritually through the High Holy Days.? Or do we feel confronted with an unfamiliar Text that doesn’t speak to our souls?
Do we really feel a sense of “Pachad” and “Yiroh” , of Fear and Awe as we stand before our Creator? Do we consider ourselves among the “Zadikim” and “Yeshorim” , the Righteous and the Just, who rejoice in the learning of Thora and the performance of Mitzvos or are we fearful that we will be classified with the “Reshoim”, the Wicked” because of our sins?
Perhaps some insights into the construction, the history and the meaning of the Amida will help us to appreciate it better and in turn, enable us to experience a more meaningful Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The basic Text for the Amida for the Yomim Noroim, for Maariv, Shacharis and Mincha , consists of six to seven printed pages. With the Vidui for Yom Kippur, about ten.
To be more concise, the text from the words “Uvichen Ten Pachdecho” until “Hamelech Hakodosh” , our subject for this article, consists of 142 Words.
It doesn’t seem like much. Yet how much deep content, how many Doctrines and examples of our Jewish Weltanschauung are packed into these words!
A look at any translation will tell us that the dominant Theme , expressed in the Amida is the acknowledgement of the Almightiness of Hashem and His dominion over all the inhabitants of the earth. As King of Kings He unites all Humanity in one bond, judges us, remembers all our deeds and decides our fate for the coming year. Though in the present , the Kingdom of Heaven has not been realized, the time will come when all creation will acknowledge Hashem’s dominion over everything and the Moshiach will come.
That is however, as we say, only the tip of the iceberg.
Our most ancient source for the Amida is the Mishna Rosh Hashana , Chapter 4. , where we learn that the Benediction “Hamelech Hakodosh” , expressing the holiness of G-d, is greatly expanded.
The text that we have in our Machzor, from “Uvichen Ten” was written in the 2nd Century, C.E. in the Beis Hamidrash of Rav. We are limiting our scope in this article to the three paragraphs beginning with “Uvichen”, followed by the paragraphs beginning with “Visimloch, Kodosh Ata and ending with the Blessing “Hamelech Hakodosh “.This text is referred to as “Tikata di be Rav” , relating to the blowing of the Shofar (Tekiah) and written in the Beis Hamidrash of Rav, as pointed out.
The reference to Shofar Blowing reminds us of the historical fact that the Shofar was originally blown during the Shacharis Amida , accompanied by the recitation of the biblical verses of Malchiyos, referring to the Kingship of G-d, Zichronos , reminding us that He remembers everything , and Shofaros , which speak of the role of the Shofar in Jewish History, interspersed between the existing paragraphs just mentioned. Only later were these elements transferred to Musaf. The question is why?
Sometime during the centuries of Roman rule, the blowing of the Shofar was interpreted by the ruling powers as a call to war. Guards were posted outside and spies posted inside the Synagogues to either determine if a rebellion was taking place or to prevent it.. The Rabbis felt that blowing the Shofar later in the service, after seeing the Jews immersed in prayer and the reading of the Thora would convince anybody and everybody that all was peaceful.
Once the custom was established to recite the Verses and blow the Shofar in Musaf it was never changed back to Shacharis, even when the reason for the original change no longer existed. On one hand there is the halachik principle to fulfill a Mitzva as early as possible during the correct time frame, Zerizin Umakdimin Limitzvos” , which would speak for having the Shofar blown during Shacharis. On the other hand, the principle that the fulfillment of a Mitzva in a larger public makes it more beautiful and meaningful ,Birov Am Hadras Melech” , won out. Then as now, more people were in the Synagoge for Musaf than for Shacharis.
Nevertheless the references to Malchiyos, G-d’s Kingship are to be found in the paragraph “Uvichen Ten Pachdecho “, the Zichronos, G-d’s remembrance of absolutely everything ,in the paragraph of “Uvichen Ten Kavod and the basic theme of the Shofaros, future visions of spiritual happiness and joy in the messianic age in the remaining sections.
Is it just a coincidence that the word “Uvichen” is the first word of no less than three paragraphs in the Amida? For the Kuzari, the threefold repetition of ” Uvichen” refers to three different levels that it is possible for human beings to obtain. The basic level of humanity in the best sense of the word, the level of Klal Yisroel, who enjoys a special covenant with Hashem and the third exalted level of the Prophets, the Pious and the Learned. As we stand before Hashem on the Yomin Noroim , the text enables us to see the hierarchy of priorities in our human development.
That the word “Uvichen” is used at all is a reminder of Queen Esther’s preparations to approach the King and plead for the life of her people at the risk of her own life…”Uvichen Avoh el Hamelech ” (Esther 4:16). This four letter word “Uvichen” challenges us to summon up her courage as we approach the King of Kings during the Days of Awe, to feel her fear and trepidation in doing so and to be inspired by her sense of purpose to pray for and to improve our physical and spiritual wellbeing.
The Tur insightfully informs us that it is no coincidence that the paragraph “Uvichen Ten Pachdecho ” contains exactly 44 words the number of words in the Prophecy of Zechariah , Chapter 8, whose content inspired the text of the Amida.
The 28 words of the paragraph “Uvichen Ten Kavod” correspond to the 28 words in the Prophecy of Jeremiah (23:5) that the reign of the Moshiach will be characterized by justice and righteousness.
Amazing as well, is the insight of the Tanya that the word “Vichen”, without the “U” has a Gematria of 72 , the number of Letters in the Shem Hameforash. If we multiply 72×3 for the three paragraphs of “Uvichen” we get 216 which is the total number of letters in the the Verses of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros which were originally interspersed in the paragraphs of “Uvichen”.
The text of the Amida certainly invokes feelings of awe, trepidation, concern for the future and repentance. At the same time, so many synonyms for happiness : Simcha, Sason, Aliza, and Rina are to be found as well. Word pictures which conjure up the paradoxical atmosphere of Rosh Hashana itself, the sweetness of the apple and honey, the joy of the festive meals with family and friends along with the sense that our lives hang in the balance and our fate will be decided for the new year.
If we would continue our excursions into the text of the Amida and the rest of the Tefillos ,we would find even more detailed examples of how our Chachomim chose every word and phrase with great care , based on a biblical verse, connected to a jewish concept , layered with deeper meaning and food for thought which enable us to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of the Days of Awe and find our own private meaning in our search to improve our relationships with Hashem, and with our fellow human beings .
Seder Avodas Jisrael:Tefilos Lichol Hashono
Die Welt der Gebete
Rabbiner Elie Munk
Hermon Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1935
Der Jüdische Gottesdienst
J. Kaufmann Verlag
Frankfurt am Main, 1931
Siddur Otzar Hatefilos
Otzar Haseforim, NY, 1966
Rabbi Steven Langnas, born in Philadelphia, is a Musmach of RIETS, and a Graduate of Yeshiva University. After serving the Israelitische Gemeindein Basel from 1990-1998, he was Chief Rabbi of The Israelitsche Kultusgemeinde München und Oberbayernfrom 1998-2011. As Rabbi Emeritus of this community he is responsible for Interreligious Dialogue, is Chaplain of the Residence for Senior Adults, has founded the Interfaith Münchner Lehrhaus der Religionen and is Dozent at the Ludwig Maximillians Universität, München.