Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.
On Shabbat and other festive occasions we extend our worship service by including the Musaph or additional service in our prayers. This practice can be traced back to ancient times when an additional sacrifice was offered on such special occasions in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Beit Ha Mikdash). Since the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. just as our other prayer services were formulated by our sages to substitute for the sacrificial cut set forth in the Torah, the Musaph service replaced the additional sacrifice. The latter explains why we have no Musaph for occasions such as Hanukah or Purim: Because the events these joyous holidays commemorate took place after the Torah was completed, there is no prescribed sacrifice so there can be no Musaph.
Even when the Holy Temple was still active, the Musaph service was associated with prayer. It was the custom to recite the poem that introduces the penultimate Parsha (weekly portion) of the Torah – Ha’azinu (Deut.32.) Rabbi Avraham Fischer of the Orthodox Union relates how the Talmud (R.H. 31a) describes the recitation of this Poem in the context of a discussion of the practice of including an unique Psalm in our prayer book for each day of the week. The Ha’azinu poem was divided into six parts. The Levites would chant one section each week for six weeks and then start again at the beginning of the cycle. While we continue to recite the Psalm of the day in remembrance of the ancient Temple Service, the practice of reciting Ha’azinu during Musaph was not continued. Rabbi Fischer points out, however, that when the Parsha of Ha’a zinu is read as part of the regular cycle of reading for Shabbat, it is divided into Aliyot (portions) according to the way the Levites of theHolyTemple divided the poem for Musaph.
Musaph on Shabbat like all other occasions now consists mainly of an Amidah. As you may know, the Amidah is a collection of 5-19 blessings that form the core of every formal service. While the weekday Amidah contains a central section containing various petitions ranging from a request for wisdom to a plea for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Amidah said on Shabbat and festivals replaces the petitions with a blessing affirming the holiness of the occasion (but wait until you see the Amidah for Rosh Hashanah.)
Ismar Elbogen, the quintessential expert on the origin of our prayers, notes that since an Amidah is already recited on Shabbat morning, the sages felt it was necessary that the Musaph Amidah be different from the other forms of the Shabbat Amidah in that it should contain a specific reference to the requirement of offering daily sacrifices as well as that of offering an additional sacrifice on the appropriate occasions. In the Siddur, the verse containing this basic requirement is embellished by poetry as well as by a citation from the Torah (Num 28:9-10) describing the exact make up of the Shabbat Musaph Sacrifice. We also include Yismechu, a prayer extolling the virtues of rejoicing in the observance of Shabbat.
“Tinkanta Shabbat…You have established Shabbat…” is the prayer that introduces this unique section of the Shabbat Musaph. This poem is composed in a style know as TaShRaK or a reverse alphabetical acrostic. Thus the first word of the piece begins with Tav, the final letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, and the final verse begins with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. Connecting the commandment to observe the Shabbat with all of its requirements and offerings with the revelation at Sinai is a central theme of this poem. The author promises great rewards such as eternal life to those who keep the Shabbat.
Following Tinknta Shabbat is the paragraph beginning “Yihi Ratzon Milfanecha… May it be Your will Our God and God of our ancestors.” Traditionally, this prayer, which is common to almost all liturgical rites, expresses the hope for a return of Israel to its ancient glory and the reestablishment of the Holy Temple with all of its associated sacrificial services and rites. In fulfillment of the original mandate of Musaph, this paragraph makes specific mention of the requirement of offering daily sacrifices as well as offering an additional sacrifice on the appropriate occasions.
The notion of the return to the sacrificial cult represents a philosophical difficulty to many in the Conservative Movement. In 1946, the Rabbinical Assembly together with the United Synagogue published the Shabbat and Festival Prayer Book Edited by Rabbi Morris Silverman. In order to address the above mentioned difficulty, the Silverman Siddur changed the reference to the future reestablishment of the sacrificial system (Na’ase) to the past tense (Asu) so that the sacrifices were set in an historic context. Also, the word “T’tzaveinu, we are commanded” [to perform the sacrifices] is change to “T’zavem, they were commanded” [to perform the sacrifices]. Rather than aspiring to return to a sacrificial system of worship, the prayer recognizes that this sacrificial cult was the way our ancient ancestors approached God rather than an ideal form of worship for which we must yearn.
Published in 1998, Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, our current Siddur, further developed the philosophical changes instituted by the Rabbinical Assembly. The phrase, “Ha Meshiv Banim L’Gvulam, who returns children to their land,” was inserted into this Yihi Ratzon paragraph. Rabbi Ruven Hammer, the oft cited commentator on our Siddur explains:
“These words have been added to the traditional text in recognition of the ongoing return to Israelwe have been privileged to experience in our days. The words are taken from Jeremiah 31:17: ‘And there is hope for your future — declares Adonai — and your children shall be restored to their land.’ The same prophets who predicted exile and destruction also preached return and restoration. Fortunate are we who have witnessed the miracle of our return to our land – (Beit Chayeinu), the home of our life.”
In similar fashion, the Sim Shalom version of this prayer changes the words, “Korbanot Chovoteihem, the sacrifices they [our ancestors] were obligated to offer” to “Korbanoteim,” their sacrifices. By removing the notion of obligation the new Siddur further distances us from the practices of our ancestors while trying to maintain a modern relevance.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Amidah is that it gives the worshipper occasion to feel as though he/she is having a personal conversation with God. By adding the Musaph service to our Shabbat and festival liturgy, we are afforded an additional opportunity to communicate with our creator on a one to one basis. This experience is even more meaningful in the context of the community. As we pray together, and sing the communal portions of the Musaph as one, our individual voices become magnified and transformed into a mighty holy chorus; carrying our innermost feelings directly to the heavenly thrown. Surly our ancient ancestors, who gathered together in “Gods House” – theHolyTemplewith all of its drama, ceremony, passion and jubilation must have had the same experience.
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hazzan Michael Krausman