Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday 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.
Introducing one of the most poignant prayers of the High Holiday liturgy; the breast-beating, alphabetical confessional, Ashamnu (we have sinned) during which we publicly admit guilt to a litany of transgressions, is the tiny but powerful prayer, “Tavo L’fanecha T’Filateinu – our God and God of our ancestors, may our prayers come before you.” Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, who as we mentioned in the past is a noted complier and editor of prayer books notes that this prayer dates back to Talmudic times and can certainly be found in the collection of the 9th century prayer book pioneer, Rav Amram.
Two components make up the Vidui (confessional,) an essential section of Yom Kippur liturgy; Ashamnu as noted above, which is also found in the Selichot service and Al Cheit (for the sin…) a longer catalog of sins with a recurring refrain. During the Vidui, all sins are expressed in the plural to demonstrate that all members of the Jewish community are responsible for one another and for the global community. The Vidui is recited 10 times over Yom Kippur, both individually and communally, always in the same order, to remind us that we do possess the ability to take control of our internal impulses.
Ismar Elbogen, the celebrated liturgical scholar cites a Talmudic discussion by two third century sages, Rav and Mar Samuel (B. Yoma 87b) in which they mandate that each element of the Vidui (confessional) is to be introduced by a specific formula. Al Cheit is introduced by the phrase “Atah Yodei Rozei Olam, You know the secrets of the world,” while “aval anchnu chatanu, however we have sinned” the conclusion of Tavo L’fanecha T’Filateinu introduces Ashamnu.
Long before Freud or any modern psychology, the author of our prayer, shows a deep understating of the human psyche. Through this text, the worshipper is given the opportunity and guidance to go through the process of “teshuvah or return to the path of personal fulfillment. In order to change a behavior one must first come to point of self awareness wherein one can recognize and acknowledge that a problem exists.
“Our God and God of our ancestors, may our prayers come before You and may You not ignore our pleas. We are neither so arrogant nor so stubborn as to declare that we are righteous and have not sinned; for, indeed, we have sinned.”
Thus before we can sincerely confess our sins and make a heartfelt plea for forgiveness, Tavo L’fanecha T’Filateinu guides us to the point of humility where we can acknowledge that none of us are “tzadikim“, completely righteous people. However, after enabling us to recognize the need for improvement, Tavo L’fanecha T’Filateinu paves the path to forgiveness through the confessional which is to follow.
Samuel Naumburg (1871-1880) one of the greatest compoers of synagogue music of all times, exquisitely expresses the theme of Tavo L’fanecha T’filateinu in his magnificent setting of the prayer. This is a link to a recording of Naumburg’s masterpiece by the group, Lachan, conducted by Hazzan Ben Maissner. Note the climax of the composition with the setting of the words: “We are not arrogant or stiffed necked enough to say; “tzadikim anachnu v’ lo chatanu… We are truly righteous people who never sin.” The final section of the opus exquisitely paints the moment of recognition that we in fact have sinned by passing the word “Chatanu, we have sinned” throughout the individual sections of the choir until finally coming to unified tacit conclusion. OurtempleChoir presents a beautiful and sensitive rendition of this piece during the Selichot and Yom Kippur services.
Tavo L’fanecha T’Filateinu is truly a powerful prayer that encapsulates the essence of Teshuvah; we must first acknowledge a problem and then come to terms with it before we can work on modifying our behavior. Our sages were indeed wise to mandate it’s inclusion in this pivotal section of the holy day prayers. May we be inspired by this text and its moving interpretation by our talented choir to find deep meaning and fulfillment in our experience of the Holy Days prayer services. May we also merit through our process of Teshuvah to be inscribed for a year of peace, blessing and fulfillment.
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at email@example.com.
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Hazzan Michael Krausman