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 Holiday Central > Rosh Hashanah > Prayers
Rosh Hashanah Special Prayers
By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
Click Here for More Holiday Articles


Fun at Grandma Sadie's
A Story for Rosh Hashanah

Special Prayers for a Special Holiday
So many prayers are unique to Rosh Hashanah that the holiday has its own prayer book known as a machzor. Machzor is related to the Hebrew word for review. This may refer to the need to have a text in order to review the prayers that are only said once a year unlike the familiar everyday prayers that some could say by heart.

Pray and Say It Like You Mean It
In his witty and wise Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Survival Kit (Leviathan Press 1992) author Shimon Apisdorf offers several tips for making prayer more meaningful. He notes that the machzor is long and the time to say each prayer is relatively short. Thoughtful prayer, even if only a few lines are said, is more meaningful than fast paced mumbling. Furthermore, God understands every language not just Hebrew. It’s okay if intense moments of prayer come and go throughout the service. Expecting an ongoing earth-shattering spiritual epiphany to last throughout the whole service unrealistic for even the most devoted synagogue member.

Highlights of the Rosh Hashanah Service

Hamelech – The Sovereign
“Hamelech Hayoshaiv Al Keesay Ram V’neesa,” the King who sits on a high and lofty throne! This line in the morning service turns the cantors who recite it into royal pages, sounding the trumpets! Welcoming with great flourish, trilling their voices and soaring through this turning point in the day’s prayers.

Astronomers describe our galaxy as a speck among thousands or millions of others. Our home planet, Earth, is a blue dot among brilliant stars, planets, and satellites. Humans are a splinter among the forests and jungles of creatures. Yet God is a Ruler who cares enough to sit in judgement of our puny deeds. To see God as Sovereign is to have God present and involved in the lives of all.

Avinu Malkeinu
This prayer lists requests directed to God who plays the dual role of Avinu Malkeinu Our Parent, Our Sovereign, or a closer translation that is less egalitarian, Our Father, Our King. God is acknowledged as both Ruler, who sets the standards, and Parent, who loves the child no matter how wayward.

On Rosh Hashanah, when all deeds are recalled, we appeal to God as merciful Parent. It’s a soothing notion for those whose prayers appear to have gone unanswered. Like a good parent, God doesn’t hand out every requested goodie, only those which are ultimately good for us.

Amida - The Silent Devotion
The Amida is recited in all three daily services (Shacharit - morning, Mincha - afternoon, and Arvit -evening). On Shabbat and holidays, Musaf, meaning additional, is added.

Rosh Hashanah’s Musaf has the distinction of the Amida that is the granddaddy of them all, the year’s longest Amida. Aside from the usual blessings found in every Amida, the Musaf prayer is stocked with three extra sections: Malkhu-yot, proclaiming God’s sovereignty; Zichronot, examining God’s power to recall and review the past; and Shofrot, relaying the times throughout history that God’s presence was signaled by the sounding of the shofar.

Malchuyot – Sovereignty
God as Sovereign and humankind’s role in God’s coronation recur throughout the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

God as Rule-maker. Judaism offers rules for living. Guidelines can appear restricting, but not being enslaved to ego, base whims, and drives offers those who follow these rules the freedom to live inspired.

While asserting loyalty to God, the Ultimate Sovereign, there is time to reflect on where personal loyalties lie. Who is given priority? family? friends? country?

Zichronot – Remembrance
“By the way God, while You’re remembering all the things I did or didn’t do over the past year, please turn the ledger of Life back a few chapters to the holiness of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Credit me with a good year – if only because my ancestors were so extraordinary.”

Zichronot is the section when this sort of plea is made. Noah and his family were saved because of their righteousness, save us. Covenants were made with the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish People, may their greatness and commitment stand in good stead for their descendants.

Amid all the jogging of God’s memory take some time out to look at your personal remembrances. What is it that you remember? Do you remember the good others have done for you or does your memory hold more grudges than good graces? Do you remember to keep your promises? Do you recall the pledges to be a better person once the danger has passed or do resolutions evaporate in good times?

Shofrot – The Power of the Shofar
God breathed a soul into Adam. The Sturm und Drang of life echo over the still, small voice of the soul. On Rosh Hashanah the soul-breath is final heard when amplified by the shofar horn. What does the soul say? It cries.

Shofrot is the part of the Amida that recall the numerous notable roles played by the shofar. The shofar sounded at Sinai to announce God’s presence. The shofar will sound to end the Jewish exile and calling this scattered battered nation to reunify and revel in peace. Other passages mentioned in the Shofrot section establish a pattern: when a shofar sounds there is a heightened awareness of God’s presence.

Commentators, Maimonides most prominent among them, have suggested that the shofar is a wakeup call. Shofrot verses may be interpreted as an attempt to answer the question: “Wake up to what?” Over 2000 years ago, at Sinai the verse recall that God’s presence was so real it set the Israelites shaking in their sandals. Arise and awaken to the Godliness around and within.

U’netaneh Tokef – Let us Examine the Power of the Day
This prayer has a haunting history. According to Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, in his encyclopedic Book of Our Heritage, there was once a Rabbi Amnon, a community leader, who was subject to many proselytizing attempts by the local Church officials. Well-to-do and good-looking, Rabbi Amnon was a prize catch. Relentless as the authorities were in their mission, Rabbi Amnon rebuffed their pitch until he gave the fatigued answer “Give me three days to think about it.”

Expressing this whit of doubt so plagued Rabbi Amnon that he refused to eat or drink. Day three arrived and the guards called Rabbi Amnon to appear and give his answer. He proclaimed his fidelity to Judaism. At the official’s command Rabbi Amnon was punished with a slow dismemberment. How devoted are you to Judaism? Do you know enough about being Jewish to understand why Rabbi Amnon and millions of Jews like him made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith?

Wounded and suffering Rabbi Amnon asked to be taken to the synagogue for one last Rosh Hashanah service. He interrupted the prayers and recited the devotion now known as U’netaneh Tokaif. The short prayer paints one of the most enduring and powerful images of Rosh Hashanah. On this day, God is a Shepherd counting the flock one by one and deciding the fate of each. “Who will live? Who will die?”

A reassurance closes this powerful prayer: “Repentance, Prayer, and Charity can remove the sever decree.”

Mazor Guide to Rosh Hashanah brings you much more about the holiday, its meaning and its traditions... See the links below.

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