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TEFILLAT GESHEM AND TAL

 

Nothing is more fundamental than adequate rainfall for ensuring the food supply of humanity. Therefore, mentioning the need for rain at the appropriate time of the year is an integral part of the daily Amida. The Mishnah (Taanit 1:1) debates the timeframe for the beginning of the inclusion of the מַשִּׁיב הָרוּחַ וּמורִיד הַגָּשֶּׁם phrase in the second bracha of the Amida. The following Mishnah brings down the view of Rabbi Yehuda that the mentioning of rainfall begins at Musaf on Shemini Atzeret, and ceases at Musaf on the first day of Pesaḥ. The delay of the mentioning of rain until Shemini Atzeret is because rain during Sukkot is considered unpropitious as it impedes the mitzvah of Sukkah. In Nusaḥ Sephard in the  Diaspora, and in all nusḥaot in Israel, מורִיד הַטָּל is included during the period between the first day of Pesaḥ and Shemini Atzeret. In Nusaḥ Ashenaz in the Diaspora, מורִיד הַטָּל is not included. This bi-annual transition of seasons is marked by the Prayer for Rain (Tefillat Geshem)  at Musaf on Shemini Atzeret and the Prayer for Dew (Tefillat Tal) at Musaf on the first day of Pesaḥ. Both prayers were written by the chief paytan of the Jewish People, Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir.

The reasoning for Tefillat Geshem is more obvious than that of Tefillat Tal. Israel is clearly in need of adequate rainfall during the winter months to ensure the success of the agricultural growing season. Presumably, some moisture is desirable even during the summer months, hence it is appropriate to pray for dew. The Mateh Moshe (section 662) includes another reason for Tefillat Tal. The storehouses of dew are opened on the first night of Pesaḥ, as that is the time when Isaac blessed Jacob with “the dew of heaven, and the fat of the earth” (Genesis 27:28). A few pesukim later (Genesis 27:39), Isaac blesses Esau that same night with “the fat places of the earth and the dew of heaven.” We follow in Isaac’s footsteps by invoking the blessings of dew on the first day of Pesaḥ.

As noted earlier, neither of these two days of Yom Tov have Kerovot for Shaḥarit. This is probably due to the liturgical focus on the  embellishments of the Musaf service with Tal or Geshem.

There are two customs as to when these prayers are inserted in the service. Most congregations in Israel that follow Nusaḥ Ashkenaz recite Tefillat Geshem and Tal prior to the silent Amida of Musaf. This style removes any question as to which formula to include during the silent Amida, as the transition has already taken place prior to the Amida. Most congregations in the Diaspora, as well as Nusaḥ Sephard congregations in Israel, recite these prayers during the first part of the recitation of the Amida. In accordance with that custom, there is some confusion as to what formula to include in the silent Amida. In many congregations, the gabbai will make an announcement prior to the silent Amida that the formula should be changed, thereby removing the doubt. [46]

Aside from the basic format of these two prayers, there is a set of longer piyyutim that are omitted by most congregations. The basic format of both Tal and Geshem follow a similar, three-part, pattern as follows:

  • Two brief introductory sections, one recited at the end of the first bracha, just after מֶֽלֶךְ עוֹזֵר וּמוֹשִֽׁיעַ וּמָגֵן, and the second added near the beginning of the second bracha, just after רַב לְהוֹשִֽׁיעַ. These two sections are omitted by those customs that recite Tefillat Tal and Geshem  prior to the silent Amida.
  • A six-stanza piyyut, forming the main body of the prayer.
  • The concluding declaration, announcing “You are our Gd Who causes the wind to blow and the rain [or dew] to descend.” This declaration formally announces the transition of seasons, and the change of the formula of the Amida for the following six months. This is immediately followed by three petitions recited aloud by the congregation and the prayer leader: for a blessing and not for a curse; for life and not for death, for satiety and not for famine.

 

When Tefillat Geshem or Tal are recited as part of the repetition, one might expect them to begin with a Reshut of the form מִסּוֹד חֲכָמִים וּנְבוֹנִים, since the normal formula of the Amida is about to be interrupted. However, it is only for Tefillat Tal that the opening paragraph asks permission for the interruption. Tefillat Tal opens with the words: בְּדַעְתּוֹ אַבִּיעָה חִידוֹת [With His consent, I will speak of mysteries]. This brief introduction accomplishes the same goal as the entire מִסּוֹד חֲכָמִים וּנְבוֹנִים Reshut, although it begs the consent of Gd rather than of the learned sages. There is no such request in Tefillat Geshem [47].

Tefillat Tal opens with the aforementioned request, and then asks that the people be granted joy through dew. Dew brings joy to the fields and vegetation. The entire earth and its herbage yearn for dew, so we mention it in the Musaf prayer. Dew also hints at the ultimate resurrection of the dead. The following six-verse piyyut continues with descriptions of the benefits of dew, and prays for a good year blessed with ample sustenance and abundance. Interspersed with the requests for material blessings are petitions for ultimate redemption (may the abandoned city be made into a crown, may You remove Your favoured nation from bondage, if only You would renew our days). Each of the six verses begins with the word tal and ends with the word betal [with dew].

Tefillat Geshem opens with אַף בְּרִי אֻתַּת שֵׁם שר מָטָר [Af Bri is the name of the Angel of Rain]. This is based on the pasuk from Job 37:11: אַף-בְּרִי יַטְרִיחַ עָב יָפִיץ עֲנַן אוֹרוֹ [Mechon Mamre: Yea, He ladeth the thick cloud with moisture, He spreadeth abroad the cloud of His lightning]. Although some translations, including Mechon Mamre, do not read the name of the angel into the opening words, others translate this as: Af Bri loads up the clouds with moisture…  The commentary in the Artscroll Maḥzor, quoting the Mateh Levi, notes that the word af means anger, and bri means health. In its right measure, rain leads to sustenance and prosperity. If there is too little or too much, rain is not beneficial, and may be a sign of Gd’s wrath. This is reminiscent of the famous story of Ḥoni HaMaagel (Mishnah Taanit 3:5).

The opening section of Tefillat Geshem notes that it is the task of Af Bri to form clouds (as per the pasuk in Job), and then to empty them by bringing rain. The second section asks that Gd (the ultimate Giver of rain) force Af Bri to provide us with abundant rain, so that the parched land will be softened, and the people praying for rain will be able to survive. The word used for “force” is יַטְרִיחַ, which comes from the aforementioned pasuk of Job. Thus, both the first and second sections begin with the opening words of Job 37:11.

Each verse of the following six-verse piyyut begins with the word Zechor [Remember], and asks for water in merit of Three Patriarchs, Moses, Aaron and the twelve tribes. The refrain of each verse, recited aloud by the congregation, alternates between בַּעֲבוּרוֹ אַל תִּמְנַע מָיִם [for his sake, do not withhold water], and בְּצִדְקוֹ חוֹן חַשְׁרַת מָיִם [in the merit of his righteousness, grant an abundance of water]. For the last verse, referring to the twelve tribes, the refrain is pluralized to בְּצִדְקָם חוֹן חַשְׁרַת מָיִם [in the merit of their righteousness, grant an abundance of water]. The six verses ask for water in the merit of:

  • Abraham, who was drawn to Gd like water, and who was blessed like a tree planted at the waters.
  • Isaac whose birth was predicted with the words “Let some water be brought” (Genesis 18:4, when Abraham served the angels who came to announce that Isaac would be born), whose blood was to be spilled like water (a reference to the Akeida), and who dug wells of water.
  • Jacob, who crossed the waters of the Jordan River, removed the stone of the well of water, and fought with an angel composed of fire and water.
  • Moses, who was drawn out of the waters in a basket, who also drew waters from the well (feeding Jethro’s sheep), and who hit the rock to bring forth water.
  • Aaron the Kohen Gadol who was commanded to immerse himself in water five times (on Yom Kippur), and who was to wash his hands in water.
  • The twelve tribes who crossed the waters of the Red Sea, for whom the bitter waters were sweetened, and whose descendants were prepared to have their blood spilled like water in sanctification of the Divine Name.

 

As noted above, both Tefillat Geshem and Tal then conclude with the climax: the declaration announcing the change of the formula, and the three petitions.

The standard form of Tefillat Geshem and Tal, as outlined above, can be found in many regular Siddurim. Israeli-style Nusaḥ Ashkenaz Siddurim generally place the prayer prior to the Amida, and omit the two opening paragraphs. Other Siddurim place the prayer within the repletion of the Amida. Some Siddurim, such as the Hebrew-only Nusaḥ Ashkenaz Koren Siddur Tefilla, acknowledge both customs. The Israeli Rinat Yisrael varies its placement based on whether the Siddur is Nusaḥ Ashkenaz or Sephard. Most Maḥzorim include the enhanced version of Tefillat Tal and Geshem (an exception being the Adler Maḥzor of the Hebrew Publishing Company, which only includes the standard version). Both the Artscroll and Rinat Yisrael Maḥzorim place the enhancements in the additional piyyutim section at the end. Maḥzor Rabba includes the full version in the main body of the Amida repetition.

The enhanced version includes a petition recited silently by the prayer reader prior to the Half Kaddish of Musaf. It is of similar form to the Hineni prayer prior to Musaf on the Yamim Noraim, albeit shorter. It asks that the prayers be accepted along with all the prayers offered by the Nation of Israel that day. The prayer leader requests that his throat not become sore, and asks for a fine, strong voice, as per the pasuk וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשׁוֹֹפָר הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד [And the sound of the shofar became stronger and stronger] (Exodus 19:19). For some unknown reason, Artscroll only includes this petition in its Sukkot Maḥzor but not its Pesaḥ one. Perhaps this is to compensate for the lack of any Reshut formula in Tefillat Geshem. Other Maḥzorim include this petition for both occasions.

The enhanced piyyutim are to be added after the second opening section, just before the main six-verse piyyut. The instruction is that the Aron Kodesh be closed during the recitation of these additional piyyutim, and reopened for the main piyyut. These piyyutim elaborate on the theme of dew and rain respectively. The middle piyyut of both days consists of two-stanza verses. The second stanza of each verse forms the acrostic: Eleazar BiRabi Kalir of Kiryat Sefer [48]. In the Geshem version, the sameḥ of the word sefer is replaced with the letter sin.

The last of the additional piyyutim of Tal and Geshem cycle through all the months of the year, mentioning the importance of an adequate water supply throughout all the months. For Tal, each verse mentions the month as well as the zodiac sign. For Geshem, some of the months are mentioned by their common name, others by their Biblical name (e.g. Aviv, Ziv, Eitanim, Bul), and others through innuendoes (e.g. Ḥanuka is mentioned for Kislev). The zodiac signs are also woven into the piyyut for Geshem. Most Maḥzorim include a small drawing of the zodiac sign of the month at the relevant verses. (The Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor does not include these pictures). The Geshem piyyut has two pesukim woven into the 22 verses. The opening word of each verse is from the pasuk:  יִפְתַּח השׁם לְךָ אֶת אוֹצָרוֹ הַטּוֹב אֶת הַשָׁמַיִם לָתֵת מְטַר אַרְצְךָ בְּעִתּוֹ וּלְבָרֵךְ אֵת כָּל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶךָ וְהִלְוִיתָ גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְאַתָּה לֹא תִלְוֶה [Mechon Mamre: The Lrd will open unto thee His good treasure the heaven to give the rain of thy land in its season, and to bless all the work of thy hand; and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow.] (Deuteronomy 28:12, from the portion of the blessings and curses). The second half of each verse begins with a word from the pasuk: כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יֵרֵד הַגֶּשֶׁם וְהַשֶׁלֶג מִן הַשָׁמַיִם וְשָׁמָּה לֹא יָשׁוּב כִּי אִם הִרְוָה אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְהוֹלִידָהּ וְהִצְמִיחָהּ וְנָתַן זֶרַע לַזֹּרֵעַ וְלֶחֶם לָאֹכֵל [Mechon Mamre: For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, except it water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater] (Isaiah 55:10, from the Haftarah for fast days). The analogous piyyut for Tal is not built around pesukim, but is rather an alphabetical acrostic.

The Half Kaddish prior to Musaf, as well as the opening bracha of the Amida and the first two paragraphs of Tal and Geshem are recited in a unique, stirring melody, similar but more upbeat than the melody of the Half Kaddish and first bracha of Neila on Yom Kippur. This melody is considered one of the MiSinai melodies – ancient melodies of European Ashkenazic origin that are not to be replaced or tampered with [49].  The melody of the following six-verse piyyut is more flexible. See endnote [50] for renditions of various melodies. In Israel, where Tal and Geshem are recited prior to the Amida, the MiSinai melody would not be used.

As one goes home from the synagogue on the morning of the first day of Pesaḥ and Shemini Atzeret and sits down to the festive meal, one is permeated with feelings of appreciation and gratitude that Gd takes care of all our needs and provides us with a steady food supply. For a blessing and not for a curse! For life and not for death! for satiety and not for famine! Amen.

 

 

AKDAMUT AND YETZIV PITGAM

 (and other Insertions into the Torah and Haftarah Reading)

 

Akdamut and Yetziv Pitgam are Aramaic piyyutim that enhance the Torah reading and Haftarah on Shavuot. Akdamut is a long piyyut recited on the first day of Shavuot after the first aliya is called up to the Torah, but before the brachot are recited. Yetziv Pitgam is inserted after the second pasuk of the Haftarah on the second day of Shavuot in the Diaspora. Both are intended as introductions for the meturgeman  (the person who recites the line by line Aramaic translation and elucidation of the Torah and Haftarah readings) [51]. Although the practice of line by line translation of the Torah reading and Haftarah is no longer part of current custom, these introductory piyyutim remain on the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah. The language of both piyyutim is particularly obscure and difficult.

Every two of the first 44 verses of Akdamut start with a letter of the aleph beit, forming a double acrostic. In the latter 48 verses of Akdamut, the author, Rabbi Meir bar Yitzchak [52], signed his name as: Rabbi Meir Birabi Yitzchak, may he grow in Torah and good deeds. Amen, be strong and courageous. Each verse ends with the letters תָא or תָּא  (in Sephardic pronunciation ‘ta’, and in Ashkenazic pronunciation ‘soh’ or ‘toh’).

Many commentaries and explanations of Akdamut exist. Aside from the usual commentary in the Artscroll Maḥzor, Artscroll has a complete 151-page book devoted exclusively to Akdamut. Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor provides a line by line translation in clear Hebrew. I will provide only a brief summary of the main themes of Akdamut.

  • Akdamut begins with a request for permission to interrupt the usual proceedings. This may reflect the original custom of reciting Akdamut after the first pasuk of the Torah reading, before the meturgeman would start his translation.
  • It then moves on to a praise of Gd, Whose glory cannot be described even if all the heavens were parchment, all the forests quills, and all the seas ink.
  • The angelic praises are then described. Some angels have a turn to praise Gd daily, others once every seven years, and still others only once in eternity. The words of the three main lines of the Kedusha are woven into the angelic praises.
  • Even greater than the angelic praises are the praises of the Jewish people, who recite Shema twice daily. Gd eagerly accepts the prayers of the Jewish people, forming them into a crown.
  • The nations of the world come to ask the Jewish people about the meaning of their observance, and why they are willing to give up their lives for it. The Jews are promised wonderful honour if only they would give up their faith and join the nations. (We must bear in mind that this piyyut was written during the time of the Crusades, when this theme was not at all hypothetical.) The segue from the praises of the angels and Israel to the disputation with the nation occurs at the letter tav, just about halfway through the piyyut.
  • The Jewish people do not engage in the disputation, but rather declare that at the end of days, with the end of the exile, the nations will experience shame while the Jews will experience great glory.
  • The Jews will dance with Gd in the Garden of Eden, stating that this is He Whom we hoped for during our long exile. The leviathan and the behemoth will then engage in battle. They will slaughter each other, and Gd will prepare a banquet with their meat for the righteous, accompanied by sweet wine from the time of Creation.
  • The paytan then expresses the wish that those in the congregation listening to this song be among those seated in the first row, provided that they listen to the word of Gd.
  • Adkdamut concludes with a paraphrase of the bracha on the Torah, which is about to be recited by the person called up to the Torah.

 

Akdamut is generally recited responsively by the prayer leader (or the gabbai or Torah reader), and the congregation. The melody is the same as that used for Kiddush on the Shalosh Regalim, as well as the long invitation to the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit on Simḥat Torah [53].

The themes of the praises of Gd, and the ultimate reward for those who kept the Torah throughout the long, difficult period of the Jewish exile resonate strongly on the festival of the Giving of the Torah. Given the difficulty of the language, and the fact that many recite this piyyut while only half awake at the conclusion of the traditional Torah study session lasting the entire night, Akdamut deserves special focus and concentration. It is arguably one of the most beautiful and poignant piyyutim of our entire liturgy.

Yetziv Pitgam is recited following the second pasuk of the Haftarah on the second day of Shavuot. Each verse of the 15-line piyyut ends with רִין. The first letters of each verse form the acrostic: Yaakov Birabi Meir Levi. Some identify the author as Rashi’s grandson, the Tosafist Rabbeinu Tam (Yaakov ben Meir). However, this is unclear, as Rabbeinu Tam was not known as being a Levite.

The piyyut opens by stating that our praises of Gd are only a small sign of those recited by the myriads of angels. It continues with a praise of Gd Who created everything, and sees everything that is hidden. In the seventh verse, it asks permission for the interruption from those sages versed in halacha, Mishna, Tosefta, Sifra, and Sifri. It then continues by asking Gd to shower His blessings upon the Jewish people – that they should be as numerous as the sand and the dust, that their crops be blessed, and their wishes be granted. As this piyyut is an introduction to the translation of  the Haftarah by the meturgeman, it concludes with a note of thanks to Rabbi Yehonatan ben Uziel, the translator of the prophets. Some, including the translation in the Artscroll Maḥzor, interpret the last verse as a note of thanks to Moses, the meekest of men, to whom Gd presented the Torah. It is quite likely that this final verse was written with the dual meaning.

Yetziv Pitgam can be found in most Maḥzorim, as well as in many Ḥumashim and Siddurim that contain the Haftarot for the Yamim Tovim. Of course, it is not recited in Israel, where there is no second day of Shavuot. Even in the Diaspora, it is not recited by all congregations [54]. For more scholarly articles on Yetziv Pigtam, see the following links [55].

There is another, lesser-known and rarely recited piyyut, called Archin, added in the middle of the fourth aliya of the Torah reading of the first day of Shavuot, just prior to the beginning of the Aseret Hadibrot. Like Adkamut and Yetziv Pitgram, it is in difficult Aramaic. Maḥzor Rabba makes note of it, but does not include it. The Artscroll Maḥzor includes it in the Additional Piyyutim section. The Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor includes it in the piyyutim section, and provides a fine Hebrew translation. The theme of Archin is the summons to Moses to ascend Mount Sinai. Gd has given permission for a human being to ascend to the celestial realms. The heavens bend down, and the land rises up to assist Moses in his ascent. The angels are afraid as Moses arrives. Gd tells Moses not to fear. He asks him to take the Torah and then go back down, for there is no prophet as faithful as Moses.

Simḥat Torah also has a piyyut, rarely recited, that is inserted either after the bracha on the Haftarah but before reciting the first pasuk, or between the first and second pesukim. The piyyut is  called Ashrecha Har Haavarim [Fortunate are you, Mount Avarim]. (Mount Avarim is another name for Mount Nebo – the burial place of Moses.) Unlike the Shavuot piyyutim, this piyyut is in Hebrew. It was composed by the renowned Torah commentator Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra. It opens with a praise of Mount Avarim for being chosen as the burial site of Moses. It continues by describing episodes in the life of Moses: the burning bush, the signs and wonders in Egypt, the giving of the Torah, and the two forty-day sojourns on Mount Sinai (it does not mention the middle sojourn). The opening phrase Ashrecha Har Haavarim is repeated four more times as the refrain.

 

 

KAH KEILI

Kah Keili is recited after the Haftarah and prior to Ashrei on the Shalosh Regalim. It explicitly serves as an introduction to Ashrei, as each verse ends with: “I will praise You with Ashrei Yoshvei Beitecha.”  However, its content also makes it clear that, in a broader sense, it serves as an introduction to the Musaf service.

The piyyut consists of three verses, each with a double refrain. The first part of the refrain lists all the types of sacrifices: Todah [thanksgiving offering], Olah [burnt offering], Chatat [sin offering], Asham [guilt offering], Shlamim [peace offering], and Miluim [inauguration offering]. The second part of the refrain asks that Gd remember the weary nation, and return it to its land. Both these themes  – the multiple types of offerings, and the hope for the end of the exile –  are clear references to the Musaf service of the Shalosh Regalim. Even though not all the offering types mentioned in Kah Keili are brought on Yom Tov, the Musaf offerings of the Shalosh Regalim are extensive and elaborate. Furthermore, the phrase “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land,” and the plea for an end to the exile are central to the Musaf service.

The main part of each of the three verses, each of which is only half as long as the lengthy refrain, reviews basic concepts of the Jewish belief system:

  • Gd is, was and will be.
  • Gd’s judgment is of utmost exactness, and His intelligence is boundless. He distinguishes between good and bad with a single glance.
  • Gd weaves together all of creation with His manifold miracles.

 

This piyyut can be found in most Maḥzorim and many Siddurim, although it is not universally recited. Most directives indicate that it is to be omitted on a Yom Tov that falls on Shabbat, as well as on the Yizkor days. The commentary in the Artscroll Maḥzor notes that this is due to the solemn atmosphere of Yizkor. Some Maḥzorim, such as the Hebrew-only Artsroll, also note that it is to be omitted on days when Tefillat Tal or Geshem is recited (this is only relevant to the first day of Pesaḥ, as Shemini Atzeret is a Yizkor day). Although not explicitly stated as a directive, most Maḥzorim do not include it on Simḥat Torah.

Following all these directives, it would be recited in the Diaspora on five of the ten Yom Tov days: the first and seventh days of Pesaḥ, the first day of Shavuot, and the first two days of Sukkot. In Israel, it would only be recited on one of the five Yom Tov days: the first day of Sukkot. The Rinat Yisrael Maḥzor, based on the customs of Israel, includes it for both the first day of Pesaḥ (even though Tefillat Tal is recited), and the first day of Sukkot.

The common denominator of all the days upon when Kah Keili is to be omitted is that there are already additional prayers filling the space between the end of the Haftarah and Musaf. On Shabbat, there is Yekum Purkan. On the Yizkor days, Yizkor occupies that space. On Simḥat Torah, there are several piyyutim recited by some congregations in that space (e.g. Sisu Vesimḥu). Although in the Diaspora custom, Tal and Geshem are recited during Musaf, there is still the elaborate singing of the Half Kaddish to give focus to that part of the service, and there is the silent prayer of the prayer leader prior to the Kaddish. (Furthermore the omission of Kah Keili on the first day of Pesaḥ is the weakest of the directives.) On the other Yom Tov days that fall on weekdays, there is nothing special to fill the space, hence the room for this additional piyyut.

The rarity of this piyyut in Israel is purely coincidental. Although the authorship is unclear, it most likely arose in the Diaspora. Despite being coincidental, perhaps some meaning can be read into it post factum. This piyyut makes repeated pleas for the end of the exile and the return to Gd’s Land. Jews living in the Diaspora, this author included, need to hear this message more forcefully than those of our brethren who already merit to live in Israel. In fact, some say that the very institution of the second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora is based on the same reasoning. The Shalosh Regalim, as opposed to the Yamim Noraim or other observances, are very much tied to the gathering of the Jews in Israel. The concept of Aliya Laregel is integral to the essence of the Shalosh Regalim. Thus, the spiritual goals of the Shalosh Regalim are more elusive to  Diaspora Jews, and require a longer period of time to attain. Similarly, the Kol Bechor (or Aser TeAser on Shabbat or Shemini Atzeret)  Torah Reading is not read on Yom Tov in Israel, whereas it is read on three days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora. The review of the Yamim Tovim in Kol Bechor (Deuteronomy 16) focuses on the concept of Aliya Laregel (ascending to Jerusalem for the festival) – a message which Diaspora Jewry needs to hear more forcefully than those already in Israel.

There is no unique melody for Kah Keili. Prayer leaders are free to fit the piyyut into whatever melody they choose. Often, melodies from the Shabbat Zemirot are chosen for this piyyut. [56]

 

 

AḤOT KETANA

Aḥot Ketana (Little Sister) is a piyyut recited between Minḥa and Maariv as the first night of Rosh Hashanah commences and the year is changing over. The verses form the acrostic Avraham Ḥazan Ḥazak. The author is Rabbi Avraham Chazan Girundi of 13th century Spain.

The little sister is a term for the people of Israel, based on the allegorical interpretation of Song of Songs 8:8. The Jewish people are preparing their prayers and praises, and are hoping for a cure to all their ills. Further on, the people of Israel are also referred to as Gd’s daughter. The piyyut is a prayer for the ending of the exile and all the tribulations that go along with it. It ends with a hope for a better future. Each verse other than the last ends with the proclamation: Let the year and its curses end!  The final verse ends with: Let the year with its blessings begin!

The message of this piyyut, especially the proclamations at the end of each verse, is very poignant at the moment of the transition from one year to the next. Every year in our lives, and in the annals of our nation, contains both good and bad aspects. Deep down, we all hope that the coming year will be better than the previous one – yet we are all cognizant of the realities of the human condition, which contains both positive and negative, ups and downs. As we hope for a better year at the very beginning of the year, we all know that one year hence (we should all live and be well), we will be expressing the same hope once again, unless, of course, the Messianic era ensues in the upcoming year. As believing Jews, we all know that one day, with the advent of the Messianic era, all our tribulations will indeed become history. [57]

Aḥot Ketana appears in most Maḥzorim and even in some Siddurim that include the Amida for Rosh Hashanah. However, it is rarely formally recited in most Ashkenazic shuls. It is more intrinsic to the Sephardic liturgy, and several melodies exist [58].

 

 

MAOZ TZUR and ASHER HEINI

These two piyyutim are recited on different holidays, and seemingly have little in common. However, they both follow the performance of the main mitzvah on the two rabbinical holidays, Ḥanuka and Purim. The very well-known piyyut of Maoz Tzur is recited each night of Ḥanuka after lighting the candles. The less prominent piyyut of Asher Heini is recited on the night of Purim after the reading of the Megillah. After the morning reading, only the latter part of the piyyut, the much more well-known Shoshanat Yaakov, is recited.

Maoz Tzur is a six-verse piyyut with the acrostic Mordechai Ḥazak. The exact identity of the author is unknown, although it is believed that he lived during the 13th century.

The first verse asks for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, and for the destruction of our enemies. The terminology used is rather harsh: “at the time when You will prepare a slaughter for the barking enemy.” It concludes by stating that we will then sing hymns at the time of the rededication of the altar.

The middle four verses overview the various threats and salvations during the course of Jewish history: the slavery in Egypt, ending with the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea; the Babylonian exile, ending with the restoration after 70 years led by Zerubbabel; the threat of Haman at the time of the Purim story, ending with Haman and his many children being hung on the gallows; and the threat of the Greeks during the Ḥanuka story. Interestingly, the Ḥanuka verse does not describe the salvation through the military victory. Rather, it focuses on the miracle of the oil.

It is also interesting to note that three of the middle four verses relate to the holidays of salvation: Pesaḥ, Purim and Ḥanuka. There is no holiday commemorating the end of the Babylonian Exile. Although Maoz Tzur is the signature piyyut of Ḥanuka, it could be relevant to Pesaḥ and Purim as well. It is the reference to the dedication of the altar [Ḥanukat Hamizbeaḥ] that perhaps makes the piyyut most relevant to Ḥanuka. Nevertheless, during the Purim Seuda, after imbibing several cups of wine, I have been known to sing the fourth verse of Maoz Tzur.

The final verse asks for an end to the current exile, the exile of Rome (referred to as Admon – the Red One). This verse is missing from many older Siddurim. It seemingly caught the interest of the censors, as, in traditional Jewish thought, Rome morphed into the Christian church, and the verse can be regarded as an anti-Christian polemic. It is important to recall that Maoz Tzur was written during the latter period of the Crusades, at a time when Christian persecution of Jews in Europe was at its height.

There are several variants of wording in the final verse, which may reflect the censorship over the centuries. The following is a summary of the variants (the variants appear in the rows; the columns do not imply that the variants necessarily are grouped together):

 

וְקָרֵב קֵץ הַיְשׁוּעָה  [bring the final salvation]

וְקָרֵב יוֹם הַיְשׁוּעָה  [bring the day of salvation]

נְקֹם נִקְמַת דַּם עֲבָדֶיךָ [avenge the blood of your servants]

נְקֹם נִקְמַת עֲבָדֶיךָ  [avenge your servants]

מֵאֻמָּה הָרְשָׁעָה    [from the wicked nation]

 מִמַלְכוּת הָרְשָׁעָה  [from the wicked kingdom]

כִּי אָרְכָה לָנוּ הַשָּׁעָה [for the time (of the salvation) has been drawn out for us]

כִּי אָרְכָה הַיְשׁוּעָה [for the salvation has been drawn out ]   (note לָנוּ may or may not be present in either of these variants)

דְּחֵה אַדְמוֹן בְּצֵל צַלְמוֹן  [push away the Red One – i.e. Edom – in the far-off shadow.] Tzalmon may be a reference to Tzalmavet – the valley of the shadow of death. (This obscure word is found in Psalms 68:15, where some translations translate it as “shadowy darkness” and others, including Mechon Mamre, translate it as the name of a place. It  can also be found toward the end of the first of the morning kinot of Tisha B’Av).

מְחֵה פֶּשַׁע וְגַם רֶשַׁע  [erase sin and also iniquity]

הָקֵם לָנוּ רוֹעִים שִׁבְעָה  [establish the seven shepherds for us] [59]

הָקֵם לָנוּ רוֹעֶה שִׁבְעָה  [establish the seven shepherds for us] – The meaning does not change,  albeit the word shepherd is in the singular.

 

 

In a fascinating article “Ma’oz Tzur and the End of Christianity” [60] Professor Yitzhak Melamed describes the powerful anti-Christian polemic in the final verse of the piyyut. Professor Melamed notes:

  • יְשׁוּעָה may be a cryptic reference to Jesus (known as Yeshu or Yeshua). The end of Yeshua, may mean “the end of the Jesusites”.  The drawn out יְשׁוּעָה of one of the variants may mean that “our time under the Jesusites has been drawn out” for far too long.
  • The evil nation or kingdom is a term used for Christian Europe.
  • בְּצֵל צַלְמוֹן may be a reference to the cross (the word tzelem is a term used for the cross). In Jewish thought, Edom is also a reference to the Christian church – thus, the current exile is the exile of the Jewish people under the yoke of Christendom. The phrase would mean: Push aside the Red One (Edom) who lives in the shadow of the cross.

 

It is therefore no wonder that this verse is missing from Siddurim in the middle ages, and that there are many different variants of the text.

The fascinating Wikipedia article on Maoz Tzur [61], notes that it was not only the Christian church that objected to the final verse, but also the Communist regimes of 20th century Europe. Red is the traditional colour of Communism, and the Communists may have read into the prayer for the pushing aside of the Red One as a hope for the downfall of Communism. The article notes that this verse was not included in Siddurim published under the Communist regimes. I am not sure how many editions of Siddurim were published under Communism, but presumably some were published in Hungary and Romania, where reasonably functional Jewish communities continued to exist throughout the Communist era. I examined the text of Maoz Tzur in a Siddur published by the Montreal Jewish Community in 1970 as a gift to the Jews of the Soviet Union (Siddur Shalom). That Siddur did include the sixth verse, but the final line had the variant referring to the eradication of sin, rather than the pushing aside of the Red One.

The Sefaria Siddur Sephard [62] includes a seventh verse, which explicitly prays for the end of subjugation by both Edom and Yishmael. The Siddur notes that the Rema added this verse, and it appears in Eshel Yisrael. The Rema is Ashkenazic, so it is strange that this verse ended up in a Sephardic Siddur. Clearly the censors, if any, in the Islamic lands were more tolerant or, more likely, less vigilant, than those in the countries of Europe. The additional verse is as follows:

מֵעוֹלָם הָיִיתָ יִשְׁעִי, כְּבוֹדִי וּמֵרִים רֹאשִׁי, שְׁמַע נָא קוֹל שַׁוְעִי, מַלְכִּי אֱלֹקי קְדוֹשִׁי, הַעֲבֵר חֶטְאִי וּפִשְׁעִי, גַּם בְּגָלוּת הָרְבִיעִי, חַזֵּק יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְתַכְנִיעַ יִשְׁמָעֵאל, וּמֵאֱדוֹם תִּפְדֶה נַפְשִׁי

You have forever been my salvation, my honour, and the One Who raises my head. Please answer the voice of my prayer, my King, and Holy Gd. Remove my sin and iniquity, and strengthen Israel in the fourth exile as well. Subdue Yishmael and Edom, and redeem my soul.

The well-known melody used by most has its basis in medieval German Protestant folk music [63]. At a later time, the melody was adopted into the Christian Hymn “Rock of Ages,” which is somewhat ironic given the anti-Christian bent of Maoz Tzur. The melody has become the signature tune for Ḥanuka. Many people chant Lecha Dodi on Shabbat Ḥanuka as well as certain parts of Hallel to the tune of Maoz Tzur.

In contrast to Maoz Tzur, the theme of Asher Heini on Purim evening is more straightforward. It rehashes the story of the Megillah, and contains no explicit calls for vengeance, although it does offer a curse to the villains of the Megillah. The first ten verses of the alphabetically arranged piyyut describe the threat of Haman. At the letter chaf, we are introduced to Mordechai, who declared a fast to atone for the sins leading to the threat. With the letter nun, we are introduced to Esther, called Hadassah: a sprout who sprouted from the lulav (a play on words of the name Hadassah and the hadas branch of the Arba Minim). With the letter peh, the lot (pur) turned into our Purim.

The final two verses, Shoshanat Yaakov, are chanted both at night and in the morning. The Jews were glad when they saw Mordechai dressed in blue robes. Gd was their salvation, Who destroyed our enemies. The piyyut ends with a curse of Haman and his wife Zeresh, and blessing for Mordechai and Esther. Ḥarvonah, who suggested to Aḥashverosh just at the right moment that Haman be hanged, is also to be remembered in a positive light.

It is unclear why the main part of the piyyut is omitted in the morning. I conjecture that in the evening, we feel it appropriate to rehash the threat of destruction even after the Megillah reading, as we will be reading the Megillah again in the morning. One of the reasons given for the reading of the Megillah at night and in the morning is that we call out to Gd at night, and as our prayers were not answered, we call out again in the day. After concluding the Megillah reading in the morning, we may not feel it appropriate to rehash the threat of destruction once again, but rather go directly to the jubilation of the salvation.

Many upbeat tunes exist for Shoshanat Yaakov [64].

 

 

ENDNOTES

46. The Silverman Siddur of the Conservative Movement (see endnote 23) includes Tefillat Geshem and Tal as part of the repetition of the Amida, but curiously omits the two opening paragraphs. This seems to be a blend between the Diaspora custom and the Israeli custom. The logic for this is unclear. There is nothing in the two opening paragraphs of either Geshem or Tal that would pose a theological difficulty to Conservative Judaism. Perhaps this was an effort to shorten the service by a few minutes. Nothing is to be derived from the Silverman Siddur, of course, but it is nevertheless interesting to see how it deals with these piyyutim.

47. It is unclear why there is no Reshut formula for Tefillat Geshem. In a sense, both Tal and Geshem are Kerovot, as they are additions to the early part of the repetition of the Amida, although they are not officially classified as such. (The simple style of Kerovot, such as the Krovetz of Purim, the Kerovot of Tisha B’Av and the Musaf Shivatot of the four Parshiyot also do not begin with a Reshut.) My conjecture is that on the first day of Pesaḥ, this is the first interruption of the repetition of the Amida since Tefillat Geshem six months earlier (with the sole exception of Krovetz on Purim). Therefore, the prayer leader is expected to feel some trepidation upon deviating from the normal formula of the Amida. On Shemini Atzeret, however, there have already been nine such Kerovot interruptions over the previous three weeks, and such an interruption is therefore not out of the ordinary.

48. Although Kiryat Sefer is a city in Israel, the identity and origins of Rabbi Eleazar HaKalir remain mysteries. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleazar_ben_Kalir for a discussion on the possibilities of the identity of Kiryat Sefer.

49. MiSinai tunes are not literally from Sinai. The term is used to describe their ancient origin. Encyclopedia Judaica identifies nine MiSinai tunes, mainly from the Yamim Noraim, but also including Tal and Geshem. For more information, see https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mi-sinai-niggunim  . The following article on the OK website mentions that there are 52 Misinai melodies: https://www.ok.org/kosherspirit/fall-2009/kosher-music/

50. For the traditional (MiSinai melody) nusaḥ of Tal and Geshem: http://www.virtualcantor.com/geshemtal.htm

A stirring rendition of the first four verses of the six-verse piyyut of Tal (starting with Tal Tein)  by the famed Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt accompanied by his brother-in-law Cantor Meilech Kauffman  (Incidentally, this is one of my favourite cantorial pieces.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpPXpInfCUQ

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt singing the six-verse piyyut of Geshem (starting with Zechor Av): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYLgromNzkk

On occasions where I have served as the prayer leader for Tal or Geshem, after transitioning out of the MiSinai portion at the beginning of the six-verse piyyut, I use the Modzitz Niggun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wlNV3AbRtc  (I also use this Niggun for Yaaleh Taḥanuneinu on Yom Kippur evening.)  Tracks 258 and 259 of the virtualcantor link above also use the Modzitz Niggun.

51. See https://www.ou.org/life/torah/masechet_megillah2329/ for a description of the role of the meturgeman. The practice of line by line translation of the Biblical readings has fallen into disuse, other than in the Yemenite custom.

52. See https://www.sefaria.org/person/Meir%20ben%20Yitzhak%20

53. Here is a rendition of Akdamut in the traditional melody: http://www.virtualcantor.com/Akdamut.mp3

54. I have not been able to find many recordings of Yetziv Pitgam online. Here is one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHTVXSlDy-c    When I chant Yetziv Pitgam, I alternate the lower and higher melody every two verses, resulting in a repeating pattern of four verses – rather than how it is done on this recording, which repeats every two verses.

55. See https://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/836261/davida-kollmar/the-minhag-of-reciting-yetziv-pitgam/  

https://www.ou.org/holidays/code-of-akdamut-and-yatziv-pisgam/

56. Here is a fine musical rendition of Kah Keili: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJHsaxhc5DQ . Here are two more renditions of Kah Keili (the first of which is the one I use when I serve as Shliach Tzibur for Musaf on Yom Tov): https://www.hadar.org/tefillah-element/f-mr-yah-eili-vgoali  (Caveat: my inclusion of this link does not imply that I support the mission statement or customs of Kehillat Hadar).

57. I instituted the recitation of this piyyut in my small synagogue when I led the Maariv service of Rosh Hashanah in 2008. Exactly one week previous, I had a cancerous thyroid removed. This was also the period of the great stock market crash of 2008, when our notions of financial stability underwent a major shake-up. That year, “Who shall live and who shall die”, as well as “Who shall become impoverished and who shall become wealthy” from Unetane Tokef fluttered quite literally before my very being as I was about to intone the sacred melody of Barchu of the Yamim Noraim, ushering in what was to hopefully be a better year for myself, and for all of Israel.

58. For various renditions of Aḥot Ketana (all Sephardic): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjAmy1dxgqw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P17ZACMOeQ8

59. The Seven Shepherds are based on Micha 5:4. They are considered to be the same historical individuals as the seven Ushpizin on Sukkot: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

60. See https://www.thetorah.com/article/maoz-tzur-and-the-end-of-christianity

61. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma%27oz_Tzur   This Wikipedia article also notes the anti-Christian polemic of the sixth verse, as does https://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/18019

62. See https://www.sefaria.org/Siddur_Sefard%2C_Chanuka%2C_Menorah_Lighting.18?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

63. The traditional melody of Maoz Tzur: https://www.chabad.org/multimedia/music_cdo/aid/104615/jewish/Maoz-Tzur.htm

A Sephardic rendition, in which one can hear echoes of the traditional melody, especially in the latter part of each verse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6ByJHOhVUQ

Another Sephardic rendition, which does not sound like the traditional melody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79N5dBRuyik

64. A selection of melodies for Shoshanat Yaakov:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jE3HuY7BnJI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcP7u-8N4KY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ochb_fXAQ3I   (Modzitz)

 

 © 2020 by Jerrold Landau