Aleinu L’Shabeiyach: “Our Duty” — Mission Statement or Afterthought?

Aleinu L’Shabeiyach: “Our Duty” — Mission Statement or Afterthought?

by Moshe Burt

This Chabura is dedicated to my Dad, Me’ir ben Shabtai HaKohen, Of Blessed Memory upon his first Yarhtzeit, and to my Mother, Chaya bat Zalman HaKohen, Of Blessed Memory whose third Yarhtzeit is on Isru Chag Pesach.

I want to express Hakarat HaTov to Rabbi Yechiel Nussbaum for facilitating my gaining deeper understanding of Aleinu, Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson for providing Rabbi Yechiel Nussbaum and I with R’Shimshon Pincus’ sefer on Tefillah; Nefesh Shimshon to learn, Rabbi Malinowitz, and to Jonathan Wachtel who turned me on to the sefer, “The Power of Aleinu” by Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit of Yeshivat Birkat HaTorah.

First, a Hagdama: Over the years, it bothered me when kehillot where I’ve been in Chutz L’Aretz would fly through Aleinu and go into Kaddish while I was huffin’ and puffin’ through the first paragraph trying to pronounce each word of the tefillot and having to interrupt recitation of Aleinu in order to say “Amen” and “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” It felt to me, psychologically, that speed was the norm and made me wonder whether there was something wrong with me, that my mind and mouth couldn’t move fast enough to complete Aleinu with the rest of the kehillah.

But, then after making aliyah, I looked around and saw that there were numbers of others, like me who struggled with the speed with which many a shaliach tzibbor would complete Aleinu and go into Kaddish.

A few weeks ago, Mutti Frankel gave a Chabura from which I cite pertinent points here, as imitation, or in this case, repetition of another’s p’shat seems the sincerest form of flattery:

In Mitzrayim, B’nei Yisrael sunk to an extremely low level of ruchniyous and sense of self as a nation and as individuals. They were so mired in Shibud Mitzrayim that they could not even formulate a coherent Tefillah. All they could do is scream out to Hashem from anguish and pain.

For each of us, as the Yomim Norayim become a faint memory, we find ourselves in our rush for work, family obligations, etc. more distant from Hashem than we’d like to be.

It is critical to realize that Kedusha, coming closer to Hashem is not just a dream, but is an achievable goal for anyone and everyone viewing it as an important life’s mission — on par with learning Torah, doing Mitzvot and Chesed — and who makes a sincere effort to succeed in the mission of being a Kadosh.

So, referring back to Mutti’s Chabura regarding Kedusha, it occurs to me: if Tefillah with intent as an achievable goal for anyone and everyone who view it as an important life’s mission, Chaval Chomeir to say Aleinu with intent, each word said clearly, rather than rushed or slurred robotically at the speed of light in order to finish both paragraphs in 30-45 seconds.

A number of years ago, Rabbi Ari Enkin came out with his first sefer, a Halacha Sefer ”Daled Amos.” Rabbi Enkin makes this compelling statement regarding Aleinu in his Halacha Sefer (”Daled Amos” page 24):

I have heard interpretations that the entire prayer service is simply one gigantic preparation for the recitation of Aleinu.

Rabbi Enkin then includes a reference footnote to the Mishne Berura 132:8A where the Rama tells us:

Say “Aleinu L’Shabeiyach” while standing after tefillah and be careful to daven it with kavanah.

R’ Enkin echos The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which states in Chapter 25, point 6:

…We say the prayer Aleinu L’Shabeiyach (it is our duty to praise) and this should be said with great awe and reverence. This prayer was instituted by Yehoshua upon the conquest of Yericho.

Aleinu L’Shabeiyach: The verbalization of OUR Chiyuv — our obligation as Jews to praise and glorify Hashem’s name. Aleinu is the most often said, the most repetitious and unchangeable tefillah, yet seemingly, the least respected of all of our tefillot. Many have heard me refer to “”the break-neck speed of an Arnoldis Chapman 100 plus mph fastball” — Is it even remotely possible to ever focus on the meanings of Aleinu: that Yehoshua davened it as the Jews encircled Yericho once each day and seven times on Shabbos, while the Kohanim blew their Shofars until Yericho’s walls fell in heaps (paraphrasing Navi, Yehoshua, Perek 6, posukim 3-5), not to mention Aleinu’s second paragragh: Achan’s Teshuvah after having violated the ban on taking spoils?

R’ Mordechai Katz provides a jaw-dropping comment and citation in his sefer “L’lmode U’lamed (page 136):

It is sad but true that we have become so used to many of our activities that we perform them mechanically, without any feelings whatsoever. This is why our Tefillos sometimes [?] become exercises in reading Hebrew rather than emotional communications with Hashem.

“Prayer without devotion is like a body without a soul.” (Yeshuos Meshilo)

The warp speed described above seems to relate to what R’ Pliskin writes in his sefer:“Growth Through Torah”, regarding Parsha Beha’aloscha (page 318):

…After doing the same thing over and over, people get bored… In order to accomplish anything, one needs to master the ability of sustaining enthusiasm…. as if it were the first time.

From where and from whom did the impetus come for Rabbi Enkin’s compelling statement: “the entire prayer service is simply one gigantic preparation for the recitation of Aleinu”? R’Shimshon Pincus, who asks a startling question in his well-known and oft-referenced sefer on Tefillah; Nefesh Shimshon, as well as other sources, provide jaw-dropping citings, some of which are para-phrased here and give clues to back Rabbi Enkin’s compelling statement:

1/ R’ Pincus cites a responsa of the Gaonim from sometime between 500 to 1,000 CE where someone asks:

How is it possible that Aleinu is said in Chutz L’Aretz? Such a high-level tefillah shouldn’t be permitted to be davened except in a place close to Hashem, Yehoshua only davened Aleinu upon entering Eretz Yisrael.

From this question, we see the specialness of Aleinu — that on no other tefillah is such a question asked.

There must be something great, mighty and elevated in Aleinu which Gaonim felt can’t be appreciated in any other locale. This testifies to the deep and special meaning of Aleinu.

2/ R’Pincus cites the Gry’z Z’l as noting that the whole power of the Yetzer Hora and its troops on the human mind is through the imagination, convincing man that he (man) is in control.

If only man would say with vigor and strength that… [all that the Yetzer Hora has convinced man of man’s control of] are Hevel V’rik — vanity and emptiness and that there is nothing real in them, he (man) would then find it easier to recognize that… Hashem Keilokim — that there is nothing else. Afterwards, Satan would not have power to mess with man’s mind because man realizes that everything is dependent upon Him [Hashem].

R’Pincus brings as Aleinu’s purpose that it reinforces the feeling of the Jew, as he leaves tefillot, that he is totally dependent upon Hashem.

3/ Another Sefer, L’David Shiur by Asher Elbaz seems to answer R’Pincus’ citing from Gaonim responsa citing R’Hai Gaon which indicates that by those in Chutz L’Aretz aiming their tefillahs toward Israel and toward the Beit HaMikdash, the Jewish world’s tefillahs rise to Shemayim from the Mikdash.

4/ Sefer L’David Shiur cites the Rokeach who notes that Yehoshua Ben Nun repeated Aleinu on his knees in awe and in a loud voice in a tune which makes the heart rejoice. Therefore, a person should have kavanah to sing Aleinu with all of his might to his Creator. [Can this be done at break-neck speed?]

5/ Sefer L’David Shiur cites the Chida which says to say Aleinu word-by-word [seemingly obvious to not slur or mumble-jumble them] because it is a very awesome praise full of very high secrets.

6/ L’David Shiur also cites the M’Chazik Bracha (Koof, Lamed, Bet) which indicates that there is no other praise to our Creator like Aleinu and that it is higher than all of the praises in the world.

Many people don’t seem to realize, or they seem to discount, that Aleinu is an integral part of Our Service — Our individual and collective Divine Service. It’s Our chance to emulate Aaron HaKohen and pray for the world to cleave to Hashem — the Creator of the world and all that is in it..

So how can we — myself and others, who struggle with completion of such a Holy Tefillah as Aleinu due to our intent, as well as lack of ability to pronounce rapid-fire; how can we not feel totally uncomfortable, awkward and, somehow lacking in Kavod for Hashem, when having to interrupt Aleinu to say “Amen” and “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” due to the Shaliach Tzibbor’s sub-one minute recitation. Quite a dilemma, it seems — expressing Kavod that Hashem Keilokim — that there is nothing else, that one is totally dependent upon Hashem and then having to interrupt that Kavod to say “Amen” and “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” [May His Great Name] with the “enormous cosmic effect” of these words (citing the Artscroll Siddur commentaries on Kaddish), because the Shaliach Tzibbor blew through Aleinu at mach 1 speed.

I’ve had people suggest to me to either say Aleinu Yechidut, after Kaddish, in order to avoid it’s preemption — but that also seems uncomfortable, seemly lacking appropriate kavod for Hashem. But I’ve understood that Halacha is that when with a Kehillah, one must recite Aleinu with the Kehillah.

Shouldn’t B’nai Yisrael always treat Aleinu, and for that matter, all designated tefillot with the same degree of seriousness and relentlessness to which Aaron HaKohen treated his daily service, as well as his pursuit and performance of Mitzvot; to the same degree to which Kohanim and Levi’im throughout our generations treated their respective service, with or without the Beit HaMikdash??

The tefillah of Aleinu, having been blown through for generations in the mad-dash to be through with it, seems to me the paradigm Eikev Mitzvah. But more than that, might there be, in some circles, a certain arrogance or macho, a certain disregard for one’s fellows: those who for deeper concentration and spiritual reasons, as well as for pronounciation purposes, cannot finish Aleinu at break-neck speed? And what messages does break-neck speed send to Hashem? And, as I have asked in the past; does such speed not disrespect a significant segment of our brethren as well as showing Hashem insufficient honor and sincerity?

Isn’t it time to turn off the automatic-pilot?

Thinking back, I recall a Shabbos Drash a few years ago by Rav Chaim Zev Malinowitz, Shlita, just before Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av. In that Drash, R’ Malinowitz noted: that we’ve got to feel the void of being without, and feel the need for the Beit HaMikdash. He suggested that we say and internalize daily the Parsha of The Tamid Offering. He equated The Tamid Offering with Sh’ma Yisrael. And he equated the second paragraph of Aleinu with the “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” — “May His great Name” of the Kaddish.

The Artscroll siddur (page 56 in Nusach Sefard edition) explains that:

“Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” has an enormous cosmic effect…. Halacha states… respond[ing] to Kaddish takes precedence over… respond[ing] to any other prayer, even Kedusha or Borchu. (Mishne Breurah 56:6)

The Talmud (Shabbos 19) teaches that one must respond “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” with… his total concentration (Rashi, Tosafos).

And so, Rav Malinowitz connected the second paragraph of Aleinu: the “Al Kein N’kaveh L’cha” — which we learn was the prayer of Teshuvah uttered by Achan, who violated Hashem’s ban on taking spoils from Yericho [Holy to Hashem and pegged for Mishkan Treasury (The Living Nach, Early Prophets, pages 17-18)], he connected the second paragraph to the “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” of Kaddish. Just an additional note here: We learn that the first three letters of the paragraph “Al Kein N’kaveh” — Ayin Kaf [or Khaf] Nun — spell out Achan’s name.

He cited as an example; someone who acquired a property and enters the bank to apply for a loan to start up a business on the property. If the applicant has no formalized written business plan, only the spoken word with no facts and figures to back it up, he’s rejected out-of-hand. But with a formal business plan, architectural plans, etc, his loan request has a chance of being satisfied.

So it would seem that “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah…” — “May His Great Name be blessed forever and ever” stands as the mission statement of the “business plan” of B’nei Yisrael, whereas the second paragraph of Aleinu: the “Al Kein N’kaveh L’cha”: “Therefore, we put our hope in You, Hashem…” is the nuts and bolts, the details, the achitectural drawings, etc. of making the “business plan” a reality, making it happen. The second paragraph of Aleinu, rather than being an overlooked, ignored or mumbled afterthought, seems the justification behind B’nei Yisrael’s pleas to Hashem to bring us the Ge’ula Shlaima and to restore our Beit Hamikdash and the actualization of our Mishkan, our Menorah and our daily offerings.

Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit of Yeshivat Birkat HaTorah, in his sefer, “The Power of Aleinu”, based on The Abudraham, discusses the deep meanings of each posuk of Aleinu. I hold that this sefer belongs being among the s’forim on the shelves of EVERY Observant home and Orthodox Shul (even Chabad).

Rabbi Wegbreit wrote in the forward to his sefer (page 23):

I am not aware of any other single prayer that… enables you to fulfill a total of 30 mitzvot d’Oraisa (Torah Commandments). These mitzvot include two of the Ten Commandments, and all of them are fundamental components of our faith and existence as Jewish people. And since reward for the fulfillment of just a single Torah mitzvah is limitless, think what you can accomplish every time you recite Aleinu in a proper manner.

It is clear that the general public is not aware of this…, as most of the time they breeze through these holy words while rushing out of shul.

R’ Wegbreit goes further noting on Aleinu’s 2nd paragraph (page 100):

If we’re preoccupied with our daily concerns, apathetic to Hashem restoring His Divine Presence, and we mindlessly mumble words asking for the Redemption without meaning it, we will witness a “mundane” Redemption — i.e., through political and technological developments. But if we pray for the Redemption as is mentioned in our daily prayers, including Aleinu, with great fervor on a persistent basis, and if we put our emotions into them and actually, sincerely “hope to Hashem,” we can trigger an extremely miraculous Redemption — full of stunning events that will be far beyond those that took place during Yetziyot Mitzrayim.

R’ Wegbreit then summarizes (page 101):

Given our unique relationship with Hashem and our vantage point in the world, we can use the powerful tool of hope to encourage Hashem to incline toward our prayers and redeem us in a spectacular fashion.

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