A review of Machzor Masoret ha-Rav le Rosh ha-Shanah: Rosh Hashanah Machzor with commentary adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by Prof. Lawrence Kaplan
This Machzor is a simply outstanding. It provides an unparalleled way for one to gain a deep and broad and inspiring understanding of the Rosh ha-Shanah tefillot and thereby to experience better the Kedushas HaYom. As well, this Machzor, together with Machzor Masoret ha-Rav le-Yom Kippur, can serve as an unparalleled entrée to the teachings of the Rav in general. Indeed, I can think of no other work of the Rav that can enable the reader to obtain an idea of the Rav’s sheer range and breadth than these two Machzorim.[i] In the section of the Machzor, “Hanhagot ha-Rav” (to be translated as “Practices of the Rav,” not “Customs of the Rav”) we see the Rav both as a posek concerned with fine halakhic details and as a careful textual critic of nussach ha-tefillah. In the Commentary proper we see the Rav moving with sovereign ease from lomdus to hashkhfah or aggadah to derush to close, literarily sophisticated textual readings. Congratulations to the editor, Dr. Arnold Lustiger, the co-editor, Rabbi Michael Taubes, and their entire support staff for rising to the many challenges that editing such a Machzor poses and doing such a superb job.
The following notes are in the form of he`arot. They should not be viewed as criticisms, but rather mainly as supplementary comments and only at times as suggestions for possible improvements. I understand full well that there were many valuable observations of the Rav that the editors simply could not include because of space considerations, and some of my comments may fall into that category. Primarily, then, my observations should be seen as serving the goal of “yagdil Torah ve-ya’adir.”Click here to read more
1. pp. xxvi: “In one of his recorded letters the Rambam draws an analogy between teshuvah, the exodus from sin, and the exodus from Egypt.” The reference here appears to be to the supposed letter of the Rambam to his son. However, the unanimous consensus of Maimonidean scholars - and for excellent reasons - is that this letter is wrongly attributed to the Rambam. See Iggerot ha-Rambam, Vol. 2, edited by Rabbi Yitzhak Shailat, pp. 697-699. The sentence should accordingly be changed to read: “In a letter attributed to the Rambam an analogy is drawn…” The previous sentence should be similarly changed.
2. p. 211: “Whoever sit hidden on high, in the shadow of Shadai he shall dwell” (Ps. 91:1). The Commentary states: “God sometimes appears to ‘sit hidden… in the shadow.’” It is clear from this comment that the Rav understands the verse to mean “The Most High dwells in concealment, Shadai abides in the shadow,” and it should be translated accordingly. Note that the Rav also interprets this verse this way in Halakhic Man, p. 47. Also note, as Prof. Daniel Goldschmidt points out in his critical edition of and commentary on the Rosh ha-Shanah Machzor, p.226, that the phrase “ha-lan be-seter be-tzel, Shadai” in “Ve-khol maaminim” similarly presupposes this interpretation.
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3. pp. 220-221: The Rav there cites the Gemara’s harmonization (Shabbos 118b) of the view that whoever recites Hallel everyday is a blasphemer with the statement of Rabbi Yose “Let my portion be with those who recite (gomrei) Hallel every day.” The Gemara reconciles this apparent contradiction by maintaining that Rabbi Yose was referring to the Hallel of Pesukei de-Zimra as opposed to Hallel Ha-Mitzri. The Rav explains: “The theme of Hallel Ha-Mitzri is the miraculous,… the occasions when the Creator breaks through the processes of nature and temporarily suspends the laws of the physical world… [By contrast] the theme [of the Hallel] of Pesukei de-Zimra is not the miraculous but rather the mundane forces of nature.” The Rav goes on: “If one recites Hallel Ha-Mitzri everyday he is indeed considered a blasphemer because [such] recital daily would suggest that our praise of God is predicated exclusively on His performance of overt miracles… When one truly appreciates that God in nature is His most magnificent possible manifestation on earth he recites Pesukei de-Zimra, reflecting the profound sense of awe that is experienced upon witnessing natural phenomena.”
This is a justifiably famous explanation of the Rav that he made on many occasions and that is to be found in several places in his writings.[ii] I would like to call attention here to a more strictly halakhic analysis to be found in Shi`urim le-Zekher Abba Mari Z”L, Vol.2, “Be-Inyan Pesukei de-Zimra,” pp. 17-18. The Rav there notes that the Hallel of Pesukei de-Zimra simply consists of the recitation of biblical verses, and precisely as such there is no halakhic barrier to its being recited everyday. To use traditional “lomdishe” terminology: Its being recited “be-torat pesukim” is its “mattir.” Hallel ha-Mitzri, however, is not simply a recitation of biblical verses, though its content, indeed, consists of just that. Rather, it is recited as a separate and distinct halakhic entity of Hallel, of shevah, of praise. That this is so is evident from 1) its being preceded by a birkat ha-mitzvah; and 2) its recitation taking the form of the doubling of verses and responsive reading, which would be inappropriate for the simple recitation of biblical verses. It thus requires a halakhic “matter” of Yom Tov or an overt miracle for its recitation and consequently cannot be recited every day. It should be clear that the hashkafic and halakhic explanations complement each other.
4. p. 236: “Zeh Eli ve-anvehu: This is my God and I will l build him a sanctuary.” In the Commentary, ad. loc., we find the Rav citing the comment of Rashi on the Gemara Shabbos 133b, but not the Gemara itself. The Commentary should first cite the Gemara. "`This is my God ve-anvehu’." Abba Shaul states: `I will imitate Him [addameh lo]! As He is merciful and gracious [Ex. 34:6], so you be merciful and gracious!’” It should then cite Rashi, ad. loc., who explains that Abba Shaul interprets anvehu as a compound of ani and hu, I and He, that is, "anvehu = ani ve-hu. Thus Rashi writes: "ani ve-hu: I shall make myself like Him [e`eseh`atzmi kemoto], to cleave unto His ways." In the Commentary the Rav goes on to note:
The obligation to follow in God’s ways, as the Gemara Sotah 14a details, is realized through specific acts of kindness: Just as He clothes the naked, so should you clothe the naked; Just as He visits the sick, so should you visit the sick…. The obligation to “imitate Him,” however, goes beyond these specific actions. The imperative ve-anvehu requires man to be called by the same adjectives that one normally uses to describe God: Just as God is called "merciful," “righteous” and “kind,” so should man be worthy of these descriptions.
The Commentary here refers to Shi`urim le-Zekher Abba Mari Z’L, Vol.2, pp. 170. Actually the Rav there cites three rabbinic statements, and the Commentary here conflates two of them. In addition to citing Shabbos 133b and Sotah 14a the Rav there cites the Sifre on Deut. 11:22: “To walk in all His ways: These are the ways of the Omnipresent: "The Lord ... is merciful and gracious" [Ex. 34:6].... As God is called "merciful," so you be merciful. As God is called "gracious," so you be gracious!” The language of the Rav in the last two sentences of the comment in the Machzor, though referring to Shabbos 133b, is clearly based on the Sifre.
If I might add two related points of my own.: 1) It is worth noting concerning the three above rabbinic passages, that it is Abba Shaul, the only Sage to speak of imitatio Dei proper, and not just of walking in God’s ways or after His attributes, who also makes the most daring comparison between man and God. While Rabbi Hama b. Hanina in the Gemara Sotah 14a speaks about man modeling his actions upon God's actions, and while the Sifre speaks of man acquiring character traits similar to those metaphorically ascribed to God, traits by which God is called, Abba Shaul speaks about man making his character traits similar to those directly predicated of God. (As He is merciful, not as he is called "merciful.") For Abba Shaul, man does not simply walk after attributes metaphorically ascribed to God or in God's ways, but truly makes himself similar to God Himself. 2) It is further worth noting that the Rambam in Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive commandment 8, cites both the Gemara Sotah 14a and the Sifre. By contrast, in the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Moral Dispositions 1:5, he cites only the Sifre, and, on the other hand, at the end of Guide 1:54 - contrary to what all the translators and commentators say—he cites NOT the Sifre but the Gemara Shabbos 133b.[iii]
5. pp. 466-467. “The Rav suggested in the name of his uncle [Rabbi Menahem Krakowski], the author of the Avodas ha-Melekh, that the paragraphs of u-vekhen ten pahdekha and those that follow it constituted the introductory section of Malchuyos for R. Yochanan ben Nuri, recited here as part of the blessing of Kedushas HaShem, in accordance with his view [that the Malchuyos theme must be combined with the blessing of Kedushas HaShem, as opposed to the accepted view of R. Akiva that the Malchuyos theme must be combined with the blessing of Kedushas HaYom].” It must be pointed out that Professor Goldschmidt in the Introduction to his Machzor, p. 20, note 13, has noted that very early in the twentieth century (circa 1910) a number of scholars of liturgy, all independently of another, arrived at this very conclusion.[iv] Professor Goldschmidt goes on to suggest that despite the fact that this conclusion has been accepted by all contemporary scholars of liturgy and is intrinsically very persuasive, it is still only a hypothesis and that there are grounds for assuming that these paragraphs originated from an expanded form of the blessing.
What I wish to emphasize, though, is something else. The Rav goes on to say:
R. Yochanan ben Nuri’s conception of Malchuyos was thus also strikingly different than that of R. Akiva, as these paragraphs portray a more pessimistic vision of man’s redemption. For R. Akiva the idea of Malchuyos is introduced via the paragraph of `al ken nekaveh [see point #7: LK] which contains a much more optimistic vision. These two Tannaim therefore disagreed not only with regard to the technical detail of where Malchuyos must be recited, but in their respective understanding of Malchuyos as well.
Here we have a good example of the unique contribution the Rav has to make to our understanding of the Machzor. He is sensitive to literary-historical findings, but does not stop there. Most of us - and I include myself as well - upon learning of the thesis that that the paragraphs of u-vekhen ten pahdekha and those that follow it constituted the introductory section of malchuyos for R. Yochanan ben Nuri would say to ourselves “How interesting!” and leave it at that. For the Rav, however, literary-historical findings must be pressed into the service of thematic and conceptual understanding. The Rav thus asks in effect “Now that we have preserved for us in our tefillot two versions of Malchuyos, how are we to understand the differences between them thematically and conceptually? Do the two versions reflect different conceptions of how God’s universal Malchus will be realized on this earth?” It is part of the genius of the Rav, whether or not we accept his answers or indeed even his underlying premises, that, approaching the Machzor with a fresh and keen eye and a penetrating, lively, and intellectually and religiously alert mind, he raises precisely such questions.
6. pp. 494-495: “Upad mei-az le-shefet ha-yom,” “[God] is already adorned [in His judicial clothes] for the day’s judgment.” We often cannot truly appreciate the original contribution the Rav makes to our understanding of a particular tefillah or piyyut unless we are familiar with the interpretation he is rejecting. The Rav’s translation and interpretation of the first line cited above of this famous Musaf piyyut of R. El‘azar ha-Kalir is a perfect example of this. In his lectures found in Noraot ha-Rav, Vols. 1 and 15, the Rav rejects the standard translation and understanding of the first line accepted by all translators and commentators. (See, for example, Goldschmidt, p. 157.) According to the standard understanding, the subject of the sentence is “ha-yom,” “this day,” “upad” means “was set apart and designated” – in support of this understanding Goldschmidt cites the Targum on Exod. 29:5—, and “mei-az” means “from the very beginning,” that is, from the day man was created. The line should therefore be translated, and, indeed, up until now has always been translated thus: “This day was designated from the beginning [of creation] for the purpose of judgment.” The Rav argues vigorously against this understanding, first noting that the root “upd” generally does not mean “to designate,” but “to gird.” In further support of his position the Rav points to another Rosh ha-Shanah piyyut, “Ahallelah E-lohai,” where all admit that the root “upd” means “to gird.” (It should be noted that the piyyut “ahallelah Eohai,” is not recited in most synagogues.) He also brings another argument, which we cannot discuss here, to support his view that the subject of this sentence cannot be “ha-yom,” but rather that the sentence’s silent subject must be God. It is striking that this great Rosh Yeshiva whose bread and butter was Shas and Poskim, rishonim and aharonim, whose forte, as everyone knows, was lomdus of the highest order, was willing here to enter into the philological lists, tackle the exceedingly difficult poetry of Ha-Kalir, and boldly oppose the almost overwhelming philological consensus. But what is even more striking is that for the Rav, here as elsewhere, it is the larger idea, underlying the philological details, which is important. R. El‘azar ha-Kalir, for the Rav, was trying through this piyyut to instill in his readers the experience of pahad, of terror and dread, which for the paytan was an essential element of Kedushas HaYom. In accordance with this aim, the thrust of the first sentence of the piyyut, as the Rav explains in the Commentary, is as follows.
Man attempts to suppress all thoughts of judgment, since nothing is more frightening than being placed on trial for one’s actions; man will thus try to reassure himself that judgment day can be deferred. This piyyut admonishes humanity with the message that God is already enrobed, as it were, in His judicial garb. The trial is ready to start; judgment is imminent.
Thus, just as earlier we saw the Rav pressing literary-historical findings into the service of thematic and conceptual understanding connected with Kedushas HaYom, so too he does the same here for literary-philological readings.[v]
This reading of the Rav of the first sentence of this Musaf piyyut of ha-Kalir exemplifies his approach to ha-Kalir’s piyyutim and Kinot in general. As the Rav states in The Lord is Righteous in all His Ways,[vi] pp.139-142,
R. El‘azar ha-Kalir’s piyyutim are a compilation of statements found in Hazal. There is hardly a sentence... that does not reflect halakhot or aggadot of Hazal…For example, his payit on YomTov explain the essence of the day….Those who do not know either Hebrew or aggadot Hazal find ha-Kalir’s piyyutim boring. But they are not boring at all; they are like a gold mine…One purpose of piyyutim then is limud, study. Ha-Kalir’s piyyutim are mini-tractates.
Since tomorrow is Yom Kippur, I would like to digress a bit and offer another example of the Rav’s approach to the piyyutim of ha-Kalir, this example taken from the Yom Kippur liturgy. In Machzor Masoret ha-Rav le-Yom Kippur, pp.544-45, the Rav comments on the fact that ha-Kalir uses three appellations for Yom Kippur, namely, Shabbat Shabbaton, Yom ha-Kippurim, and Tzom he-‘Asor, while the Rambam only uses two, namely, Shevitat ‘Asor and Yom ha-Kippurim. For the Rav, as one would by now expect, this is not merely a difference in literary usage, but reflects two different concepts regarding the multi-faceted nature of the Kedushas HaYom. The Rav then proceeds to brilliantly suggest a striking halakhic consequence that could arise out of the two views. (For further analysis, see Noraot ha-Rav, Vol.6, pp 1-15.) Here I would respectfully maintain that the Rav may be placing more conceptual weight on Ha-Kalir’s literary usage than it can bear. As I noted elsewhere, the reason ha-Kalir used here three appellations for Yom Kippur may simply be because he wanted three different terms for the standard three part Musaf piyyut known as the Kedushta. Thus the first part, “Magen,” “SHoshan Emek Ayumah,” which precedes the blessing of “Magen Avraham,” uses “SHabbat SHabbaton;” the second part, “Mehayeh,” “YOM mi-Yamim,” which precedes the blessing of “Mehayeh ha-Metim,” uses “YOM Kippur; ” while the third part, “Meshulash,” “TZefeh be-vat temusah,” which follows immediately after the blessing of “Mehayeh ha-Metim” uses TZom he-‘Asor.”[vii] Note, particularly, the alliteration, which, in my view, clinches my point. Most of the Rav’s conceptual and halakhic analysis can, in any event, stand independently of his literary observation.
7. Obviously, within the confines of a Commentary one cannot expect that the editors can explain how the Rav’s understanding of “Upad Mei-az,” as reflected in his original translation, differs from the standard understanding. But there is one critical structural issue, where the Rav’s view differs from the standard view, and the Machzor, unfortunately, just muddies the waters.
Where does Malchuyos begin? Most people, if asked, would answer “‘Alenu.” I have the sinking feeling that most of the people who used Machzor Masoret ha-Rav le Rosh ha-Shanah just a few days ago this past Rosh ha-Shanah if asked “Where does Malchuyos begin?” would still answer “‘Alenu.” If one looks at the new Machzor, we find the following. On p. 474 of the Hebrew text of the Musaf Amidah, we find the word “Malchuyos” before ‘Alenu. Similarly, in the English translation on the opposite page, we find the word “Kingship” before “It is our Duty.” The same is true for the text and translation of Hazarat ha-Shatz. See pp. 528 and 529. If, however, we look at the Commentary on p. 534 we find the words “Malchuyos”/“Kingship” before the explication of ‘Al ken nekaveh. It is clear from a careful reading of the Commentary that the Rav believed that Malchuyos begins NOT with ‘Alenu but with ‘Al ken nekaveh. Indeed, as we saw earlier, the Rav on p.467 of the Machzor in explaining the difference between the Malchuyos of R. Akiva and that of R Yochanan ben Nuri states: “For R. Akiva the idea of Malchuyos is introduced via the paragraph of `Al ken nekavah.”
The truth is that the Rav often emphasized in his shi‘urim that, as stated above, Malchuyos begins NOT with ‘Alenu but with ‘Al ken nekaveh. I clearly remember two proofs that he brought to support this point. First, in the Hazrat ha-Shatz the two reshuyyot of the Hazzan preceding Malchuyos\Zichrono \Shofaros: “Heyei `im piviyyot” and “Ohilah la-El” come after ‘Aleu and immediately precede ‘Al ken nekaveh. Second, the format for Malchuyos\Zichronos \Shofaros is the introductory declaration followed by the nine verses. But if ‘Alenu is the beginning of Malchuyos, we have a single verse from the Torah – “”ve–yadata ha-yom” (Deut.4:39) stuck smack in the middle of the introductory section.[viii]
There are three further proofs that one can bring to support the view that Malchuyos begins not with ‘Alenu but with ‘Al ken nekaveh. I am not certain of the origin of these proofs. Did I hear any (or all) of them from the Rav? Did I read any (or all) of them somewhere? Did I arrive at any (or all) of them on my own? Or some mixture of the above? Who knows?
The third proof is that Malchuyos\Zichrono \Shofaros, - indeed, the ‘Amidah as a whole - is in the second person, as befits tefillah which is a dialogue between man and God, while ‘Alenu is in the third person. The fourth proof is that in the Hazarat ha-Shatz of the Musaf Amidah for Yom Kippur ‘Alenu appears unaccompanied by ‘Al ken nekaveh. The fifth proof is that the introductory sections of Malchuyos\Zichrono \Shofaros are declarations of faith.[ix] This is true for ‘Al ken nekaveh , but not for ‘Alenu, which is an act of purer worship.[x]
I would therefore strongly urge that the Editors of the Machzor remove the word
“Malchuyos” from before ‘Alenu in the Hebrew text of both the Musaf Amidah and the Hazarat ha-Shatz and place it before ‘Al ken nekaveh. Similarly, in the English translation of both the Musaf Amidah and the Hazarat ha-Shatz they should remove the word “Kingship” before “It is our Duty” and place it before “Therefore we put hope in you.” I realize that the Hebrew text of the Machzor is the standard Art Scroll text and not the text of the Rav. But this is a structural and interpretive matter, not a textual one. I would further note that in Prof. Goldschmidt’s Machzor the word Malchuyos precedes ‘Al ken nekaveh. In addition, in the Commentary the position of the Rav on this issue should be stated in clear and no uncertain terms.[xi]
With this I have come to the end of my observations. I must state that I have studied neither the Machzor nor the primary material upon which the Commentary draws particularly thoroughly, and no doubt there is much more to be said. But to conclude for the meanwhile, I would like to vary the comment of R. Yose: “Yehi helki mi-gomrei Machzorim elu be-khol shanah ve-shanah.”
[i] The only rival is The Lord is Righteous in all His Ways: Reflections on the Tish‘ah be-Av Kinot, edited by Rabbi J. J. Schacter, consisting of edited transcriptions of the almost day long talks that the Rav gave over the course of many years on Tish‘ah be-Av at the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass. After Shaharit the Rav would first deliver a shi‘ur for about an hour on themes relevant to Tish‘ah be-Av. This would be followed by the recital of kinot, accompanied by extended commentaries of the Rav. This special blend of recitation and learning would continue for many hours.
[ii] For references to other explanations, see the Encyclopedia Talmudit article on Hallel.
[iii] This is not the place to discuss the significance of these citational shifts.
[iv] Indeed, in Noraot HaRav, Vol.6, p.277 the Rav attributes this view to “several commentators.’’ The editor of Noraot HaRav, David Schreiber, observes in a footnote that on other occasions the Rav attributed this view to his uncle. It seems clear that the Rav first heard this view from his uncle, but was very well aware that it was a popular and widely held scholarly view.
[v] One may, however, with due respect to the brilliance and literary insight of the Rav, argue that the standard understanding and translation of the first sentence of this piyyut is more convincing than the novel suggestion of the Rav. First, the standard reading seems to fit in better with the overall theme of the piyyut of man’s being created, judged, and spared on this day. Moreover, the word ”az” in the first sentence, contrary to the Rav, seems to refer to the day of creation. See, for example, the piyyut ”Az mei-az,” to be found in Goldschmidt, p. 127.(This piyyut is not to be found in the standard Machzorim.) This is a complex issue, and I leave it to scholars of piyyut, to which class I most definitely do NOT belong, to adjudicate the competing claims.
[vi] See note 1.
[vii] For a discussion of these three parts of the kedushta, see Goldschmidt’s Introduction, p. 33.
[viii] It is worth noting, however, as Prof. Goldschmidt points out in the Introduction to his Machzor, p. 29, note 10, that according to the Tosefta Rosh ha-Shanah 2:11 this verse was chosen for Malchuyos by R. Yose.
[ix] Thus the Rav on p. 467 and again on pp.469-470 emphasizes that if we accept the view that the paragraphs of u-vekhen ten pahdekha and those that follow it constituted the introductory section of Malchuyos for R. Yochanan ben Nuri, these paragraphs “are not requests but declarations of belief.” Indeed, we may argue that the fact that these paragraphs seem to be more in the nature of requests and not declarations of belief would tend to support the suggestion of Prof. Goldschmidt that these paragraphs simply originated from an expanded form of the blessing.
[x] Prof. Goldschmidt in the Introduction to his Machzor, p.29, similarly argues that only the paragraph ‘Al ken nekaveh is fitting for the introductory paragraph of Malchuyos. He further suggests in note 10 that perhaps the paragraph originally began with “U-ve-kehn nekaveh.”
[xi] In a private conversation, however, David Schreiber - the Editor of Noraot HaRav to whom all the students of Torat HaRav owe such a great debt of gratitude - informed me that in one shi‘ur the Rav stated that he was undecided as to whether Malchuyos begins with ‘Alenu or ‘Al ken nekaveh. Well, perhaps on one occasion the Rav wavered. All I can say is that the overwhelming evidence is that the Rav’s position on this issue was as I have stated. Schreiber further told me that the Rav in a typically brilliant halakhic hiddush suggested a “nafka mina” between the two views according to the position of R. Yochanan ben Nuri who maintains that Malchuyos is recited in Kedushas HaShem and not in Kedushas HaYom. If ‘Alenu is an integral part of the Malcuhyos of Kedushas Hayom, then according to him we would not recite ‘Alenu in Kedushas HaYom, since one does not recite Malchuyos in Kedushas HaYom. But if ‘Alenu is not an integral part of the Malcuhyos of Kedushas Hayom, then according to him we would recite ‘Alenu in Kedushas HaYom, even though one does not recite Malchuyos in Kedushas HaYom. In point of fact, as I already noted, we recite ‘Alenu in the Hazarat ha-Shatz of the Musaf ‘Amidah of Yom Kippur unaccompanied by ‘Al ken nekaveh.