The Music of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah: Part II
By Cantor Hayley Kobilinsky
Anyone who has attended an Oneg Shabbat will likely notice that the prayer over the wine, the Kiddush, is significantly longer than the brief “one-liner,” “borei p’ri hagafen,” said on other days of the week. I routinely see our young people eagerly awaiting the sweet taste of their thimble-full of grape juice and then stopping themselves just in the nick of time, because the cantor is still singing! The Kiddush is one of my favorite moments every Friday night not just because of the excitement on those children’s faces, but because of the way in which we make something ordinary into something holy. The Friday evening Kiddush, with its extended paragraph specifying the gift of Shabbat, makes what is already holy into something even holier. It makes that sip of wine sweeter, more important, more meaningful – all because we have it on Shabbat. It is no surprise that the High Holy Days would also highlight the theme of holiness, and would use a related term for that prayer, from the same three-letter root as Kiddush: K-D-SH, or “holy.”
The third benediction of the Amidah, the central portion of every prayer service said while standing, is on the theme of holiness, typically called the Kedushat HaShem (Holiness of God’s Name). This benediction has variants, traditionally depending upon whether one is praying alone or in a group, and, on the High Holy Days, receives a minor textual change referring to God instead as Sovereign Ruler. Like much of Jewish liturgy, changes occur depending on what day, or even time of day it is, and the High Holy Days are no exception. Thus on the High Holy Days, the Kedushat HaShem includes several insertions, all of which begin with “Uv’chein tein” (Therefore grant). One Chassidic melody is used with slight variations for each of the “Uv’chein” paragraphs arranged by contemporary Jewish composer Ben Steinberg. The following example, “Uv’chein tein kavod,” asks God to grant us honor, glory, hope, and joy (LISTEN). The “Uv’chein” additions muse on the theme of God’s sovereignty, but the importance of the holiday itself is given a special additional benediction, also using the term for holiness, the Kedushat HaYom (Holiness of this Day).
In my previous article about the music of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah, I referred to the Kedushat HaYom being extended not only in its function of musing on holiness, but also to replace thirteen other petitionary benedictions. (These omitted benedictions traditionally include prayers for granting us knowledge, helping us stay true to Torah, service, and repentance, forgiving our misdeeds, redeeming us, healing us, bringing us sustenance, gathering the exiled, judging us in fairness, and protecting us from harm at the hands of enemies.) Just as the Kiddush for Shabbat is appended with words about Shabbat, the spot for Kedushat HaYom on the High Holy Days is given extensions that are specific to the nature of the day. On Rosh Hashanah morning, the Kedushat HaYom consists of four separate paragraphs: 1. Atah v’Chartanu, 2. Ya’aleh v’Yavo, 3. M’loch, and 4. Kadsheinu b’Mitzvotecha. Examples of musical settings of these paragraphs include traditional examples of davvening and more contemporary examples. The words are often expressed using word painting and embellishment to elaborate on the themes, and may use word repetition, instrumentation, and multiple voices.
- Atah v’Chartanu gives thanks for our festivals, and notes Rosh Hashanah as the day on which the shofar is sounded. Listen for the three times that holiness is mentioned by the text (“v’kidashtanu,” “v’hakadosh,” and “kodesh”), and how differently the melody paints each example depending on its context: v’kidashtanu: God makes us holy through commandments; v’hakadosh: God’s name is holy; kodesh: This Day of Remembrance God gave us is holy. Also note the way in which the word “truah,” (blast) imitates the sound of the shofar (LISTEN).
- Ya’aleh v’Yavo asks for attention and blessing from God, often repeating the word “remember” (with the root Z-KH-R) in various forms (v’yizacheir, zichroneinu, v’zichron, etc.) The traditional High Holy Day nusach is combined with an English interpretation in the following example. It picks up from the middle of the prayer with the Hebrew “Zochreinu, Adonai Eloheinu, Bo l’Tovah” (Remember us, Adonai our God, for happiness), and continues with “This day remember us for well-being…This day bless us with Your nearness…This day help us to live. Amen (LISTEN).”
- M’loch continues the theme of the sovereignty of God. For a change of pace, here is a selection from a very traditional-sounding davvening chazzan (cantor). He sings accompanied by an organ and a second voice joins in harmony to embellish the words: “May every existing being know that You have made the world, may every breathing thing proclaim…” that Adonai is Sovereign (LISTEN).
- Kadsheinu b’Mitzvotecha refers to God sanctifying us with commandments and reminds that God’s words are true and enduring. In this last clip, the words come alive to a melody which could almost be mistaken as a lullabye. “Sanctify us with your commandments and grant us a share in your Torah, satisfy us with your goodness and gladden us with your deliverance (LISTEN).”
You may notice that the K-D-SH root is also at the beginning of Kadsheinu b’Mitzvotecha. We come full circle exploring the nature of holiness in the liturgy of one of our most holy days. It is my hope that my explication of these Hebrew words’ roots has not seemed pedantic in light of the much broader topic at hand. We frequently use the terms and concepts of holiness and remembering, as they are themes which run throughout our Jewish lives. Whether it is singing the Kiddush over wine on Shabbat, or sitting at a Pesach seder reciting and remembering we were slaves in Egypt, we make an effort to connect our modern day to the past. May our texts and our numerous varied melodies continue to remind us to be holy.
Hayley Kobilinsky is Cantor of Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, NY, where she has served for the past eight years. Hayley is also an adjunct professor at the Hebrew Union College’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, and is President of Kol Hazzanim – Westchester Community of Cantors. Hayley recently began assisting in the coordination of Thursdays’ 10 Minutes of Torah.