Kosher Bookworm: Aleinu – The power of one word

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In his preface to this week’s review selection, “The Power of Aleinu” by Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit [Judaica Press, 2011], Rabbi Yisrael Reisman stated that, “It is the custom of Klal Yisrael to recite Aleinu in the middle of the Shemonah Esrei on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“Given that there is no mention of either teshuvah -- repentance, or shofar in the language of Aleinu, this certainly requires an explanation.” A close reading of Rabbi Reisman’s essay will demonstrate the wisdom and foresight of the inclusion of Aleinu as a centerpiece of the high holiday liturgy.

This opening statement by Rabbi Reisman underlines the timeliness of the publication at this time of year of this scholarly, yet most user- friendly analysis of what is the most recited liturgical work of our faith.

In this book, Rabbi Wegbreit of Yeshiva Birkas HaTorah in Jerusalem, has brought forth a method of analysis that will serve as the model for prayer text analysis for all future commentary on the Jewish liturgy. The method is deceptively very simple, yet upon closer reading it will be noted that the text as well as commentary are both equally well served by this method.

Just about each word and phrase is given a detailed translation, and the commentary is based upon the classic work of the Abudrahan. With the use of this commentary Rabbi Wegbreit notes that one phrase of Aleinu flows seamlessly into the next thus creating an amazing image of the spiritual history that will culminate in the miraculous “End of Days”.

The organization of this work includes a recognition that this prayer follows upon four primary mitzvos:

Anochi – the belief in G-d ‘s existence

Do not believe in other gods

Yichud Hashem – G-d’s oneness

Do not forget Sinai

These mitzvos that sourced in each chapter of this work, relate each to the relevant prayer text. This helps serve to further the meaningfulness of the text in both the heart and mind of the worshiper thus expanding both the meaning and understanding of this prayer.

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