|Return to Home Page|
The style of Aleinu is that of the early piyyut, a composition of short lines, each comprising about four words, with a marked rhythm and parallelism.
For many years, this prayer has been the concluding prayer of all the services.21 One reason for this is that during our prayer we have asked for the downfall of the wicked. We therefore conclude with two requests (a) to see the greatness of the Almighty, and (b) that G-d should not destroy sinners, rather their sin; wicked people are also creations of G-d, and even they have a chance to repent and become righteous.
So great is the importance of this prayer, Jewish law requires that when it is recited in the synagogue everyone present should join in, even one who has already said it, or one who just walked into the synagogue.22
Aleinu is included in the Amidah Prayer of both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. During Aleinu, in the cantor's repetition of the Amidah, the congregation prostrates themselves, one of the only times that prostration is done during the entire year.
The ark is opened at Aleinu on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in order to emphasize the importance of the prayer, so that it will be recited the entire year with great devotion.23 The ark is closed at "He has not assigned us a portion like theirs," and reopened at "but we bend the knee..." Because it was the ritual of heathen cults to worship on stone floors,24 the rabbis decreed that all synagogue floors be covered when kneeling. Some spread straw, green leaves, a cloth, or the Tallis between their face and the floor. The Sheli'ach Tzibbur (cantor) must be particularly careful to avoid any movement of his feet when pros trating himself. It is therefore suggested that he should take a position a few paces away from his desk at the outset of the She'monah Esrei. Another suggestion is that he place a Shtender (stand) in front of the desk and remove it before prostrating himself. The reader is assisted as he rises by those who stand near him.25 He then concludes "Before the King of kings..." and the ark is closed.
Aleinu should be said standing, as is hinted to in the opening word - Aleinu. The numerical value of the word Aleinu (166), has the same numeric value as um'umod (standing).26 The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch says that since it is a declaration of faith and an act of witnessing G-d, it is said in a standing position with great fear and awe.27
One should be very scrupulous when saying this prayer, for G-d and the angels on high are listening and answering his prayer. Additionally, it is a protection against plagues and from fear and danger.28
The Ari Zal required that Aleinu be said even after Minchah, although the congregants would remain in the Synagogue for Maariv, for which the Aleinu is also the concluding prayer.
The Talmud,29 relates that the Tanna R' Meir would pray for punishment of those who wronged him. In his prayer, he actually asked for the downfall of these people. His wife Berura, however, admonished him, saying that he should not pray for the end of the wicked people, rather the end of their sins, for the end of sin automatically means the end of sinners. R' Meir, realizing the truth of her words, changed his prayer, and prayed for the end of sin, and it has been said that indeed his generation was one free of sin.30
One who recites the prayer of Aleinu is testifying to G-d's oneness. In the prayer of Shema Yisroel,31 (Hear O' Israel), the two letters which are written larger than the others, Ayin and Dalet, form the word "ayde" (witness), meaning that when one says the Shema he is a witness that G-d is One. Similarly, in the prayer of Aleinu, the first and last letters are Ayin and Dalet, (spelling out the word "ayde"), so that when one recites the prayer of Aleinu he is a witness that G-d is One.32
It is customary to recite Aleinu at the end of Kiddush Levanah and after a Bris Milah. On Kiddush Levanah, the Mishnah Berurah points out "Lest people think that we worship the moon when we joyously go out to greet it." We recite this prayer, which closes with "ein od," saying that the L-rd is G-d, in the heavens above and upon the earth below, there is nothing else.33 Reciting it at the conclusion of a Bris Milah is to signify that the youngster is no longer "k'goyay ha'aratzos" (Like the nations of the world), but has entered the covenant of the Jewish people.34
Another reason for reciting Aleinu as the concluding prayer is that after the service one may become complacent, thinking that he is perfect and without sin, since he has praised G-d at such length and with such enthusiasm. Aleinu reminds him that he is merely a creation, and in comparison to the Holy One Blessed be He, he is as nothing.
|Return to Home Page|