Enhancing the Amidah

A selection of piyyutim from the Rosh Hashanah Amidah

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Several additional piyyutim are inserted into the third blessing of the Amidah, the Kedushah. This blessing calls on Israel to imitate the mystic utterances of the angels in their praise of God and was an inspiration for further poetic exegesis:

Ata hu eloheinu (You are our God) is attributed to [Eleazar] Kalir [probably late sixth century, Israel] and is a clear example of his simple, concise poetic style. The piyyut goes through the alphabet, quoting short biblical phrases that describe and praise God. Interestingly enough, this poem is not specific to the New Year and mentions none of the special themes of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. In fact, it would be equally suitable for any Kedushah.

The following piyyut, Tair ve‑tari'a (rouse Yourself and sound the shofar), was also written by Kalir and is in the form of an acrostic that spells out his name. Although the theme of kingship is prominent here, this piyyut introduces a new idea: this is the moment for God to sound the shofar, the signal for freedom, and to overthrow the enemies of Israel, who destroyed Jerusalem and Judea and exiled the people of Israel. This nationalistic tone is a departure from the older, more basic concepts embodied in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy; it expresses a preoccupation with the status of the Jewish people following the destruction of the Second Temple. For Kalir, a poet living in the Land of Israel, this issue must have been particularly pressing, and he writes about the destruction of Jerusalem and the adversaries whose hands were all powerful, calling upon God to respond: "Rouse Yourself and sound the shofar to destroy all the forces of evil. Be sanctified by those who know how to sound the shofar, Holy One."

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the poem U‑vekhen va‑Adonai pakad et Sarah (and the Lord visited Sarah) is recited instead. It was written by Rabbi Simeon of Mainz and is based on the biblical reading for Rosh Hashanah concerning Sarah's miraculous conception of Isaac (Gen. 21:1). The poet asks that, just as God visited Sarah, so should God visit her descendants for good. Each line contains a biblical quotation and ends with the word kadosh (holy). This piyyut contains allusions to many Rosh Hashanah themes-‑the Book of Life, remembrance, repentance, observance of the covenant ("The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy"), and kingship-‑and also addresses the theme of the previous piyyut, the destruction of Israel by the nations and the call for national restoration and redemption.

The next piyyut, Eten le‑fo'ali tzedek (I will proclaim my master's justice), is by Rabbi Simeon of Mainz. An alphabetical acrostic composed of many biblical quotations, this poem discusses the justice God will show on the Day of Judgment. The main subject is Rosh Hashanah as Yom Ha­din, the Day of Judgment. God is described here as the perfect and merciful judge who calls upon all to search their hearts.

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Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer is a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, he is one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel and is currently Head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.