THE CHANGES TO THE AMIDAH FOR THE HIGH HOLIDAY SEASON
Each year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are changes and additions to the weekday and the holiday and Shabbat Amidah. There are changes to all of the first three blessings. To one of the thirteen weekday petitions, and to the last two. Taken together, they speak to the special themes of these holy and awesome ten days
The first of these additions, to the first blessing, referred to as AVOT, starts “zochreinu l’chaim” remember us for life. Remember that the AVOT blessing is our initial approach to the throne, as it were, where we begin our prayer. We remind God that we are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom God loved. In effect, we are relying on our ancestors’ merit to ask God’s acceptance. We then go on effectively, to flatter God – God is great, powerful awesome, etc. God is at the end of the blessing the “shield of Abraham. That is every day. During the days of awe, we add “remember (Rosh Hashanah is, after all referred to as Yom Hazicharon, the day of remembrance) us for life, King who delights in life and wri Changes te us in the book of life.” THE BOOK OF LIFE is a recurrent theme of this time of year and in this case the request is being made not on our own merit but on account of our “yichus”, our family background.
The second change comes in the second blessing, the one that refers to the resurrection of the dead or the restoration of life. “Who is like You, Master of mercy, who mercifully remembers Your creatures with life?” Here, emphasis is placed of God’s mercy and grace and not on our own merit and the theme of ongoing life is stressed. Both this verse and the preceding verse recited all year begin with “Mi Chamocha” “Who is like You” thus, in parallel terms, describing different aspects of God’s relationship with us.
The third change, is in the third blessing, Kedusha, where God’s “holiness” is emphasized. The change is only one word. At the end the end of the blessing, when God is usually described at the holy God, Ha-El HaKadosh we refer instead to the holy King, Ha Melech HaKadosh. We thus remind ourselves that for this period, even more so than the rest of the year, God is the King who rules over us with absolute power. The theme of kingship recurs throughout the service with the Avinu Malkeinu prayer and the Malchuyot, kingship, verses in the Musaph Amidah on Rosh Hashanah. The hope, of course, is that the powerful King will look upon our t’shvauh with the compassion and mercy of a loving Father.
The next change, and the only one in the weekday petitionary prayers, comes in the eighth of these petitions where we pray for the restoration of Judges, thus the restoration of a system of justice and jurisprudence, a prerequisite for a properly functioning and orderly society. The ending of the blessing usually describes God as loving righteousness and judgement. During the Ten Days of Awe God is the King who Judges. Thus, the theme of Kindship continues and we remind ourselves that we, and the sincerity of our t’shuvah, our repentance and resolve to improve, are being judged (by the chief justice of the SUPREME court).
The final two changes to the Amidah come in the final two blessings. They, to a great extent, mirror and perhaps enlarge some of the themes from earlier on.
The penultimate Bracha in the Amidah is the MODIM or Thank you. We acknowledge our dependence on, and gratitude for, all of Gods gifts and mercies, for “Your miracles that You grant us every day”. Blessed are You, God, worthy of thanks and acclaim.” Into this blessing we insert “inscribe all the people of your covenant for a good life.” This verse is sort of a mirror of the additions to Avot and resurrection prayers and it fits our sense of our vulnerability to God’s will and judgement and our dependence in God’s good graces in this way the verse in Avot and this one are good bookends, coming at the beginning and the end of our prayer. But there are a couple of important differences. First, it refers to the children of your covenant. This both reminds God of God’s promises to Abraham but also reminds us that the relationship is covenantal, that we have a responsibility to live up to our side of the bargain. This thought is especially poignant at the time when we are being judged and our attitudes and deeds are the evidence in the case. The other difference is that this time we are asking not just for life, but for a good life, something more than just eating and breathing.
This thought brings us to the sixth and final change. Sim Shalom is the final prayer of the Amidah. It is, in part, a summation and a sort of final leave-taking. It starts out “grant peace, goodness and blessing, grace kindness and mercy to us and to all of Israel.” We invoke God’s blessing through the light of God’s presence and equates that light with Torah. It seems to me that if we are including the gift of Torah in our prayer for peace, then the shalom we seek is not just the absence of conflict but also “shleimut”, completeness or fulfillment. This is accomplished by using the lessons of Torah to lead a more ethical moral and socially responsible life. It concludes by praising God as the One who blesses Israel with peace. On the High Holidays we add to these beautiful thoughts a request that we be inscribed (at the concluding service of Yom Kippur, N’ilah, it is sealed) in the Book of Life. There is a kind of parallel between inscription in the book of life and the reference above to “Torat Chaim” the instruction for life. In fact, in B’sefer Chaim we ask for a place in the book of life, peace, good (sufficient) sustenance, and, once again, good life and peace. With the inclusion of “chaim tovim” it is also a poignant plea for the ability engage in the kind of God-imitating behaviors’, the kindness compassion and just-ness that will bend God’s judgement in our favor.
So, in conclusion, the added and changed passages in the High Holiday season Amidah are not just extra words. They are an additional inspiration and guide to understanding our vulnerability, helping us to define and refine our relationship to our God, and to strengthening the urgency of our T’shuvah.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good life