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It is our duty to praise the master of all things,
The word "Ladon" (master) comes from the Hebrew word Adnos (to change). One has the ability to change ones nature, and to do the will of G-d, the Master of the world. All ability and strength in the world comes only from Him.
One should be very careful when reciting this verse; it should be said with the proper pronunciation. Ladon, to the Master, should be said, and not LaAdon, which may be pronounced as Lo Adon (meaning "not the master").
The Alter Rebbe said that Jewish physical matter is spiritual; G-d gives us material bounty so we can transform it into something spiritual. When, occasionally, G-d has not provided us with the material wealth, we must give G-d whatever we can - even a "pauper's offering," then He gives generously.35 We must praise G-d in order to receive in return, that is the importance of this prayer.
to exalt the Creator of all existence,
Our Rabbis, of blessed memory, teach us that the Jewish nation gives strength on high. Through our recognizing the greatness of G-d, and exalting His greatness, we cause the revelation of more of G-d's attributes, as stated L'cha Hashem HaGedulah, etc., ("To You, G-d, the greatness").36 This, then, is the reason behind creation to make goodness for all. When we recognize that G-d is the Creator, we recognize the greatness of G-d, and we reveal the true reason for which the world was created.
He has not made us like other nations of the world
The term "Asanu", (made), has the same root as the word Asiyah, and is said only regarding the Jewish nation. As it is written, "Like this said G-d,"37 "made" comes from Vaya'as Elokim Es Harakieh, (G-d made the firmament),38 which comes from fixing and completing. This is similar to the way the Jewish nation wanted to be "fixed up" in order that they should be fit to receive the Torah.
We say, All the nations of the land, meaning that each one of the nations is connected to its land; when one leaves his land, he is lost in the world.
For every land there is a heavenly master that monitors that land. Every nation is connected to its land, and the moment a nation is separated from its land it is as if it is ripped from its roots and is lost.
The Jewish nation is unique as it thrives on spirituality. Its spiritual sustenance is the Torah; without the Torah the Jewish nation would cease to exist. For centuries the Jewish nation was without a land or a home. All the nations of the world need a land Having a land results in their being called a nation. The Jewish nation, however, does not need a land to be called a nation for we have the Torah and G-d. Therefore, we thank G-d for not making us like the other nations.
The Eitz Yosef states that the word Neshamah (soul) has the same numerical value as the first letters of the words Shelo asonu k'goyay ha'aratzos, - "G-d put into us a soul which the other nations do not have."
How does one know that these words refer to "Soul?" In the verse "G-d made us a soul," what does "made" refer to? It refers to G-d not making us as the nations of the world, as the verse states, "He did not make us as the nations of the world." Therefore we praise G-d Thank You for giving us a soul, which the others do not have.
The nature of the actions of the nations of the world is that their sins become part of them (i.e., part of their nature). Whereas, the sin of a Jew is a separate entity. We, as Jews, want G-d to forgive us. G-d is never passive regarding the sin of a Jew and, however painful, he is not allowed to live peaceably with his sin - whether the sin is personal or national in nature. Therefore, we thank G-d for not having made us like the other nations of the world.
It is stated 'Israel, one nation on the earth."39 As R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains, "The nation of Israel, even in the earthly world, is bound up with the One G-d." G-d transforms the spiritual into something material; so too, Israel transforms the material into something spiritual.40
nor caused us to be like the families of the earth;
The Eitz Yosef explains that the word "samanu" (caused) refers to the Torah and Mitzvos - G-d "caused" us to be with the Torah and not with the other nations. So one thanks G-d in this verse for two things (a) for giving us a Jewish soul, and, (b) for giving us the Torah. While the previous verse is talking of nations in a general term, this verse speaks of families to indicate endearment and closeness to G-d.
Why does the verse state "Nor caused us to be..." It could have stated "He chose us above..."? The explanation is that if it would have stated "chose," some of the words may be swallowed as we recite them. To refrain from doing this, the verse states "nor caused us..."41
that He has not assigned us a portion like theirs, nor a lot like that of their multitudes,
Some editions add V'lo ("and not") before v'goralenu k'chol ("a lot...").
Our unique portion on earth is rooted in our unique relationship to G-d and to His Law. It is for this reason that our fate, too, is unique.42
In the case of the sinful nations, G-d tarries until they have reached their "quota of sin," beyond which He no longer extends His mercy. He then rains down retribution upon them, often wiping them out. Powerful and ancient empires such as Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome have disappeared or become inconsequential; however, G-d treats Israel differently. The world survives whether or not there is a Roman Empire, but the world could not survive without the nation of Israel. Therefore, when the Jewish nation sins, G-d punishes us in a piecemeal fashion, so that we may suffer, but we will never be annihilated.43
It is stated "And lest you raise your eyes to the heaven and you see the sun, the moon, and the stars - the entire legion of heaven - and you be drawn astray and bow to them and worship them, which Hashem, your G-d has apportioned to all the peoples under the heaven!"44 What does this mean? Rashi states, "It means to shine through them unto all the nations." Alternatively, the heavenly bodies have been chosen by the nations as deities; that is, G-d did not prevent them from erring by following them. Rather, He let them slip by means of their words of foolishness, attributing divine status to the heavenly bodies, in order to drive them from the world.45 Similarly, it states, "For He let him slip in his eyes, that He should find his sin to hate him."46 Commentaries expound on this and say that it is referring to Elokus (G-dliness). Other nations can only get the strength, which is Elokus; our souls are a "piece of G-d on high."47
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein, in his work Baruch She'amar asks "What relation do those words have with the rest of the prayer?"
He explains that this corresponds to Ashreinu, the prayer that we say in the morning service.48 ("How great is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful our heritage..."). We, as Jews, stand out as part of G-d. For this reason we praise G-d in Aleinu.
We must understand what this means. He has not assigned us a portion like theirs. What is the difference that this prayer is referring to? This reference to a "different portion" is obviously spiritual in nature rather than physical. G-d gave us a land, which is ours, and did not give them a land at all. As it is stated, "For we fell into a lot with G-d."
The Tur mentions that one should make a slight pause between this verse and the next.49
for they bow to vanity and nothingness.50
"They" (the nations of the world) bow by spreading their hands and feet. What does "vanity" mean? An idol is manufactured from natural material like metal, wood or stone and these have no power of their own. What does "nothingness" mean? It is like a shell which has nothing in it. For example, the sun, moon, and stars, by themselves are nothing, for they have no force except natural forces which were built into them by G-d, the Creator. The point is obvious. Whatever is made, however wonderful it is it should move us to worship its creator rather than the object itself.
Some people have the custom of spitting after saying these words, to indicate that they do not wish to derive any benefit from idolatry and the like. Speech stimulates saliva, and we do not wish to derive any benefit from this saliva. However, if one wishes to spit, it must be done either into a handkerchief or onto the ground, immediately rubbing it with the foot, so that it is not noticeable.51 Some do not spit at all in a synagogue, because they feel that it is disgraceful to spit while praises to G-d are on their lips, nor is it respectful to one's friend, who may become repulsed by it. Indeed, the Ari Zal was very particular never to spit in a synagogue, just as he would not in his home.52
The Siddur of Ge'onim and Mikubalim states that many people who do not understand Hebrew may mistakenly spit by the words "but we bend the knee...," which is reference to G-d. So to refrain from making this mistake, the author suggests that one should not spit at all. The author also says that it is a great danger to spit because the Gentiles may, heaven forbid, harm Jewish people because of it.
Nevertheless; it is a Chabad custom to spit when saying "for they bow to vanity and nothingness." This is in accordance with the aforementioned reason of speech stimulating saliva, and we do not wish to derive benefit from this saliva.51
But we bend the knee, bow down, and offer praise, before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He.
We say Anachnu ("But we bend..."), and not Anu ("bend'), for, the latter is stated in a selfish way.53
Many people have a custom of bending down while reciting this verse, but not in total prostration. Prostrating where there is a stone floor, may be included in the prohibition of idolatry. Also, that is the way it was done in the Holy Temple. Jewish law prohibits performing any acts which were done exclusively in the Holy Temple; therefore, we only bend.
Some editions of Sephard prayer books omit the word "kore'im" (the knee).
As Jews we bow in a way that shows we are slaves of the Almighty. When the Gentile bows it shows admiration, but not total devotion. However when we bow it shows full devotion of both our heart and mind.
A distinction is made on weekdays and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when reciting the phrase "we bend the knee, bow down, and offer praise." On weekdays, one should slightly bend the knee at the word kore'im (to bend the knee) and bow at the waist at umishtachavim (to offer praise).54
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the congregation recites Aleinu during the repetition of the Musaf Amidah in an undertone together with the Chazzan. At the phrase, "we bend the knee, bow down, and offer praise," in the Ashkenazic rite the entire congregation kneels down to the ground and falls prostrate before the open Ark.
Generally, it is customary to genuflect with the face touching the floor when falling kore'im both in Aleinu and in the Avodah. However, according to the Vilna Goan, histachava'eh means "spreading out of the hands and feet," that is, prostration of the whole body as designated in the Talmud.55 The reason this is not commonly practiced in the synagogue today is because of the lack of space. However, according to the Vilna Gaon, if there is ample room, one should prostrate himself while spreading out his hands and feet.56
The reason that the practice of kneeling was abolished during the service of the entire year was that it became part of the worship service of non-Jews.57 It was retained for the High Holy Days as exemplary of the service,58 and according to the Maharil, falling kore'im takes place only at times designated by the sages.59
Sephardic custom is not to kneel during Aleinu. The Sheli'ach Tzibbur (cantor) lowers his head on the prayer desk on Yom Kippur at veha-Kohanim.
What does offer praise mean? The Radak in the name of Rav Tzadieh Gaon, comments that seeing G-dliness means knowing G-dliness. We know there is a G-d in the world, just by our physical existence, whereas they nations of the world can only believe in G-d. Therefore, we offer praise to G-d for granting us the ability to "perceive" Him.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One blessed be He) is a commonly used term among Jews with reference to G-d expressing His infinitely exalted majesty and at the same time His infinite and immediate nearness to all. He is infinitely exalted above all things, and yet He is also blessed. Every breath of ours should serve to advance the fulfillment of His purpose and symbolize our dedication to the realization of His will.
Who stretches forth the heavens and establishes the earth, the seat of whose glory is in the heavens above
One must fervently say these verses, for we are saying that idolators worship nothingness and cause themselves to be abhorrent to their Creator. With this intent, we will be able to disconnect ourselves from worldly impurities.
Heaven and earth came into being through G-d. But this was not the end of creation, for it's only because of Him that heaven and earth still exist today. It is His holy thought and divine speech which maintain the universe continuously.
Commentaries ask Where in Tanach do we find the term of Umoshav Yikaro (the seat of whose majesty)? We do find Keesay HaKavod (the throne of G-d) or something similar to it. The Eitz Yosef explains that the letters of Yekaro stand for Yud-Kay, Kadosh rom V'neesah, (Hashem is holy exalted and praiseworthy). Therefore, we say Yekaro and not Keesay HaKavod.
The Baruch She'amar believes the correct version is V'keesay Kovodo BaShamayim Mima'al; Yet, U'moshav Yekaro is nevertheless said, for a different reason. The students of Yeshu wished to mention their teacher in the prayers so they changed the Keesay HaKavod to U'moshav Yekaro, since Yekaro and Yeshu have equal numeric value (316). Shortly afterwards there was Posak (Rabbinic authority) who didn't know the aforementioned history of U'moshav Yekaro, and added it into the prayer.
One should consider the following when saying, He who stretches out the heavens and establishes the earth. When one is reciting Eretz (earth - material matters), one should always look at one whose situation is lower than one's one. With regard to spiritual matters one should always look at the "Heaven" (Camay) - at He who is higher than oneself, and plead with G-d to grant him the intelligence to learn from the other and the ability and strength to rise higher.60
and the abode of whose majesty is in the loftiest heights.
He is our G-d; there is none else.
He is the true source of strength, and continuously maintains Divine Providence, which only He can do. Some people add the letter Vov before Ein, (meaning there is no limit); others add the word Milvado (that G-d is infinite, as well as the only One).
What does there is none else mean? Moses stated this, implying that everything, from the smallest particle of matter to the vast expanse of the cosmos, all continue to exist from moment to moment only because of G-d (even when the hand of G-d is evident to us indirectly, such as in birth and survival). There no alternative being we can trust or honor.
Truly, He is our King; there is nothing besides Him,
For this verse there are two forms of explanation. (a) G-d is truly our only king, and, (b) by making a small pause between Emes (truly) and Malkeinu (He is our King), we say, "truly, there is none other besides Him."
What does Truly, He is our King mean? G-d is the King of all kings. All of the kings on the earth below and the Heaven above are ruled by the Almighty, G-d, for He Himself rules all. Every creature on the earth is attached to the will of G-d at every moment. If G-d's will to create vanishes, every creature vanishes. G-d is not dependent on anything. Everything in this world and the next exists merely through Him.61
as it is written in His Torah62 know this day and take unto your heart63 that the L-rd is G-d; in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is nothing else.
If the awareness of this fact should ever grow faint, or fade within your mind, if it should ever seem to be about to depart from you, then keep "Bringing it back upon yourself (your soul)," and let it revive your spirit.
Some people of the Sephardic sect end the Aleinu prayer at this point.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes in his notes on Tanya,64 in which the Alter Rebbe writes. "For would it occur to you that there is a god dwelling in the waters beneath the earth, that it is necessary to negate, if so strongly as to say take it unto your heart?" This verse continues the idea of an earlier verse, which begins with the phrase, "You have been shown...," which refers to the time at which the Torah was given. "At the time G-d spoke to you...,"65 with a warning against worshiping any of the components of the created universe "Lest you become corrupt" and worship creatures of the lowest levels "any fish in the w ater below the earth,"66 or of the highest level, "Lest you raise your eyes heavenward."67
As one looks at the awesome things that G-d created in the world, in the heaven above, and the earth below, one must ponder the wonders in the depths of the earth, and one must realize that there is none other than G-d in all worlds.
Moses gave the Jews good advice when he said to them, "I told you the punishment, that you will suffer if you worship idols, but if you repent, G-d will have mercy on you and restore you to your land. I am now telling you that you should not wait until G-d drives you out of your land, and then repent. Rather, you should repent today. I am therefore telling you, you should know today and take it to heart, that the L-rd is the G-d in heaven above and the earth below, there is nothing else."
"G-d dwells on high and has all the power in the earth below. He pays attention to all details of creation and there is none besides Him who can help you. Do not wait until you are exiled and suffer, and then repent. Repent today!"68
Psychologists who study human behavior say that there are many things that people know intellectually, but do not "take to heart" to the extent that this knowledge controls their behavior. This is perhaps most pronounced in health habits, where people persist in doing things that they enjoy even though they know them to be harmful. The same holds true for people of faith who are remiss in their performance of some commandments because they lack sufficient spiritual commitment. Therefore, one must know that there is only one G-d, and must find ways to "take it to heart".
How will one know "this day," in order to "take it to heart?" Through deep contemplation of G-d, a One to one spiritual encounter with Him, one will be able to do so.69
The light of the day and the darkness of the night are similar to a person's way of life. When there is light, there is a guiding point (in the right direction), then the light can illuminate between the good and the bad. Darkness, however, can confuse the person about the good way, and about what is right and not right. Our Rabbis of blessed memory compare the Messiah to the light of the day. We know that the term Hayom generally refers to the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, as it is stated in Likkutei Torah, from the verse "Atem Nitzavim Hayom," (a day when all people will stand equal).70 Likewise, by one who has a court date, his Hayom refers to his actual day in court. On this day, Hayom, Rosh Hashanah, G-d is searching out people to serve Him who are like the aforementioned daylight. The Rambam states, "In the tim e of the Messiah, the sun will become seven times stronger," healing the righteous and judging the wicked. Thus the extreme light will be revealed and it will expose and distinguish between the wicked and the righteous.71
L-rd is G-d; in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is nothing else. Our Sages taught that it is forbidden for a person to think about what is above the heaven and what is beneath the earth. One may also not think about what will happen after the passage of six thousand years. The Talmud says that whoever wishes to think about this would be better off had he not come into this world.72
These are spiritual matters that a person cannot comprehend so long as he is in a physical form. If one attempts this, in the end he will lose his mind.
If a person, heaven forfend, begins asking such questions, he might also ask why G-d created angels in heaven and men on earth, and not the reverse. He might ask why G-d did not make the heaven below and the earth above. He might ask why G-d did not create the earth earlier than He did or later. He will delve deeper and deeper into these questions but will not find answers, and finally he will end up denying creation by saying that the world was not created but is eternal. Therefore, it would be better for such an inquirer never to have come into the world, since his coming into the world caused him to be a freethinker, so that he loses this world and the World to Come.
This verse also warns that it is forbidden to teach the mystery of Creation (ma'aseh Bereishis) to two or more people together. One must teach it secretly to a single individual. The mystery of Creation includes how each thing was created.73
This concludes the first part of Aleinu. To sum up the message it contains It is our responsibility to praise G-d, and proclaim Him the Creator of all existence. We are grateful that He has chosen us from among all the nations of the world to give us His Torah. Everything that exists, exists merely because of Him. This we must remember every day, every moment of our lives. We must take it to heart, and never forget it. Even in the loneliness of this world one must come to discover the greatness of G-d as it states, "I believe with my full heart that G-d is One, and it is proper to pray only to Him."74
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