Commentary on Shared Prayer Themes in The Shema, The Kedushah, Alenu and The Tahanun

Commentary on Shared Prayer Themes in

The Shema, The Kedushah, Alenu and The Tahanun

From The Daily Prayer Book: Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem

Translated and Annotated by Philip Birnbaum

One expresses themselves to G-d in many ways. Here are three proposed themes shared by The Shema, The Kedushah, Alenu and The Tahanun prayers. We express ourselves by finding a connection to G-d. In connecting we make a bond that allows us to share our emotions with Them. Secondly we express ourselves to G-d by keeping Their commandments and remembering Their name. A third way we express ourselves is through keeping Their name upon our lips and in our hearts. We do this through more than just prayer and worship. We must keep Their name ever on our tongues and sing Their praises in hymns.

One way we connect to G-d is through one’s appreciation for the wonders of creation. Through the praise of the wonders of the world we can find glory in the knowledge of G-d. One can see how we are all connected to nature and how that connection helps us to express our joy that G-d has created us. “Blessed art thou, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who formest light and createst darkness, who makest peace and createst all things” (Birnbaum, 72) We use the extremes of light and dark to illustrate the power G-d has over us. The knowledge of Their sheer power of creation helps us to connect to Them. “How great are thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creations.” (Birnbaum, 72) We proclaim, “The whole world is full of His glory.” (Birnbaum, 74) The connection we create with nature serves to bring us one step closer to G-d. We see all the wonders G-d has created and feel that they have been created for us. The cycle of life in nature lets us understand and express our connection with G-d. We may say, “Lord of wonders, in his goodness he renews the creation every day” (Birnbaum, 74) This renewal is what gives us hope and keeps us connected to G-d.

In The Kedushah we can see these themes repeated and expanded. We say, “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Birnbaum, 84) We affirm what has been said before. We go further and comment on our place in nature. “He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are but dust. Help us, our saving G-d, for the sake of thy glorious name; rescue us and pardon our sins for thy name’s sake.” (Birnbaum, 106) The plea for G-d to remember that we are all made of dust serves to connect us to that which everything is made of. It is our attempt to connect to the wonders of G-d’s creation. In this prayer we go one step further and ask that G-d pardon our human nature to sin. We ask this because, no matter how flawed we are, we are still one of Their glorious creations.

Through Alenu we explain why we have a duty to praise G-d. Our connection to creation is what compels us to worship G-d. “It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to exalt the Creator of the universe.” (Birnbaum, 136) It is the fact that They are the creator of all which causes us to connect. We express our awe, gratefulness, and joy to G-d through our praise. “We bend the knee and bow and acknowledge before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he, that it is he who stretched forth the heavens and founded the earth.” (Birnbaum, 136) When we express to G-d the glory of creation we connect with Them. Moreover, we expect that the worship we express to Them will connect us that much more to Them. Once we are connected to Them and follow Their laws we shall see our real relationship with Them. “The Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be One, and his name One.” (Birnbaum, 138)

A second way in which we express ourselves to G-d is through keeping Their commandments and passing on the Torah. By following the commandments, just as so many others throughout history have before us, we cement the covenant. We express our need for leadership and love from G-d in our attempt to follow the Torah. In exchange for obedience we ask that They fortify our connection. “Our Father, our King, for the sake of our forebears who trusted in thee, whom thou didst teach laws of life, be gracious to us and teach us likewise.” (Birnbaum, 74) In these prayers we ask for G-d to guide us in our endeavors. We continually express our need for Their presence. “Enlighten our eyes in thy Torah; attach our heart to thy commandments; unite our heart to love and reverence thy name, so that we may never be put to shame.” (Birnbaum, 76)

In The Shema it is expressed that G-d’s words will be marked in our hearts; it will be ever evident in what we say and the commandments we fulfill. “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This expression of love for G-d is what makes it easier to follow Their laws. They command us to keep Them in our hearts. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” More important than our devotion is that it continue to the following generations. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you go on a journey, when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Birnbaum, 76)

We also choose to express our devotion to G-d through physical actions so that we remember Them and ever show our devotion. It is said of Their words that, “You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” (Birnbaum, 76) In addition it is said that with Their words, “You shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Birnbaum, 76) The Lord spoke to Moses and said that the children of Israel should make fringes on the corners of their garments. “You shall have it as a fringe, so that when you look upon it it you will remember to do all the commands of the Lord” (Birnbaum, 78) The best example of our expression to G-d through devotion is the plea, “Open my heart to thy Torah, that my soul may follow thy commands.” (Birnbaum, 96)

A third way we express ourself to G-d is by keeping Their name ever on our lips and in our hearts. We must go one step further than just worship; we must exalt Them through prose and song. “…the beloved people praised and extolled G-d; they offered hymns, blessings and thanksgivings to the King, the living eternal G-d.” (Birnbaum, 80) We express our love back to G-d in our songs and prayers. “The redeemed people sang a new song of praise to thy name” (Birnbaum, 82) In The Kedushah, more importance is given to the way we feel and how we praise. We say, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing before thee.” (Birnbaum, 96)

In The Tahanun it is explained to what degree we should act toward G-d. “Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be he, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world.” (Birnbaum, 118) In Alenu we see that we must not only keep Them in our hearts and on our tongues but we must all bow to Them in praise. “May all the inhabitants of the world realize and know that to thee every knee must bend, every tongue must vow allegiance.” (Birnbaum, 138)


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