April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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The seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance, are a bit of a halachic enigma. There is no reference to them in the Torah. They are essentially regular weekdays without any holiday status. Yet we change the Amidah with insertions and replacements as we do on actual holidays (four insertions and two changes).

One would be tempted to say that the status of these alterations are just customs. Customs developed to keep the focus of the Yamim Noraim and to help in our efforts of introspection and teshuva, repentance; customs that are suggested but not truly necessary. For how could a regular yom chol, mundane day, truly require a change of our tefillah.

Yet as we all famously know, there is one major exception to this rule. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 682:1 states that if one forgets to replace “Hakel Hakadosh, The Holy God with “Hamelech Hakadosh, The Holy King then one must repeat the entire Amidah! The tefillah is deemed meaningless and invalid because one did not recognize the status of Aseret Yemei Teshuva. This seems to prove that the Aseret Yemei Teshuva do in fact have a recognized halachic status. In fact, the “Melech Hakadosh” insertion has an even stronger status than the insertions of rabbinic holidays (i.e. if one forgets “Al Hanisim” on Chanuka or Purim, during tefillah, the Amidah is still valid). The critical status of an insertion or alteration seems to be reflective of a biblical holiday. If so, we must ask the question, from where do these “intermediary days” of the Yamim Noraim get such a lofty status?

Before attempting to explain this conundrum, I would like to mention another enigma that has bothered me with regards to the hazkarot (insertions) of Aseret Yemei Teshuva. In every other instance of changes that we make to our tefillot to recognize the status of a day, be they biblical or rabbinic holidays, the alterations are reflected both in the Amidah and the Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals. Every time we are required to say Al Hanissim or Ya’aleh Veyavo, the requirement to recognize the day applies to Birkat Hamazon as well. Yet nowhere is it ever suggested that we recognize Aseret Yemei Teshuva in Birkat Hamazon! If the recognition of these days is so essential, that it actually is critical to our tefillah, why aren’t we required to mention the Aseret Yemei Teshuva in Birkat Hamazon?

Perhaps we can suggest that the nature of our obligation to recognize other holidays in our tefillah through various insertions and the nature to recognize Aseret Yemei Teshuva in our tefillot are very different. On other holidays, the kedusha or status of the day is powerful enough to demand recognition. A tefillah on any of those days that does not mention the theme of the day would be omitting a recognition of the day and would have to be repeated. By contrast, during Aseret Yemei Teshuva, there is, in fact, no specific special day that demands mentioning. What changes during Aseret Yemei Teshuva is not the nature of the day but the nature of our relationship with Hashem and His connection to us. As the Gemara states:

[The verse (Yeshayahu 55:6) states] … “Seek out God when He can be found” … Rabbah b. Avuha said: These are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Rosh Hashanah 18a

דרשו ה’ בהמצאו … אמר רבה בר אבוה אלו עשרה ימים שבין ראש השנה ליום הכפורים.

ראש השנה יח.


We change our tefillah because all tefillot must correctly address Hashem in order to be valid. And the way we relate to Hashem and the posture He takes towards humankind changes during Aseret Yemei Teshuva. The reason that a tefillah using “Hakel Hakadosh” is invalid is not because it didn’t acknowledge a holiday, but rather because it did not address Hashem correctly..

All year long, the way we relate to Hashem and the posture that Hashem takes towards Am Yisrael is defined by one word, Kel. It implies awareness, care, oversight and a myriad of other unknowable attributes. Ultimately however, it has a veiled and slightly distant connotation to it. Hashem is aware and caring, but not as imminent and present as can be. It is comparable to a business owner who manages the business from a distant land.

On Rosh Hashanah however, the entire posture that Hashem takes towards the world changes. It changes from that of a distant, yet concerned, overseas owner to one who is present and felt every second with palpable imminence. The very nature of Rosh Hashanah and its theme of Malchuyot (kingship) tells us that Hashem “opens the gates” and comes to spend time with humankind in a very different way. This posture is definitively described by the term Melech. It implies closeness, majesty and, ultimately, accountable judgment. Hashem is no longer a distant landowner caring about the field, but rather one present on site, observing and making decisions. A term some sefarim refer to “Ha-Melech Ba-Sadeh, the King in the field.”

This new posture begins on Rosh Hashanah and lasts until the gates close after Neilah on Yom Kippur and Hashem returns to his original posture of “Kel.” If one says Hakel Hakadosh instead of Hamelech Hakadosh, it is not simply missing a reference to Aseret Yemei Teshuva, rather it is distorting the way we relate to Hashem during these days. Addressing Hashem without an awareness of how Hashem is relating to us at the time is an inappropriate and, ultimately, invalid way of addressing Hashem and therefore the Amidah is disqualified. It would be like sending a letter to someone who has temporarily moved. The letter being addressed to a place where the recipient no longer lives will come back with a return-to-sender stamp

It is for this reason that the changes we make to the Amidah during Aseret Yemei Teshuva are in the bracha of Hakel Hakadosh, a blessing that does not reflect the nature of the day but rather the nature of Hashem. We mention events and themes of the day in Retzeh and Modim, we never change the first three brachot to express the nature of the day.

Understanding our obligation to mention Hamelech in this matter and not as a reflection of some sort of quasi Chol Hamoed status afforded to the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, also explains why no mention of Aseret Yemei Teshuva is necessary in Birkat Hamazon. Despite its biblical mandate and origins, Birkat Hamazon does not demand the status of “omed lifnei Hamelech, standing before The King” that Amidah does. During Birkat Hamazon, one does not take three steps forward, nor put their feet together, nor bow nor do any of the rituals that display the intensity of directly standing before God, all of which are part of the Amidah. Since Birkat Hamazon does not entail being “omed lifnei Hamelech,” Birkat Hamazon does not demand a perfectly nuanced posture to connect. It is only in Amidah where one addresses Hashem so directly and recites a blessing about the nature of Hashem (Ha-Kel-Hakadosh), that one has to be so sensitive to the nature of Hashem’s posture and mention Hamelech.

So as we prepare for the Yamin Noraim and Aseret Yemei Teshuva, let us recognize that we are about to enter a period where the very nature of the way we are supposed to connect with Hashem changes. And let that awareness be reinforced and deepened each time we utter that term “melech” as we consider the opportunity and responsibility to feel Hashem’s enhanced presence during this special time.

Rabbi Scheinfeld is an educator and ski instructor and the founder and director of Camp Kanfei Nesharim, Bnos Kanfei and All Boys Kanfei. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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