Tuesday, April 28th, 2009...9:00 pm
The Recitation of Alenu Le’shabe’ah
“It is customary to recite Alenu at the end of each of the three daily prayer services - Shaharit, Minha and Arbit. This custom is recorded already in the Tur (Orah Haim 133). Some scholars attribute this hymn to Yehoshua Bin Nun, who composed it after the miraculous battle against the city of Yericho. This was the first battle Beneh Yisrael waged upon entering the Land of Israel, and it was won in miraculous fashion, as the city walls collapsed. Yehoshua responded to this miracle by composing this prayer, which declares our obligation to give praise to the Almighty. Alenu must be recited while standing. Some scholars noted that the word “Alenu” has the same numerical value as the word, “U’me’umad” - “standing.” This is codified by the Ben Ish Hai (Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909), in Parashat Ki Tisa. The Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserless, Poland, 1520-1572), in Siman 132, emphasizes the importance of reciting Alenu with concentration.While reciting the phrase, “Va’anahnu Mishtahavim.” (”And we bow.”), one should bow the same way he bows during the Amida prayer. The Arizal (Rabbi Yishak Luria, 1534-1572), in Sha’ar Ha’kavanot, emphasizes the importance of making a full bow at this point. The Ben Ish Hai comments that when one recites this passage in Alenu, a great spiritual light descends from the upper worlds to our world. This is therefore a most significant recitation that must be approached with seriousness and thought.
One should not make any interruptions during his recitation of Alenu, except to answer “Amen” to a Beracha or, or to answer to Kedusha. However, the Ben Ish Hai rules that one should not answer “Amen” immediately after reciting the phrase which describes the idolatry practiced by other nations (”She’hem Mishtahavim La’hebel Va’rik.”), as this would sound as though one says “Amen” to idolatry, Heaven forbid.
Chacham Ovadia Yosef, however, in his work Halichot (vol. 1, p. 247), disagrees, arguing that one is not excused from the obligation to respond “Amen” in such a case. After all, the Almighty is aware of and is concerned with what a person thinks in his mind, and therefore one should respond “Amen” to the Beracha or Kaddish regardless of whatever undesirable matter he has just mentioned in his own prayer. Chacham Ovadia adds, however, that a person should try to avoid such a situation; if he anticipates hearing Kaddish or a Beracha, he should try to ensure that he does not recite at that point a part of the prayer describing something negative.
The custom of the Sepharadim is to add after Alenu, “U’be’Toratecha Hashem Elokenu Katub Lemor.” The Ben Ish Hai writes that one should also add the verse, “Ve’haya Im Shamo’a Tishma Le’kol Hashem Elokecha.” (Shemot 15:26).
The Arizal wrote that in Shaharit, one should not remove his Tallit and Tefillin until after reciting Alenu.
Unfortunately, many people neglect Alenu because it is recited at the very end of the prayer service. Some Rabbis joked that for this reason the Sages inserted Alenu into the Musaf prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: as consolation for the neglect it receives throughout the year, it received a distinguished role on the . In all seriousness, though, if Alenu is recited as part of the special prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then it is certainly a most significant part of the prayer service and deserves our utmost attention. In fact, the Ben Ish Hai describes Alenu as a kind of “minesweeper” that eliminates the “Hisonim” - the spiritual forces that prevent our prayers from ascending to the heavens. It is critically important for us to recite Alenu with concentration in order to help our prayers achieve the desired results.
Tradition teaches that the conquest of Yericho, whereupon Yehoshua composed Alenu, occurred on the 28th of Nissan. This day is therefore a particularly appropriate occasion for recommitting ourselves to reciting Alenu with proper feeling and concentration.
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