Regrettably, most congregants, myself included, do not fully understand every line of the many piyyutim that appear in our liturgy. Generally speaking, the texts that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tend to be somewhat easier to follow than many selichot, kinot, and yotzrot composed for other occasions. Nonetheless, they are not without their challenges. I present here a number of observations that should help enhance our understanding of what most of us see as the most important prayer services of the year.
- Near the beginning of chazarat ha-shatz of musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we find the lines Dibberot elleh divrei ha-berit galleh be-zikhron shillush berit. The tune impels almost all chazzanim to pause after elleh. This, however, is a mistake. The lines mean, “Remove (roll away) the words elleh divrei ha-berit (the three words that follow the tokhachah (or tokhechah) in Ki Tavo and hence represent that tokhechah) through the remembrance of the threefold covenant (with the patriarchs).” Thus, the words elleh divrei ha-berit must be said as a single phrase. It is not terribly difficult to do this.