Aleinu Prayer – The Full Protection For The Shefa Of The Spiritual Worlds

After we effect the union of the Sephirot of the world of Atzilut and bring down the light to the lower spiritual worlds, we use the Aleinu prayer to seal it off from the Sitra Achra

Aleinu is such a prominent feature of ev­ery tefillah that it is difficult to conceive of praying without it. Nonetheless, strange to say, centuries passed before it reached full prominence in daily service. Apparently, Jews originally said Aleinu only during Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We find a wide range of opin­ions beginning eight hundred years ago re­garding its daily recital.

The siddur of Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam (Niftar 4964/1204) make abso­lutely no mention at all of Aleinu in the dai­ly prayers. The first sefer to mention the recital of Aleinu every day, the Machzor Vit- ri, only mentions saying it after Shacharit. Rav Eliezer of Worms (Niftar 5033/1273) also only mentions the daily Aleinu in his section on Shacharit (Sefer haRokeach, chapter 324).

The Meiri (Niftar 5073/1315) has a com­promise opinion, considering Aleinu as one option of creating a delay before leaving shul.

The Kabbalah of Aleinu prayer

The entire seder of prayer has a structure and a purpose. This is why according to Kabbalah, one doesn’t skip the Korbanot (sacrifices).

As I mentioned in another article, we are all rectifying the Partzufim of Ze’ir Anpin (the 6 Sephirot) and Nukvah (Malkhut). To be fair, every act of Avodat Hashem also rectify the higher Partzufim of Abbah (Chokhmah), Immah (Binah) and Arich Anpin (Keter), as they also suffered from the breaking of the vessels of Nekudim.

The prayer of Shacharit aims at rectifying the specific internal vessels of the Partzuf of the specific day we are in. Mincha rectifies the intermediate vessels of that Partzuf, while Ma’ariv rectifies the external vessels.

In all these times, we are rebuilding the specific Partzuf 3 times and bringing forth the union between Ya’akov (higher part of Malkhut) and Rachel (lower part of Malkhut) during the 19 blessings of the Amidah. After that, Light comes down to the spiritual worlds of Beriyah, Yetzirah and Assiyah so we can all enjoy.

However, the Arizal explains in Sha’ar HaKavanot that for the Shefa not to be stolen, we say the Aleinu Leshabeach prayer which acts as a protective shield against the Sitra Achra. This is why Aleinu should be said throughout the 3 times of day, afternoon and night.

But it has not always been like that…

Aleinu protects the light

The argument whether or not to say Aleinu

While the Tur, upon his passing in 1343, made a fleeting mention of reciting Aleinu (O.C. 133), the Shulchan Aruch (132:2) maintained silence on the matter, sternly asserting, “It is forbidden to leave the synagogue before the Kedushah of the Sidra (U’va l’Tziyon).”

The Rema appended, “After the tefillah, we say Aleinu while standing,” a directive that curiously sidesteps any reference to its recitation after Mincha or Maariv.

Pioneering a broader endorsement of Aleinu’s post-prayer inclusion was the Magen Avraham, who, in 1683, drew from earlier manuscripts, contending, “One should say it after every tefilah.” Notably, the Shulchan Aruch of the Arizal, corroborated this stance, asserting, “Regarding Aleinu, know that this is an infinitely great praise; therefore, one should say it after all three prayers of the day and not adhere to those who confine its recitation to Shacharit alone.”

Elaborating on this practice, the Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 426 B.H. U’mevarech) illuminates a rationale for Aleinu’s inclusion post-Kiddush Levana: “I heard a compelling explanation from someone about why many places have the custom of saying Aleinu after kiddush levana. This is to prevent people from erroneously assuming that when we go out to greet the moon and rejoice beneath it, there is any notion of giving honor to the moon.

Therefore, we say Aleinu, firmly declaring, ‘Hashem is the Lord in the Heavens above; there is none else.’ Our purpose is solely to witness the Holy One’s might, as He, with His will, bestows light upon everyone in the world.”

Additional perspectives surface regarding Aleinu’s recitation at a brit milah, positing that it underscores the transition of the child from being “like the nations of the world” to entering the covenant of the Jewish nation. In these diverse customs and explanations, the nuanced significance of Aleinu unfolds as a multifaceted expression of praise, recognition, and distinction within the tapestry of Jewish liturgical practice.

Who wrote the Aleinu prayer?

Aleinu is a significant component of the Rosh Hashanah malchuiyot attributed to the Amora Rav, but is are intriguingly connected to the renowned figure Yehoshua Bin Nun, as highlighted in a responsum from Rav Hai Gaon found in the sefer Yad Ne’eman.

Addressing a question about the practice of reciting Aleinu outside the Land when Yehoshua originally formulated it within the Land, the responsum elucidates the distinction. It clarifies that Aleinu was not part of the ritual service of the Beit HaMikdash, which is expressly forbidden to be recited outside the Land. Instead, Aleinu is categorized as a verbal service rather than a physical action, making its recitation permissible outside the Land.

To support this point, the responsum draws attention to parallel instances, such as the prayers Retze and Ishei Yisrael, which were traditionally recited in the Beit HaMikdash. Despite the cessation of these specific services in the Beit HaMikdash, the practice of reciting corresponding prayers persisted. In essence, the responsum emphasizes that Aleinu, originally introduced by Yehoshua Bin Nun, transcends geographical boundaries and remains a verbal expression of service that endures beyond the confines of the Land.

spiritual worlds after Aleinu prayer

Rachav’s insight in the Book of Yehoshua (2:9-11) reveals a fascinating connection to the Aleinu prayer. As she spoke to Yehoshua’s two spies, Rachav expressed her awareness that Hashem had granted them the Land, acknowledging the divine authority both in the Heavens above and on the earth beneath.

The Chida delves further into the association between Aleinu and Yehoshua. He notes that Aleinu was instituted by Yehoshua bin Nun, whose lineage traces back to Yosef, referred to as a shor (bull). Notably, Aleinu Leshabeach holds the numerical value of Shor (506). Yehoshua’s establishment of Aleinu is linked to the conquest of Yericho, where he circled the city seven times, invoking the forty-two-letter Name during each round.

The initials of Ana Bekoach Gedulat Yemincha Tatir Tzerurah correspond to the numerical value of Aleinu Leshabeach, emphasizing the miraculous events associated with the forty-two-letter Name.

Rav Yaakov Emden’s siddur introduces another intriguing parallel between Aleinu and Yehoshua. The phrase “Al ken nekaveh” contains the initials of Achan, the individual who illicitly took spoils from Yericho. According to our sages in the Talmud, Achan confessed and prayed for the repentance of all the wicked on earth.

This intricate web of connections between Aleinu and Yehoshua suggests a multifaceted composition, with various elements reflecting historical events and individuals associated with the conquest of Yericho. We can suggest that the Kabbalistic effect of Aleinu parallels what the Jews did to Yericho, repelling the Sitrah Achra.

The prayer, it seems, carries echoes of Hashem’s intervention, the symbolism of Yosef as a shor, and even the repentance of Achan.

Al Kiddush Hashem

The tragic events of May 26, 4891/1171 etched an indelible connection between Aleinu and the concept of dying al kiddush Hashem. This dark chapter unfolded in Blois, northern France, where approximately thirty Jewish men and women faced slaughter in the aftermath of the first fatal blood libel in mainland Europe. In Rabbeinu Ephraim of Bon’s Sefer Zechirah, a harrowing account recounts the resilience of the Jewish community of Blois, who chose martyrdom over conversion.

Rabbeinu Ephraim describes an ominous incident involving a Jewish man, Yitzchak bar Eleazar, and a Christian soldier. The soldier falsely accused Yitzchak of throwing a Christian child into the river, a fabricated tale that ignited a wave of persecution against the Jewish community. The ruler of Blois, Theobald, son of Theobald, was eager to condemn the Jews but lacked evidence until a conniving priest offered a devious solution.

They subjected the soldier to a test – floating in holy water – to determine the veracity of his claims. Manipulating the circumstances, the Christians ensured the soldier floated, providing the pretext for the gruesome events that followed.

The Jews of Blois were mercilessly seized, imprisoned, and faced an ultimatum: convert and save their lives or adhere to their faith and face the consequences. Unyielding in their commitment to Judaism, the Jewish martyrs refused to renounce their Torah. The ruler ordered their confinement in a wooden house surrounded by thorn bushes and sticks. Despite the torment, they stood resolute.

As the flames engulfed them, the martyrs began to sing a melody, soft at first but crescending into a full voice. The observers, captivated by the hauntingly beautiful tune, inquired about the song’s nature. It was revealed that the melody was none other than the beginning of Aleinu: “It is incumbent upon us to praise the master of all.”

This poignant event left an enduring mark on Jewish communities. The letter, meticulously recorded by the Jews of Orleans, revealed that communities across France, England, and the Rhineland unanimously observed Wednesday, the 20th of Sivan, 4931/1171, as a day of mourning and fasting in memory of the martyrs of Blois. Aleinu, recited by those who faced the ultimate sacrifice, became a solemn anthem echoing through the collective memory of the Jewish people.

States of consciousness help us perceive the order of the world

Censorship

In the annals of the Middle Ages, a particular segment of Aleinu became a lightning rod for controversy. The phrase, “For they bow down to vanity and emptiness (va’rik), and pray to a god that does not save,” derived from the verse (Yeshaya 45:20), ignited a fierce debate.

Around the year 5140/1400, a Jewish apostate named Pesach Peter purported a revelation: the numerical value of va’rik (316) equated to “Yeshu,” a direct insult aimed at the Christian deity. This claim found echoes in the writings of anti-Semites like Antonius Margarita in The Belief of the Jews (5270/1530) and the apostate Samuel Friedrich Brenz in Judischer Abgstrifter Schlangnebalf.

Adding fuel to the fire, German anti-Semite Johann Andreas Eisenmanger (1655-1704) asserted that the Jewish custom of spitting after this sentence further insulted Christianity. This custom allegedly arose due to the phonetic similarity between va’rik (emptiness) and rok (saliva). The Shelah, cognizant of the potential animosity it could generate, discouraged this minhag (custom).

Personally I don’t find it appropriate to spit in the Beit HaKnesset, but that’s just me.

Efforts to disprove the claim by pointing out that Aleinu originated in Bavel, where there were no Christians, proved futile. In 5463/1703, the King of Prussia issued a decree to expunge the offending sentence. Chazzanim were instructed to chant Aleinu with the omission, and officials were dispatched to enforce compliance. Such edicts led to the disappearance of this sentence from Ashkenazi siddurim.

In more recent times, certain Rabbonim, notably Rav Yehoshua (Mahril) Leib Diskin, advocated for the reinstatement of the excised sentence. Consequently, it now appears in most modern siddurim, marking a return to the complete recitation of Aleinu by Jewish communities worldwide.

May we merit to bring down all the light we need.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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