The Aseret Yemei Tshuva (The Ten Days of Repentance beginning with Rosh HaShana and ending with Yom Kippur) are meant to be a time of repentance and introspection. This time of year is also an opportunity for us to step up our intent and focus when praying.
Additions to the service ensure that we are not praying by rote. Rather, they help keep our eyes in the siddur, ensuring that we say the extra phrases which are specifically recited this week.
Where did the Aseret Yemei Tshuva additions to the Shmoneh Esrei (Silent Devotion) originate?
In the Tamlud, Brachot 12b Rabbah bar Chanina the elder said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year, a person prays with the text “HaE-l HaKadosh”, “The Holy God” as the concluding phrase of the third blessing of the Shmoneh Esrei and “Melech Ohev Tzedaka U’Mishpat”, “The King who loves Righteousness and Judgement” as the concluding phrase of the eleventh blessing, except for the ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur when one prays with the text “HaMelech HaKadosh”, “The Holy King” and “HaMelech HaMishpat, “The King of Judgement.”
The custom of adding the other additions to the Shmoneh Esrei dates back to at least the Geonic period (589 CE) where after some arguments, “Zachreinu L’Chayim…”, “Remember us for life…”, “Mi Kamocha Av HaRachamim…”, “Who is like you, Merciful Father…”, “U’Chtov L’Chaim tovim…”, “Inscribe all the children of your covenant for a good life” and “B’Sefer HaChayim…”, “In His book of life…” were included. The arguments were over the issue of adding these phrases to the Shmoneh Esrei since we don’t usually add personal requests to the first and last three blessings. In the end, they were added since they are not personal requests, rather they are requests made on behalf of the entire community.
Although Jewish law is usually very strict about making additions to the Shmoneh Esrei, the rabbis understood how important it was to make extra requests on behalf of the community at this time. It is also an opportunity for us to pay careful attention to the regular service as well as to the additions.
As we gear up for Yom Kippur, let’s make sure to have extra kavana (intent) throughout the Shmoneh Esrei and especially when saying the following words:
Remember us for life, O King Who desires life and inscribe us in the Book of Life.
Inscribe all of the children of Your covenant for a good life.
In the book of life, blessing and peace, good livelihood, may we be remembered and inscribed before You- we and Your entire people the Family of Israel for a good life and for peace.