Rosh HaShana Liturgy II: “ונתנה תוקף”

25 09 2006

In the spirit of Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippurim I have decided to post another of my favourite sections of the liturgy. Tradition has it that this was written by Rav Amram, a Rabbi who was believed to have lived in the German town of Mainz about a thousand years ago. Some have argued that the tradition is an adaptation of a similar tradition concerning the Christian St. Emmeram of Regensburg but, in the manner in which it is related in Jewish circles, it involves Amram’s refusal to convert to Christianity after having been invited to do so by the local Bishop.

According to the story, Rav Amram suggests that he shall think about it for three days, but immediately repents of having intimated that he would. His allotted time passes and the Bishop has him returned to his presence. Upon returning, Amram suggests that the Bishop should cut out his tongue for ever having used it to imply that he may convert to Christianity. The Bishop refuses, insisting that it is Amram’s legs that should be removed for not having hastened back to him in time.

Amram is taken back into town, bleeding profusely (as one can imagine) and is brought into the local synagogue for Rosh HaShana. Upon being carried onto the bimah, Amram sings a song and dies. This song, entitled Let Us Relate the Power (ונתנה תוקף) was supposedly taught to Rabbi Kalonymous by Rav Amram, in a dream, a short while after Amram’s death.

It is sung several times on both Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippurim and, despite its highly dubious and somewhat simplistic origin myth, nonetheless constitutes an exceptionally beautiful poem.

ונתנה תוקף קדשת היום, כי הוא נורא ואיום. ובו תנשא מלכותך, ויכון בחסד כסאך, ותשב עליו באמת. אמת כי אתה הוא דין ומוכיח, ויודע ועד, וכותב וחותם וסופר ומונה, ותזכור כל הנשכחות. ותפתח את ספר הזכרונות, ומאליו יקרא, וחותם יד כל אדם בו. ובשופר גדול יתקע, וקול דממה דקה ישמע. ומלאכים יחפזון, וחיל ורעדה יאחזון, ויאמרו הנה יום הדין, לפקוד על צבא מרום בדין, כי לא יזכו בעיניך בדין. וכל באי עולם יעברון לפניך כבני מרון. כבקרת רועה עדרו, מעביר צאנו תחת שבטו, כן תעביר ותספור ותמנה, ותפקוד נפש כל חי, ותחתוך קצבה לכל בריותיך, ותכתוב את גזר דינםבראש השנה יכתבון, וביום צום כפור יחתמון, כמה יעברון, וכמה יבראון; מי יחיה ומי ימות, מי בקצו ומי לא בקצו, מי במים, ומי באש, מי בחרב, ומי בחיה, מי ברעב, ומי בצמא, מי ברעש, ומי במגפה, מי בחניקה, ומי בסקילה, מי ינוח ומי ינוע, מי ישקט ומי יטרף, מי ישלו ומי יתיסר, מי יעני ומי יעשר, מי ישפל ומי ירום

ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה
מעבירין את רע הגזרה

כי כשמך כן תהלתך, קשה לכעוס ונוח לרצות; כי לא תחפוץ במות המת, כי אם בשובו מדרכו וחיה. ועד יום מותו תחכה לו, אם ישוב מיד תקבלו. אמת כי אתה הוא יוצרם, ואתה יודע יצרם, כי הם בשר ודם. אדם יסודו מעפר וסופו לעפר; בנפשו יביא לחמו; משול כחרס הנשבר, כחציר יבש, וכציץ נובל, וכצל עובר, וכענן כלה, וכרוח נושבת, וכאבק פורח, וכחלום יעוף

ואתה הוא מלך אל חי וקים

My translation is as follows:

Let us relate the power
Of the sanctity
Of the day
For it is terrible and awesome.
On it is Your kingdom upraised
And Your throne,
Secured with kindness

You sit upon it in truth!
Truth, for You are who judges and proves,
Knows and testifies,
Writes and then signs,
Relates and then numbers,
And remembers all of the forgotten.

You will open the Book of Memories
And from it, it shall be read
With everyone’s signature in it.

A great horn shall be sounded
But a thin, small voice shall be heard.

The angels then shall all hasten
Fear and trembling shall seize them
And they shall cry:
“Behold, the Day of the Law!
Commanding the heavenly army by law!
Who can be pure in Your eyes through the law?”

And all the inhabitants of the earth shall pass
Before You, like a flock of sheep
Like a shepherd who pastures his livestock,
Brings his herd underneath his crook,
So too do You bring, do You count, do You number,
Do You analyse the souls of the living
And apportion the needs of each being
And write the decree of their sentence.

On Rosh HaShana they are written
And on Tsom Yom Kippur they are sealed.
How many shall pass, and how many created:
Who shall live and who shall die;
Who in their time and who not in their time;
Who by water
And who by fire;
Who by the sword
And who by a beast;
Who by hunger
And who by thirst;
Who by disaster
And who by sickness;
Who by strangling
And who by stoning;
Who will rest
And who will wander;
Who will be go peacefully
And who will go violently;
Who will be calm
And who will be harried;
Who will be poor
And who will be rich;
Who will be degraded
And who will be exalted.

But repentance, prayer and charity
Remove the evil of the decree!

For Your name signifies Your glory:
Hard to anger and easy to please.
You do not delight in the death of the dying
But in their return from their ways, and their life.
Until the last day of their lives You are waiting
And if they repent You receive them at once.
It is true, for You are their maker
And You know well their inclination,
That they are but flesh and blood.

Man is derived from the dust
And the dust constitutes his conclusion.
In peril he gathers his bread.

Likened to a broken shard,
Dry grass,
A fading flower,
A passing shadow,
A dispersing cloud
A returning wind,
Scattered dust,
A passing dream.

But You are the King!
The Living and Eternal God.

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