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What is the Relationship between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?  

On Penitence - What is the Relationship between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are ten days apart: Rosh Hashanah is celebrated on the first and second of Tishrei, and Yom Kippur is celebrated on the tenth of Tishrei. The two holidays are separated by ten days. The first day of the Hebrew month, which is celebrated according to the lunar cycle, is the day when the moon appears covered or veiled. And on the tenth day, the moon is seen clearly, in its most visible form. What occurs between the hidden and the manifest? On Rosh Hashanah we ask God for a good year, a year in which we will merit God's blessing. Then for ten days, we gradually remove the veil and the perfect appearance we displayed to the public on Rosh Hashanah. We list our transgressions and atone for them, until the truth is fully revealed and we arrive at the Judgment Day, Yom Kippur.

The purpose of Yom Kippur is to think about meaning. Here is the story of the liturgical poem, “Unetanah Tokef”.

This liturgical poem, composed before the tenth century, was recited with great emotion by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz in the synagogue, on his last day before he died a martyr. The custom of reciting it on the High Holidays has since become widespread. This poem describes Judgment Day in a concise, sublime, and horrifying way. It describes the Almighty as a judge sitting on the chair of judgment, sentencing each man according to his deeds, and determining his fate for the new year.

The story behind the poem “Unetanah Tokef” is that Rabbi Amnon was required to convert by the bishop of Mainz. In response, the rabbi asked to be given three days in which to make up his mind. Immediately afterwards, he felt guilty for not immediately refusing the bishop’s demand, and he did not appear before the bishop at the appointed time. When he was forcibly brought before the bishop, the rabbi requested that his tongue be cut out for not immediately rejecting the bishop’s demand that he convert to Christianity. The bishop ordered his feet to be cut off for not arriving on time, and then the rest of his limbs. Limbless, the rabbi was brought to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and recited the “Unetanah Tokef” prayer. Upon completing the prayer, he died.

In most communities, it is the custom to recite this prayer when the Ark is open. Reciting it causes anxiety and moves the worshipers. The prayer’s powerful words have inspired a number of tunes and melodies in our times: Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire” (1974), the melody by Yair Rosenblum (1991), and the Orthodox version by Avraham Fried.

Leonard Cohen:

“Who by Fire” by Leonard Cohen
Translation by Kobi Meidan
And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling
מי באש?
מי במים?
מי לאור השמש?
מי בחשכת ליל?
מי בבית דין של מטה?
מי בישיבה של מעלה?
מי בפריחה החייכנית הזאת?
מי בדעיכה איטית מאד?
ומי, מי קורא בשמנו?

מי במעידה קלה?
מי בסמי שינה?
מי בשלטון הלב?
מי במכשיר קהה?
מי במפולת שלג?
מי באבקה נשפכת?
מי בשל בצע כסף?
מי ברעב בלי שובע?
ומי, מי קורא בשמנו?

מי בזמן טיפוס?
מי בתוך אוטובוס?
מי ברוב בדידות?
מי בראי ממול?
מי במצוות גבירתו?
מי על חרבו שלו?
מי ייקשר עד מוות?
מי ייכנע לכוח?
ומי, מי קורא בשמנו?

Here is a comparison of the original poem to the version by Leonard Cohen:

Leonard Cohen Original Version by Amnon of Mainz
And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?
מִי בַמַּיִם. וּמִי בָאֵשׁ
מִי בַחֶרֶב. וּמִי בַחַיָּה
מִי בָרָעָב. וּמִי בַצָּמָא
מִי בָרַעַשׁ. וּמִי בַמַּגֵּפָה
מִי בַחֲנִיקָה וּמִי בַסְּקִילָה
מִי יָנוּחַ וּמִי יָנוּעַ

There is an interesting story behind the song “Who by Fire”. The song is based on the liturgical poem “Unetanah Tokef”. Cohen arrived in Israel in 1973 and performed for soldiers across half the Sinai Peninsula. The location, the war, and the soldiers had a strong impact on him. It was here in Israel that Cohen learned the amazing and tragic story of this terrible poem’s author. Here is a link to Cohen’s song:

Yair Rosenblum:

Yair Rosenblum was very moved when writing this melody, because of the illness that wracked his body and made him think about his life in general and his father in particular. He was asked by members of the “Beit HaShita” kibbutz to write a song for Yom Kippur. Many of the kibbutz members were looking for meaning in the loss of 11 kibbutz members in the war. I visited the “Beit HaShita” kibbutz at the time, and I saw the memorial halls for the fallen members. I felt the pain of loss, and I suppose that the composer Yair Rosenblum could not shut out the pain rising from the walls of the memorial halls either. In fact, Yair Rosenblum opened the Yom Kippur prayer book without hesitation, and it immediately opened to the poem “Unetanah Tokef”. Here is the melody that Yair Rosenblum wrote for the poem “Unetanah Tokef”.

Both my friends and I were moved by this song, and this drew me to the kibbutz, to speak with the members.

Avraham Fried

A song that speaks the truth and resonates far, here's the Haredi version of the song by Yair Rosenblum:

The meaning can be found at the heart of the Yom Kippur fast, our paths as people, and relationships that go beyond a small mistake here and there. Yom Kippur is intended for asking questions about ourselves and our values. For just one day, let us explore our beliefs, the values in our lives, and how they are expressed in both hidden and manifest ways. We will stand before the Creator, pleading and begging for forgiveness.

Gmar Chatima Tova,
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