In a few short weeks, we will once again (with Hashem's help) usher in a New Year. The year 5766 will fast be upon us. And with much awe and trepidation, we approach the Almighty on this day of judgment and we beseech Him for mercy and for forgiveness and to grant us life.
We take this time to review our deeds, both personal and communal of the year that has past. We take upon ourselves to do repentance for any misdeeds or rebellious acts that we may have committed and we also review the opportunities that we did not seize.to sanctify Hashem's name.
Over the past year, the Jewish people have suffered tremendously and the Land of Israel has seen its people ripped from their beloved homes in Gaza and in the Shromron. We stand in our synagogues and beat our breasts for our past sins and we ask ourselves what we can do to change our ways. We ask ourselves how we can improve our deeds. We ask ourselves how we can serve the Almighty G-d of Israel in a fitting and appropriate way.
We ask ourselves what the meaning of Kiddush Hashem really means, and why, out of fear, we did not summon up the strength and courage to do Hashem's will. We ask ourselves why we did not do everything in our power to prevent the land of Israel from being handed over to the Arab enemy. We ask ourselves why we were humiliated by the Arabs, as they burned down our synagogues and tore apart our dwellings.
Did we really sacrifice ourselves for the Almighty? At this juncture of the year, it is exceptionally important to review a story that relates the true essence of Kiddush Hashem, of true and painful sacrifice for the Klall, for Hashem.
Every Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur we open up our Machzorim and recite the "U'Netaneh Tokef" prayer. The story behind this piyut, a prayer-poem, is sad and poignant and represents Ahavas Torah is a dramatic way.
The prayer is attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany who lived about one thousand years ago. The Bishop of Mainz summoned Rabbi Amnon, a great Torah scholar, to his court and offered him a ministerial post on the condition that Rabbi Amnon would convert to Christianity. Rabbi Amnon refused. The Bishop insisted and continued to press Rabbi Amnon to accept his offer. Of course, Rabbi Amnon continued to refuse. One day, however, Rabbi Amnon asked the Bishop for three days to consider his offer.
As soon as Rabbi Amnon returned home, he was distraught at the terrible mistake he had made of even appearing to consider the Bishop's offer and the betrayal of G-d. For three days he fasted and did not sleep and he prayed to Hashem for forgiveness. When the deadline for the decision arrived, the Bishop sent messenger after messenger to bring Rabbi Amnon to him, but he refused to go. Finally, the Bishop had him forcibly brought to him and demanded a response. The Rabbi responded, "I should have my tongue cut out for having spoken falsely." The Bishop responded that he would not cut out his tongue for it had spoken properly, rather he would cut off his legs because he had not come to him. The non-Jews then proceeded to cut each joint of his legs and arms. After each joint they would ask him if he wanted to convert to Christianity and Rabbi Amnon would refuse. When this was completed they sent him home together with the pieces.
When Rosh HaShana came a short time later, Rabbi Amnon ordered that he be brought to the synagogue next to the Chazzan. When the time came for the Kedusha prayer Rabbi Amnon told the chazzan to pause so that he could sanctify the name of Hashem. He then recited the prayer, "U'Nesaneh Tokef" in which he speaks about the great judgement which takes place on Rosh HaShanah and that all of Hashem's judgements are true. Immediately after the Kedusha prayer Rabbi Amnon passed away.
Three days later Rabbi Amnon appeared in a dream to Rabbi K'lonimus ben Meshullam of Mainz and taught him the text of this prayer and commanded him to spread it throughout the Jewish world.
The following is a translation of selections from this prayer:
We shall now speak of the power of this day's holiness,
for it is awesome and frightening....
It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, who proves, knows and
testifies, writes and seals....
And remembers all that is forgotten...
All Creatures of the world will pass before you like sheep...
On Rosh HaShana shall be written and on Yom Kippur shall be sealed
how many will pass from the world and how many will be created,
who will live and who will die,....
who by water, who by fire, who by sword, who by beast,
who by famine, and who by thirst...
Who will rest and who will wander...
who will become poor and who will become rich,
who will be lowered down and who will be lifted up.
And repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil decree !
For You do not desire the death of he who deserves death
but rather that he should return from his way and live.
Until the day of his death You wait for him,
if he returns You accept him immediately.
We now have a chance to do real Teshuvah. To return to Hashem in glory and majesty. We must review the lesson of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz to learn the lesson of Kiddush Hashem. We must beseech the Almighty to return us to His Torah. He must ask His divine help for the courage and strength to sanctify His name. In this zchus, may the land of Israel be restored to the Jewish people and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life and may we zealously strive for the day that we will no longer be humiliated by our enemies in front of the whole world. We have it in our power to bring the Moshiach, to sanctify name of Hashem and the land of Israel. Let us pray for the steadfastness and strength of a Rabbi Amnon and let us incorporate this most important lesson in our everyday lives.