Always and Everywhere!
Although Aleinu was composed by Yehoshua bin Nun, and the Anshei K’neses HaG’dolah instituted its inclusion in the Malchiyus section of tefilas Musaf on Rosh HaShanah, it was Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who instituted saying it daily after each tefilah. He did this to strengthen the emunah and spirits of klal Yisrael, who were living through the painful times of the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash.
Both the first paragraph and the second paragraph of Aleinu begin with the letter ayin and end with the letter daled, alluding to the idea of testimony, bearing witness, as the ayin and daled form the word eid (witness). This symbolizes our unique position, obligation, and privilege of being the chosen ones to testify about Hashem’s active hashgachah in the world. We immediately begin with referring to Hashem as “Adon Ha’kol (the Master of all)” to emphasize this crucial point that differentiates us from the rest of the nations. They may agree that Hashem is “Yotzeir b’reishis (the Molder of primeval creation)” – the Creator of the world. However, they believe that this was the end of His involvement. In Tehilim, David HaMelech writes: “Ram al kol goyim Hashem, al ha’shamayim k’vodo” – i.e., to the nations, Hashem is way up there and it is below His dignity to involve Himself with this world down here. We, on the other hand, know and proclaim that Hashem is Adon Ha’kol – Master and Ruler over all of creation, up in shamayim and down here as well. This is the meaning of “laseis g’dulah l’Yotzeir b’reishis”: We “add g’dulah” to the nations’ limited belief, so to speak, by recognizing and proclaiming that Hashem is Adon Ha’kol. [HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Sifsei Chaim – Moadim 1]
Next, we thank Hashem for not making us like the “nations of the lands” – “she’lo asanu k’goyei ha’aratzos.” The nations are bound to their lands, and when they have been driven out of their lands, they have faded away. We, on the other hand, are privileged in that our existence is not dependent on our land in the same way. While Eretz Yisrael is certainly very important to us in many ways, we have had to exist, and do exist, independent from our homeland. In fact, as if to stress this point, we actually began as a nation in the desert before we entered Eretz Yisrael. We also unfortunately were without our homeland for close to 2,000 years, and yet we survived and have not faded away. Our existence is solely dependent on our learning the Torah and performing mitzvos, representing our doing the Will of Hashem and “attaching” ourselves to Him.
We also thank Hashem that “lo samanu k’mishp’chos ha’adamah” – for not establishing us as the families of the earth. The earth represents nature. The essence of the nations is their connection to “mother nature” and physicality. Our essence, on the other hand, is our connection to Hashem and His Torah, to the spiritual and the eternal.
The goal of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai will be achieved if we recite Aleinu with kavanah and reflect upon it and allow it to affect us, as we head to our next destination. As we prepare daily to head back out “into the world” after tefilah, let us solidify and strengthen our emunah in Adon Ha’kol and raise our hope and expectation of our future g’ulah, may it be soon in our days, b’ezras Hashem, where all the world will recognize that Hashem is One.
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