One of the most emotional pieces of poetry and its music is the Unetane Tokef ‘suite’ which is between the opening blessings Avot and Gevurot and before the Kedushah of the Musaf Amidah when it is repeated by the Chazan.
Here is my abridgement of these texts.
1: Unetane Tokef Kedushat Hayom – We will tell of the power of today’s holiness because it is awesome and frightening… It is true that only You, God, are the One who judges, proves, knows and witnesses, who writes and seals, counts and calculates. You remember everything that was forgotten. You will open the book and it will read itself. Everyone’s signature is in it.
2: Uv’shofar Gadol Yitaka - The great shofar will blast but a voice of silence will be heard. Even the angels will tremble and terror will seize them and they will say “The day of judgement has arrived”. Even they cannot be vindicated. All humankind will pass before You like sheep. You count them, each one of Your flock, and consider every individual soul. As they pass, You will inscribe their verdict.
3: B’Rosh Hashanah Yikatevun - On Rosh Hashanah it will be written and on Yom Kippur it will be sealed. How many will pass from the earth and how many will be created…
4. Ut’shuva, Ut’filah Uts’dakah - Repentance, Prayer and Charity will remove the evil of the decree!
5. Ki K’shimcha - Your Name signifies Your praise. You are difficult to anger and easy to appease. You do not wish the death even of one deserving death but rather that the person turns towards You and lives. You wait for the human every day of his life and if he turns to You, You accept him immediately. A human is only flesh and blood, dust to dust. His life is like a fading flower, like a fleeting dream.
6. V’ata Hu Melech - But You are the King and live for eternity.
7. En Kitsvah - There is no span to Your years and no end to Your days
This difficult, fatalistic suite is magnificent poetry, inviting depth of thought each time it appears before our eyes. Each year as I involve myself in preparation of these texts and the music, the melodies haunt me, forever moulding and remoulding their form like smoke swirling into the air.
Joseph Finlay - This year, Joseph Finlay, one of the brightest young Jewish musicians in the UK, and well known to Kol Nefesh, has composed a mystical piece for En Kitsvah for two voices.
Kol Nefesh children - Our young ones will lead a new, lilting melody for B’Rosh Hashana, written by Chazan Meir Finkelstein, a shining light in the world of Jewish music.