05 – Pitum HaKetoret and Aleinu L’Shabe’ach

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After Shir Shel Yom, it is customary to recite Pitum HaKetoret, preceded by Ein K’elokeinu. There are two reasons for its recital. The first is that Pitum HaKetoret corresponds to the incense which was offered every morning and evening in the Temple. The second is so that every Jew may merit learning rabbinic teachings daily.[5]

In the Zohar (part 2, 212:2), Chazal greatly praise the recital of Pitum HaKetoret, asserting that we are saved, through its virtue, from many calamities. There are those who say that one must be very careful not to omit mentioning even one spice from the incense, therefore, it was not recited on weekdays, in fear that a person rushing to get to work would skip over one of the spices (Rama 132:2). In practice, it is the opinion of the majority of poskim that there is no need to be very meticulous regarding this. However, l’chatchilah it is proper to recite the passage from the siddur so not to skip a word (Beit Yosef; Mishnah Berurah 132:17).

It is customary to recite Aleinu L’Shabe’ach at the conclusion of the prayer service in order to instill in our hearts faith in Hashem and in our promised redemption before we leave off from prayer. Thus strengthened, when we afterwards encounter gentiles at work, or in the course of the day, we won’t be enticed by their gods and beliefs (Bach 133).[6]

Due to the significance of this prayer, it is customarily recited while standing, and one bows slightly when saying the words “Va’anachnu kor’im” (Mishnah Berurah 132:9).


[5]. In Siddur Rav Amram Gaon there is no mention that we recite the passage of the Tamid and Pitum HaKetoret before the prayer service because the Shacharit prayer itself is considered to be in place of the Tamid offering. Rav Amram writes that the Pitum HaKetoret is recited after the prayer service. In the time of the Rishonim, many became accustomed to reciting Korbanot and Pitum HaKetoret before prayer, based on the Gemara in Ta’anit 27b, which states that its recital is considered to be a substitute for its offering.

Further, the initial minhag was to recite Pitum HaKetoret before Shir Shel Yom, as written in the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon. So writes the Tur, Orach Chaim 133, and Rama 132:2. This minhag was changed based on the Ari, who switched the order based on the progressive sequence of the worlds (see earlier in this book, 13:2); therefore, Shir Shel Yom now precedes Pitum HaKetoret. However, the question arises, since the order in the Temple was the offering of the incense before the song of the Levi’im, how can it be changed? The Eshel Avraham 132 explains that because the incense is already recited after the Tamid in the passages of the Korbanot, there is no need to recite the incense before Shir Shel Yom again. Still, there is reason to recite Pitum HaKetoret even after the prayer service, corresponding to its smoke, which would continue to rise for a very long time. The explanation based on the Ari, is that the recital of Pitum HaKetoret after the prayer service saves the prayer from the external forces (Mishnah Berurah 132:14). The Shlah writes, based on Kabbalah, that it is customary to recite the full Pitum HaKetoret service three times daily, twice in Shacharit and another time at Minchah. This is cited by the Mishnah Berurah 132:14 and Kaf HaChaim 133:19. In any case, as I have already written (chapter 13:1, note 2), those in a hurry are permitted to recite only the Torah verses dealing with the incense in the beginning of the prayer service, on the assumption that at the end of the service they will recite the full baraita concerning the incense.

[6]. The primary place of Aleinu L’Shabe’ach is in Musaf of Rosh HaShanah, in the beginning of Seder Malchuyot. However, during the time of the Rishonim, it had became the custom to conclude the Shacharit prayer with Aleinu L’Shabe’ach. Based on the Ari, it became customary to say Aleinu after each of the three daily prayers (Mishnah Berurah 132:7; Kaf HaChaim 11-12).

The Kolbo writes that Yehoshua composed the wording of the Aleinu prayer. Some say that Achan said “Al Ken Nekaveh” when admitting his sin. However, Netiv Binah, part 1, pp. 373-374 writes that it is Rav who composed the prayer.

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