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It is incumbent upon us to praise the Lord of all, to ascribe greatness to the primeval Creator, because God has not made us like the nations of the earth, or placed us like the families of the world. God has not given us a portion like theirs, or a destiny like that of their multitudes. (For they bow down to vanity and nothingness, and pray to a god who cannot redeem them.{This line was removed from many versions of the sidur during the Middle Ages, lest it be construed as a denigration of Christianity, and has been reintroduced—albeit on an optional basis—into some sidurim today.}) But we bow down and prostrate ourselves and acknowledge the King of Kings, the Holy One, Praised be God. It was You Who set forth the heavens and established the earth. The dwelling-place of Your glory is in the heavens above, and the residence of Your strength is in the highest heavens. You are our God and there is none else, as is written in Your Torah: “You are to implant the knowledge in your heart this day that Adonai is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, and there is none else.{Deuteronomy 4:39}

a kipa

We therefore put our hope in You, Adonai our God, that we may soon see the splendor of Your might, as You remove idolatry from the earth, and completely cut off false gods; as You perfect the world under Your Almighty sovereignty. Then shall all humanity call upon Your name, and turn all the wicked of the earth to You. All inhabitants of the earth shall know and understand that to You alone every knee must bend, and every tongue swear allegiance. Before You, Adonai our God shall they bow down and prostrate themselves, and to Your glorious Name shall they give honor. They shall all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingdom, that You may rule over them soon and for all time. For the kingdom is Yours, and forever shall You reign in honor, as it is written in Your Torah: “Adonai will reign forever and ever.{Exodus 15:18}” And it has been said, “On that day Adonai shall be One and God’s Name shall be One.{Zechariah 14:9} 

The aleinu was not originally included in the weekday or Shabbat liturgies. It was imported into these services by popular demand from its original location—namely, the musaf tefila of Rosh Hashana morning. The shofar שופר (ram’s horn) is sounded in three sets during the cantor’s repetition of that tefila:
• the first time, malchuyot מלכויות (“kingship”) to herald the proclamation of God’s dominion over all the earth;
• the second time, zichronot זכרונות (“remembrances”) to implore God’s favorable judgment upon us because of the memory of our ancestors’ faithfulness; and
• the third time shofarot, שופרות(“soundings of the shofar”) to anticipate the arrival of the Messianic age, which is to be heralded by that unmistakable sound.
Each of these three sets of shofar-soundings is preceded by quotes from all three sections of the TaNaKh (Torah, Prophets, and Holy Writings) setting forth the theme of that set, as well as by an eloquent prayer enunciating the same theme. The aleinu is the prayer from the malchuyot section, and it became so popular that it was imported into every other service of the year.

The nations of the world will recognize the truths of Judaism, says the aleinu, not because they are compelled to do so at the edge of a sword but rather because those truths are manifested in the wonders of God and in the actions of God’s faithful ones.

The shema proclaims that “God is One.” But the prophet Zechariah reminds us, at the conclusion of the aleinu, that we need to be God’s partners in making that happen. Only when we human beings work together to reunite the sparks of goodness which were scattered long ago, only then will God become One: “On that day Adonai shall be One and God’s Name shall be One.”

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