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>The prayer entitled "U'Netaneh Tokef" is attributed to a Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, who lived about one thousand years ago.   The story behind this piyut, a prayer-poem, is sad and poignant, and may shed light on the prayer itself.

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 could not eat or sleep and he prayed to G-d for forgiveness.  When the deadline for decision arrived, the Bishop sent messenger after messenger to bring Rabbi Amnon, 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 not having refused immediately."   The Bishop angrily had Rabbi Amnon's hands and feet cut off and then sent him home.

A few days later was Rosh HaShanah, and Rabbi Amnon, dying from his wounds, asked to be carried to shul.  He wished to say the Kedushah to sanctify G-d's Name and publicly declare his faith in G-d's Kingship.With his dying breath, he uttered the words that we now know of as the U'Netaneh Tokef.

Three days later Rabbi Amnon appeared in a dream to Rabbi Kalonymous ben Meshullam, a scholar and poet, and taught him the exact text of the prayer.   Rabbi Amnon asked that it be sent to all Jewry and that it be inserted in the prayers of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur for all time.

The prayer portrays G-d as a Shepherd over His flock, counting and examining each sheep one by one as it passes under His rod.  So does He review the flock of humanity one by one, determining each individual's fate for the coming year.

But the individual human being is not just a helpless sheep!  Rather, he or she can contribute to their verdict by altering their behavior towards G-d and Man, specifically in the areas of sincere Repentance, Prayer from the heart and Charity given with a cheerful spirit.

The following is the full translated text of the great prayer, "U'Netaneh Tokef," attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, as related to Rabbi Klonimus ben Meshullam

THE ARK BEING OPEN: 

Congregation and chazzan:

So now, the Kedushah prayer shall ascend to You, for You, our God, are King.

Congregation and chazzan:

Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; Who writes and seats, (counts and calculates); Who remembers all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Chronicles - it will read itself, and everyone's signature is in it. The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them - and they will say, 'Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!'- for they cannot be vindicated in Your eyes in judgment. 

Chazzan:

All mankind will pass before You like members of the flock.  Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.

Congregation then chazzan [in some congregations this is recited only by the chazzan]:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.

Congregation aloud, then chazzan:

But REPENTANCE, PRAYER and CHARITY

Remove the Evil of the Decree!

Congregation and chazzan:

For Your Name signifies Your praise: hard to anger and easy to appease, for You do not wish the death of one deserving death, but that he repent from his way and live. Until the day of his death You await him; if he repents You will accept him immediately.

Chazzan:

It is true that You are their Creator and You know their inclination, for they are flesh and blood. A man's origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.

Congregation aloud, then chazzan:

But You are the King, the Living and Enduring G-d.

THE ARK IS CLOSED

Congregation then chazzan:

There is no set span to Your years and there is no end to the length of Your days. It is impossible to estimate the angelic chariots of Your glory and to elucidate Your Name's inscrutability. Your Name is worthy of You and You are worthy of Your Name, and You have included Your Name in our name.