This question bothers me each time the High Holidays come around. In the text for Unetaneh Tokef, we find the sequence:

מִי יָנוּחַ, וּמִי יָנוּעַ; מִי יִשָּׁקֵט, וּמִי יְטֹּרֵף; מִי יִשָּׁלֵו, וּמִי יִתְיַסָּר; מִי יַעֲנִי, וּמִי יַעֲשִׁיר; מִי יֻשְׁפַּל, וּמִי יָרוּם

(I have added punctuation to clarify my question.) In this sequence, we have 5 pairs. If the first 3 pairs, we have a positive quality followed by a negative one, but in the last 2 pairs the text suddenly switches and puts the negative quality first. Any suggestions as to why?

  • 2
    The last one could just be that the author wanted to end on a high* note*. (* Figuratively and literally)
    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 16, 2019 at 17:47
  • Note that, at least in the penultimate pair, the order varies among prayer books, even prayer books popular today.
    – msh210
    Oct 16, 2019 at 17:56
  • I have an other nikud
    – kouty
    Oct 16, 2019 at 21:09
  • See Mesilas Yeshorim who reckons both poverty and riches as tests "העוני מצד אחד והעושר מצד אחד". He also reckons "השלוה מצד אחד והיסורין מצד אחד". Maybe poverty is in his view and R' Amnon's more positive than riches. Oct 17, 2019 at 8:21

2 Answers 2


Prof. Reuven Kimmelman in his essay "U-n’taneh Tokef as a Midrashic Poem", p. 133, n. 77 writes:

"Some recent versions,1 oblivious to the import of the "but" of the next strophe,2 have reversed the order of the penultimate and/or ultimate one to end on a positive note. They could also be taking their cue from the order and the juxtaposition of the two in 1 Sam 2:7."

Here's the relevant verse from Shmuel 1:2:7:

"ה' מוֹרִישׁ וּמַעֲשִׁיר, מַשְׁפִּיל אַף מְרוֹמֵם"
"The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He casts down, He also lifts high."

Side-note: It's possible that this change was done for liturgical reasons, as suggested by @IsaacMoses in the comments (I refer to the 'literally' part. Kimmelman suggested the 'figuratively' part).

1 Of U'netaneh Tokef.

2 I.e., that the Vav in "ותשובה" in the next stanza is a Vav of contradiction, thereby rapidly moving the reader from the negativity of the previous stanza to the positivity of the phrase ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזרה.


As the previous respondant said, this inversion is not original, so the question is for the machzor editor. You can see early texts in which all the phrases line up at Friedberg Genizah. There's no way to link to individual documents, but select Cambridge T-S H8.6 and BL OR 5557V.23.

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