What is wrong with you guys, they think (though not usually voicing such thoughts aloud in polite company)? No request for חיים טובים from הקב”ה? Why not? Don’t you want a good life? Doesn’t everyone?
Understanding And Maintaining The Special Nature Of Kaddish
Actually, however, the Ashkenazic קדיש, in addition to preserving ancient nusach, also preserves the ancient view of kaddish associated with it, in a more pure manner. Here’s how.
Let us first remember what the idea of kaddish is and what kind of prayer it is. Is it like the שמונה עשרה, where we ask הקב”ה for personal needs (in designated parts of the tefilloh)? Or is it like other types of davening, such as praise, thanksgiving, exalting Hashem…. where personal petitionary prayer is not allowed?
The answer is that it is a prayer focused on the greatness of Hashem, praising the great name of הקב”ה. It is not a prayer to ask for needs such as פרנסה, רפואה, וכו. There are other places in davening designated for such requests.
So therefore, we can say that in the Ashkenazic view, the place to ask for chaim tovim, ‘a good life’, is דווקא, specifically, not in the kaddish, and therefore it is excluded. On the other hand, basic life is needed in order to praise הקב”ה, as it is stated, לא המתים יהללו קה, so that is acceptable there.
(As an aside, there are also issues regarding word and letter counts in our prayers being symbolic and corresponding to various things, as we have mentioned in the past, that need to be considered when contemplating our holy traditions.)
The special nature of kaddish is also reflected in its name and its designation as a דבר שבקדושה. Kaddish is not, to use the לשון of the Zohar, a prayer of הב הב, of personal requests, for a so to speak shopping list to ask of Hashem.
If people start adding requests to the kaddish, they can end up where the Sepharadic kaddish is, where the text for that segment reads יהא שלמא רבה מן שמיא, חיים, ושבע, וישועה, ונחמה,ושיזבא, ורפואה, וגאולה, וסליחה, וכפרה, ורוח, והצלה, לנו ולכל עמו ישראל, ואמרו אמן, twenty two words, as opposed to the twelve in nusach Ashkenaz, almost double the length!
There are special insertions in the שמונה עשרה then, from the time of the גאונים. Let us focus on the first one, זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים. We ask that הקב”ה remember us for life. Not good life. Just plain life. Even ardent nusach Sfard advocates here just request חיים, and not חיים טובים.
Various explanations are given for this.
The ערוגת הבשם explains that it is understood that we want חיים טובים when we make such a בקשה. That is the default, ideal form of chaim.
רבינו תם explains that הקב”ה gives then בעין יפה. We need only ask for plain חיים.
In the view of the mussar master R. Isaac Sher of Slabodka, we are asking for life סתם. Life in general. There are many types of life, with a great variety of conditions and challenges. Life is precious. Even if it is not what people may think of as ‘good life’. All types of life give us opportunities to serve Hashem and live fulfillingly. Life with significant challenges, that wouldn’t be generally viewed by the masses as ‘good life’, can also be very meaningful. It is not our place to demand from הקב”ה that we have only a certain type of ‘good life’.
May we be zoche to great and meaningful and holy life. שנת חיים ושלום to this virtual Ashkenazic community.
A גוט יום טוב, מועדים לשמחה, און א גוט יאהר!