Will That Be Life Or Good Life? Understanding the Ashkenazic Kaddish – A Guide For The Perplexed חיים או חיים טובים? להבין נוסח הקדיש של האשכנזים

Why No Request For ‘Good Life’ in Our Kaddish?
Some aspects of the נוסח אשכנז kaddish seem to baffle certain people, especially outsiders who’s conception of קדיש is influenced by the נוסח ספרד version. Bewildered, they are at a loss to understand what seems to them the strange behavior of the Ashkenazic faithful, who still adhere to that ancient, holy rite, stubbornly refusing to change.
For example, they wonder why, toward the end of kaddish, their nusach is the ‘plain vanilla’ יהא שלמה רבה מן שמיא וחיים עלינו ועל כל ישראל, rather than the longer יהא שלמה רבה מן שמיא וחיים טובים עלינו ועל כל ישראל.

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!

Further Insight From Our ימים נוראים Tefillos
רבש”ה called to my attention (and generously shared with me some of his many resources on the inyan, from which I cite below) that additional insight on this matter, re chaim vs. chaim tovim, can be garnered from discussions surrounding some special additions to our tefilloh that we recite during the high holiday season, at the beginning of each year.

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!

Tags:

4 Responses to “Will That Be Life Or Good Life? Understanding the Ashkenazic Kaddish – A Guide For The Perplexed חיים או חיים טובים? להבין נוסח הקדיש של האשכנזים”

  1. R' Wiesenthal Says:

    “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.”

    The problem with citing this example is, that in the Birchas Houdo-oh, most people say “Uchsouv L’Chayim Touvim (Kol) Bnei Breesecho”. Thereby saying Chayim Touvim in the same way even according to Nusach Ashkenaz.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Okay, yes, you have a point there.

      My main point was that even ardent nusach Sfard adherents, who profess amazement at why nusach Ashkenaz uses just chaim, and not chaim tovim, in kaddish, do the same themselves elsewhere.

      Re why there is the request for חיים טובים later in the typical nusach Ashkenaz as you point out – 1) I believe originally there it was only plain chaim as well, 2) Rashi gives an explanation that we gradually increase our requests – first just plain chaim and later expanded to chaim tovim.

  2. R' Wiesenthal Says:

    Re why there is the request for חיים טובים later in the typical nusach Ashkenaz as you point out – 1) I believe originally there it was only plain chaim as well, 2) Rashi gives an explanation that we gradually increase our requests – first just plain chaim and later expanded to chaim tovim.

    According to the Maharil the word touvim is omitted from “Uchsouv L’Chayim Kol Bnei Breesecho”, leaving the word Kol, which according the the Rokayach must contain only six words (according to Minhagei Worms and Frankfurt the word Kol is omitted not Touvim). What does not jive with your explanation is, that according to Minhag Ashkenaz, “B’Sefer Chayim..” concludes with “L’Chayim UL’Sholoum” omitting the word Touvim once again (not expanded to chaim tovim).

    One more point, in regard to the Kaddish, would the rule for “Chayim Touvim” apply equally to “B’Rachamov Sholoum”?
    What about in Kaddish D’Rabbonon, is the nusach “Divishmahyoh V’Ar-o” or just “Divishmahyoh”?

    • MP Says:

      @R’Wiesenthal: “According to the Maharil the word touvim is omitted from ‘Uchsouv L’Chayim Kol Bnei Breesecho’, leaving the word Kol, which according the the Rokayach must contain only six words (according to Minhagei Worms and Frankfurt the word Kol is omitted not Touvim).”
      I think RW meant to say that there should be _five_ words. In the siddur of R’Amram Gaon, the nusach is “uchsov l’chayyim kal-b’nei b’risecha”; as RW noted, minhag FFdM (as practiced in KAJ/”Breuer’s” and elsewhere) added “tovim” and removed “kal-.”

      “What about in Kaddish D’Rabbonon, is the nusach ‘Divishmahyoh V’Ar-o’ or just ‘Divishmahyoh’?”
      Methinks it should be the latter (the equivalent of Avinu shebaShamayim) — do CHaZaL ever consider H’ as Avinu shebaAretz?!

מה אתה חושב? וואס זאגט איהר - What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: