The Special, Elevated Nature of the Kaddish in Nusach Ashkenaz – הייחודיות של הקדיש בנוסח אשכנז

Note: In the past we discussed the special nature of the Ashkenaz kaddish recitation (in a number of posts, for example this one), with a focus on the minhog that only one person recites kaddish at a time. In this post we turn our gaze to the actual text of kaddish in nusach Ashkenaz, and examine what makes it unique.

One of the most well known, and high profile (and frankly, baffling to many people, it seems) differences between nusach Ashkenaz and other nuschaos appears in the kaddish. The kaddish is a very exalted, ancient prayer, and requires a minyan (quorum of ten adult men) to be recited, as it is classified as among the ‘devorim shebikdushoh’ – דברים שבקדושה – which require an edah (congregation) for recitation, as derived and defined by our Rabbis and tradition. The kaddish especially stands out as a difference between nusach Ashkenaz and other nuschaos to a great degree, it seems, due to the fact that it is recited aloud multiple times a day as part of tefillah betzibbur (communal prayer). Whereas one only encounters the difference between nusach Ashkenaz and other nuschaos re the placement of Hodu (before or after Boruch Sheomar), for example, once a day during davening, kaddish is repeated a number of times each tefillah.

But what is behind the special nature of the nusach Ashkenaz kaddish, which takes center stage in Shul at various times, and is one of the most important and focal points of our communal prayer, תפילה בציבור?

Preserving a strong focus on the essential kaddish theme

Upon examination, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Ashkenaz kaddish is unique in how it expresses and preserves the basic, essential, and original theme/idea of the kaddish – namely exalting, elevating and praising the Great Name of Hakodosh Boruch Hu – שמיה רבה.

How does it do so, one might ask?

It does so by maintaining a clear focus on the whole point of kaddish – which is magnifying and sanctifying the Great Name of Hakodosh Boruch Hu – by excluding certain later additions made in other nuschaos. Other nuschaos contain additional, added components, that were inserted over time, for example ones asking for Moshiach and/or asking for health, parnassah, etc. As important as they are (and nusach Ashkenaz incorporates them prominently elsewhere in the davening), in nusach Ashkenaz, the focus of kaddish being a דבר שבקדושה, a special holy prayer, where we exalt the great name of Hashem, is considered to be critical, and something that needs to be guarded, and not confused or diluted. That focus must to be maintained.  Including other things diminishes it and leads to a dimunition of the strength and kavannah of the tefilloh.

Examining the text with the ערוך השלחן

Let us examine some segments of kaddish, to bring out the point. We will be guided by the great Aruch Hashulchan, ר’ יחיאל מיכל עפשטיין זצ”ל. The ערוך השלחן in אורח חיים, simanim 55 and 56, shares with us some very important yesodos, fundamentals, about kaddish. In סימן נה he gives us general background of the kaddish, and dinim. In the following siman, סימן נו, he gives us, translates, and explains the text of kaddish, in detail, which we will get into now.

יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבה – may His Great Name be magnified and sanctified. This is based on a posuk in Yechezkel (לח, כג) regarding the aftermath of milchemes gog umagog.

בעלמא די ברא כרעותיה – in the world he created according to his will.

וימליך מלכותיה בחייכון וביומיכון ובחיי דכל בית ישראל – may his Kingdom rule in your lives, in your young years, and in the lives of all of Israel. This is part of exalting the Great Name of Hashem as well, as we know, והיה ה’ למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה ה’ אחד ושמו אחד – when the Kingdom of G-d, the Malchus Shomayim will come to pass, on that day Hashem’s name will be one.

Here, we arrive at a major divergence. At this point, in nusach Sfard, Sepharad, etc. (as opposed to nusach Ashkenaz, which, following the oldest nusach of kaddish we have, from Rav Amram Gaon, does not include such) there appears an additional בקשה of ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה, asking for Moshiach. However, the Aruch Hashulchan explains, that in nusach Ashkenaz it is not recited because the idea is already included in the aforementioned וימליך מלכותיה, as the establishment of the Kingdom of Hashem and the coming of Moshiach is one and the same idea. Moshiach is, so to speak, a subsidiary agent of מלכות שמים. After all, what does Moshiach come for? To establish the מלכות שמים. Which touches on another important point, as an aside, namely that Moshiach is not an end in and of itself, but rather a shliach, an אמצעי (intermediary) to bring about the מלכות שמים on earth. However, it needs to be stated and remembered that even when Moshiach comes, it is הקדוש ברוך הוא that is our redeemer, as we say in Shabbos davening, אפס בלתך גואלנו לימות המשיח (see Rav Schwab on Prayer , as well as the peirush of the Rokeach there) (the second major point of divergence is toward the end of the kaddish, in the section starting יהא שלמה רבה מן שמיא וחיים. We have already discussed that in a previous post, to which I refer the interested reader).

Do a few words really make a difference, one way or another?

Some people might say (or think), what is the difference, a few words here, a few words there. But that is not attitude of our gedolim, past and present, whether it is in מקרא, משנה, גמרא, הלכה, תפלה or elsewhere.  Every word is considered and weighed. Words do make a difference. A shift of even one word, even a letter, can make a significant difference. Kal vachomer a difference of a number of words, or inserted additional bakashos.

Actually, it is quite surprising that some members of the people of the book nation, would even harbor such a notion. As a limud zechus, we can perhaps ascribe it to קוצר רוח ועבודה קשה.

Davening at high speed, with a lack of kavonnoh, can make things turn into a big blur. Greater clarity is attainable though.

One actually can easily understand why some people nowadays, unfortunately, see no significant difference, or any at all, between נוסחאות, and therefore claim that there is no issue/problem of switching from one to another. If people pray at high speed, with a lack of כוונה, it is not surprising if the whole davening is a blur to them, all the more so if they do it in an early morning haze, half asleep. If you are speeding on a road at 60mph, can you focus in and appreciate the intricacies of a flower on the side of the road, and how it differs from its neighbor? The solution is to slow down and tune in to the davening in a more inner, פנימי, manner.

Nevertheless, even if things seem unclear to us at times, we need to have respect and humility before our great ancestors and leaders, the גדולי עולם, the גדולי אשכנז, who bequeathed to us this great treasure of a nusach, an ancient gem, which was cherished and preserved for generations before being handed over to us, even if we don’t always understand every word and nuance of it. After all, do we really think that we know better than them, and can blithely, casually, throw to the side of the road the great inheritance that they left us, to exchange it for a newer, more flashy model? A nusach is not like a car, which people might switch every so often. True, it is a vehicle for עבודה שבלב, but it was not put together with a plan to become obsolete and get replaced in a few years, unlike some metal conveyances of the modern era.

In the zechus of כוונה בתפלה, עיון תפלה, and הליכה בדרכי אבותינו הקדושים, may we be zoche to the קיום of the words of the kaddish, וימליך מלכותיה, בעגלא ובזמן קריב, ואמרו אמן.

א גוטען שבת


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