Posts Tagged ‘Understanding nusach Ashkenaz’

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

October 18, 2013

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

Avinu Malkeinu, A Closer Look: Customs & Insights – תפלת אבינו מלכנו: מנהגים וביאורים

September 13, 2013

One of the tefillos that especially colors and characterizes this time of the year is אבינו מלכנו. Though its basis is ancient, based on a gemara, it was further developed as time went on, and divergent customs developed around it in some places. As with tefillos in general, it is highly recommended to learn more about it, to make your prayer more meaningful, and hopefully more effective, and to leave rote prayer behind (hopefully).

The renowned siddur Avodas Yisroel, as is its wont, sheds significant light on the prayer. It informs us that the amount of supplications starting with Avinu Malkeinu therein varies greatly between Sepharadic, Ashkenaz, and Polish versions, from 29, to 38, to 44, respectively, with a total of 53 different versions existing. In addition, there is a difference in sequence between nuschaos as well. One difference in sequence which caught my attention in particular, is that while in nusach Polin (Eastern European), אבינו מלכנו החזירנו בתשובה שלמה לפניך, asking Hashem to bring us back in complete repentance before Him, follows lines such as א”מ סלח ומחל לכל עונותינו, א”מ מחה והעבר פשעינו וחטאתינו מנגד עיניך, א”מ מחוק ברחמיך הרבים כל שטרי חובותינו, in nusach Ashkenaz it precedes them. That seems to have significant logic on its side, as at the least, praying, yearning, and striving for repentance (hopefully followed by actual repentance), should lead the way, rather than asking for an outright, unequivocal pardon from above first (although it is true that part of repentance, the admission of sin, was already addressed by the first line, אבינו מלכנו חטאנו לפניך).

Another difference in אבינו מלכנו between nusach Ashkenaz and nusach Polin, is that nusach Ashkenaz says it during aseres yemei teshuvoh, but not on a regular calendar taanis tzibbur in other parts of the year, while nusach Polin, in a relatively recent development, does. Update: I looked at a Sepharadic siddur and it seems to be the same as Nusach/Minhag Ashkenaz here, meaning that Avinu Malkeinu is not routinely recited during a regular taanis tzibbur outside Aseres yemei teshuvoh.

May we be zoche, in the zechus of עיון תפלה, analysis and delving into our prayers, which we are taught (as said in tefillas Shacharis) is one of the things שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא (sounds like a great investment!), to more meaningful and spiritual davening, תשובה שלמה, and a שנה טובה.

Thanks to all for their support.

חתימה טובה

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

October 10, 2011
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!

The Mysterious, Elusive, Elongated, Melodious Borechu – On The Trail Of A Lost Ancient Tradition – הברכו הארוך – חיפוש מנהג אבוד

September 19, 2011

RAMPING UP THE POWER OF OUR דברים שבקדושה – A TREASURES OF ASHKENAZ THREE POINT PLAN TO TURBOCHARGE OUR תפלה בציבור AS WE APPROACH THE NEW YEAR – בס”ד – התשע”ב – 5772

Our תפלה בציבור is comprised of various components. One very important part is the recitation of things classified as דברים שבקדושה, which we are taught require a מנין (quorum) to be said. In this category are ברכו, קדיש, וקדושה. In this series of posts, we share some ideas to strengthen and make more meaningful these parts of davening, בעזרת השי”ת, based on the ancient holy wisdom and practices of our ancestors.

PART ONE – ברכו את ה’ המבורך

To start, let us turn our attention to ברכו.

BACKGROUND

ברכו את ה’ המבורך –  just four words – and another five, adding up to nine, if you count the response of ברוך ה’ המברך לעולם ועד. Yet these words pack a lot of power into them, and therefore have a special status in הלכה.

Perhaps because this utterance, the call to bless הקדוש ברוך הוא, at the beginning of davening/a section of davening/reading the Torah, is so short, and can be mistreated by running through it so fast that it is barely noticed (as we unfortunately see happening at times), with people not given sufficient time to focus on it, and not given the attention it deserves, there is an ancient מנהג to elongate the ברכו and extend its recitation.

DECLINE OF THE מנהג IN THE MODERN ERA

However, nowadays, this minhog has been lost for the most part, in most places, outside of the precincts where מנהג אשכנז is practiced. Though interestingly, it is not only a minhag Ashkenaz, it has a place among (at least some) Sepharadim as well (כמבואר בספר כתר שם טוב). Despite it being featured in ‘mainstream’ halachic literature studied far and wide, where it talks of being מאריך בברכו, to have a special extended ברכו chanted by the חזן, especially at certain times, מוצאי שבת being a prominent example, nevertheless, surprisingly, for most people this minhog nowadays is such an enigma, such a mystery, to the extent that people can even be baffled by references to it.

A VESTIGE REMAINS, EVEN WHERE OTHERWISE LOST

ראש השנה and the ימים נוראים are approaching, where, for most of us, the last remnants of this old minhog resides. One of the most distinctive and beloved features of that time of the year is the special, elongated Borechu, with a special melody, that is used on those evenings. That beloved High Holiday Borechu is part of this general minhog.

FOR FURTHER STUDY

There is a very comprehensive discussion of this inyan in שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א, p.195-213, and I have been informed by רבש”ה that there will be important additions on the subject in the iy”H forthcoming new edition of the long out of print volume (anyone who would like to have the zechus of lending a hand to this important work, feel free to step up…). Those who want more info on it are directed there.

A TIME TO RESTORE?

Perhaps it is time to consider bringing it back in places where it has been lost, beyond the ימים נוראים. Or are people nowadays too busy to spare the extra few seconds? 😉

SAMPLES TO SAVOR

While you contemplate that suggestion, you can listen to a few clips of special, elongated Borechus from various special times, as chanted by the חזן of קהל עדת ישורון in ירושלים עיה”ק, ר’ מיכאל פרידמאן שליט”א, to get an idea what they can sound like, and to see how they enhance the ברכו experience.

Enjoy!

ברכו for a ‘regular’ Friday night.

ברכו on Friday night for a שבת where two ספרי תורה are read from in the morning.

ברכו for a regular motzaei Shabbos (this clip contains an extended והוא רחום as well)

In the zechus of being מאריך in ברכו, we should be zoche that the אריכות of our גלות comes to an end soon, אמן, כן יהי רצון לפני השי”ת.

P.S. I realize that I neglected to mention a related and associated minhog to this one, namely, the saying of יתברך וישתבח… while the חזן is being מאריך in ברכו. That is also discussed extensively and comprehensively in the aforementioned section of שרשי מנהג אשכנז. It is interesting that it is still printed in siddurim today alongside ברכו despite the fact that almost nobody seems to say it, at least in most Shuls! There are grounds for the extended, elongated ברכו even without the ציבור saying it concurrently, but it definitely is related and relevant to this discussion.

Thinking Of Editing Shemoneh Esrei? Not So Fast. להבין נ”א בברכת תקע בשופר בשמו”ע בלי להוסיף המלה לארצנו

May 17, 2011

A CONTEMPORARY PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE ASHKENAZIC SHEMONEH ESREI AND WHY IT IS OUT OF ORDER

Recently, it was reported that a Rabbi from Israel, on a visit to America, spoke at a (nusach Ashkenaz) Shul and urged the people there to add the word לארצנו at the end of the ברכה of תקע בשופר in the שמונה עשרה. This Rabbi is a lover of ארץ ישראל and presumably he wanted to strengthen the audience’s connection to our holy land in some way with such a gesture.

Such a proposal can seem nice and innocuous to the masses, and I can see people struggling to give a reason why it should be rejected. But doing so can open the door to other changes, and who knows where that could lead. And where does it end? That alone should suffice to reject the idea. Especially since the Shemoneh Esrei is such an ancient and central part of our תפלה.

Nowadays, however, when the hold of tradition has been weakened, for many people that would not suffice as a reponse, so for them, and להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה, I will write down some additional thoughts that came to me while contemplating the matter, and from reading a piece on the nusach of תקע בשופר in the annual Yerushoseinu, published by Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz.

GENERAL THOUGHTS FOR SIDDUR EDITOR WANNABEES

A) While not all the texts and tefillos are of the same age, or on the same level, nevertheless, central tefillos, such as shemoneh esrei, are ancient and have been used and examined by many generations of גדולי ישראל and עם ישראל.  To lightly assume that they  were omitting a vital word without realizing it, does not seem to be the most responsible assumption to make.

B) Another issue is that, as taught by various traditional sources, there are a specific amount of words in certain prayers or brachos, which have significance, be it symbolically, kabbalistically, or otherwise. Tampering with the traditional text clashes with those traditions. In this case, the טור states that the ברכה has twenty words. Adding le’artzeinu makes it twenty one, and hence puts the structure passed down for generations into disarray.

WHY TO REJECT THIS PROPOSED EMENDATION SPECIFICALLY

C) At first I thought that it was not necessary to specify that the gathering should be to Eretz Yisroel, because it is simple and understood. Where else would it be to? Bhutan? Nepal? Uganda? Peru?

D) Another approach was taken by R. Yitzchok Isaac Wallach, a doctor who lived in Dessau. He wrote about this over three hundred years ago. His תשובה on the subject was recently publicized in the ירושתנו issue of 5770, ,עמודים סג-פד, in a piece prepared by R. Yaakov Shmuel Spiegel.

He points out that there is a method and order to the set up and sequence of the שמונה עשרה, as the gemara in מסכת מגילה  tells us.  E.g. from the brocho of תקע בשופר to את צמח דוד, we daven for the following six stages of envisioned גאולה, in the following order –

1) Gathering together of exiles, 2) Judgement meted out to evil doers, 3) Destruction of those who rebel against Hashem, 4) Elevation of the righteous. 5) Building of Jerusalem, 6) Return of מלכות בית דוד (Davidic kingdom).

He goes on to show, from various teachings of חז”ל, that it was envisioned that in the stages of גאולה, there would first be a gathering of exiles in the diaspora, even before a return to ארץ ישראל, and that is what this brocho (stage one above) refers to. As he explains it, the ingathering to ארץ ישראל is connected to the later stage, of restoration of the Davidic kingdom, which is part of stage six. Therefore, the idea to add לארצנו to the brocho of תקע בשופר is out of place.

Interestingly, he also brings an aggadic teaching to support his point, citing what is brought in the שבלי הלקט, that when יעקב אבינו went to down to מצרים and saw יוסף and שמעון, and he and his sons gathered all together, the מלאכי השרת exclaimed בא”י מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל. And that was in חוץ לארץ.

I am not going to go into everything he wrote, that would be much more work, but just want to let people know about the existence of this piece of Torah. Interested parties are directed to ירושתנו for the complete version. Hopefully, they will  extrapolate from this case to other cases and not jump to conclude that long-standing traditions are lacking.

Finally, as an aside, it is interesting that some נוסח ספרד siddurim also omit לארצנו.