Last week I gave a general introduction to Kaddish, amongst our most famous and important prayers. This week I will endeavor to explain the most basic unit of Kaddish, called CHETZI KADDISH, usually called Half Kaddish. This declaration of the SHALIACH TZIBUR or prayer leader is generally used as a separation between major segments of our services. A CHETZI KADDISH always signals something new and different is coming. For example, sometimes it indicates that an AMIDA prayer will be recited; other times it alerts us to the fact that the Sefer Torah will be taken out.
The declaration begins with YITGADEL V’YITKADESH, SHMEI RABA. May the Great Name be magnified and sanctified. This is a paraphrase of a verse in Yechezkel, ‘Thus will I manifest My greatness and My holiness (38:23)’. That verse is discussing the aftermath of the horrific wars of Gog of Magog, which will usher in the age of recognition of the special status of Yisrael in the world. It is this awareness of the Jewish people which will enlarge and hallow God’s name.
When we refer to enlarging God’s name, many commentaries assert that this refers to our wars with Amalek. After our first encounter with our national nemesis, the verse informs us, ‘That his hand is against the Throne of KAH, the Eternal is at war with Amalek from generation to generation’ (Shmot 17:16). The KAH mention of God’s Name is the shortened YOD and HEY form of the Name. In other words, God’s Name is presently incomplete. We are determined to enlarge it.
In many versions of Kadish, there is now a mention of Mashiach, because the emergence of God’s full Name and Presence will only happen at that point in human history. However, I will be emphasizing the Ashkenazic format of Kadish where this doesn’t appear.
This expansion of God ‘s Name only pertains to this world. God’s Name is always complete in heavenly spheres. It’s in this world ‘that He created according to His will (CH’RUTEI)’ that we long for the Name to be complete and the Divine rule to be manifest.
As in many public declarations, we then concern ourselves with, ‘When do we want it?’ But we don’t scream ‘NOW!’ Instead, the CHAZAN or mourner declares, ‘in your lifetime, and in your days’. Then adds that we want this during the lifetime of all Jews. This request is equally meaningful for all our brethren.
The final phrase of this first statement introduces a Jewish concept of time. It states ‘BA’AGALA’, which literally means ‘in the wheel of time’. Almost all translations go with ‘swiftly’. It’s very hard to explain complicated concepts in translations. We see time as cyclical, and are begging God to bring the Redemption in the next turn of the cycle. By which we mean ‘spinning towards that event’, and then we clearly state, ‘B’ZMAN K’RIV’, ‘at a time which is so close’.
The communal response to this declaration, is, arguably, the most important statement in the entire corpus of our liturgy: May His great Name be blessed forever and ever. The Talmud informs us that those who declare this with all their KOACH (strength, power) can annul all evil decrees (Shabbat 119a) or guarantee themselves a portion in the world to come (Berachot 57a). This concept of KOACH is really important.
Many customs recite the verse: Now may the Lord’s KOACH (strength) be displayed, just as you have declared (Bamidbar 14:17), before reciting Kadish. The numerical value (Gematria) of KOACH is 28, and there are 28 letters in the statement Y’HEI SHMEI RABA. Also, there are 28 words from the beginning of this declaration until the end of the next paragraph, and, therefore, some people recite all 28 words at this point.
We are investing our energy into this declaration which begs to God to display the awesome Divine Power. As a show of enthusiasm many people clap while reciting this line. When we put our two hands together, we are also referencing 28. The Hebrew word for hand is YAD, whose Gematria is 14. Bringing the two hands together in a clap again gives us 28. Just like Moshe Rabbeinu so many centuries ago wanted to see God’s full power at that very moment, so do we.
The second paragraph of the CHATZI KADDISH concentrates on praising God. The number of praises is also significant. There are two ways of counting them. The most popular approach is that we have 8 praises for God here: YITBARACH, blessed; YISHTABACH, lauded; YITPA’ER, glorified; YITROMAM, exalted; YITHADAR, honored; YITALEH, uplifted; and YITHALAL, praised. When we add the two praises at the beginning (YITGADAL and YITKADASH) we get ten praises which corresponds to the ten statements by which God created the universe.
Others, on the other hand, have a custom to leave out the last term (V’HIT’HALAL) in our list. This gives us seven in this list and that represents the seven levels of Heaven through which we want our prayers to pierce on their way to the Divine Throne.
When this list is completed, there are two customs over how to respond. Many say AMEN! That’s quite normal. Others (like me) declare BRICH HU! I think that this is appropriate, because BERACHA is not only mentioned in this short paragraph, but the critical declaration of the Kaddish is that ‘the Great Name should be BARUCH’. By BARUCH, I believe that we mean expanded and increased in our earthly realm.
Our final plea in this section is that the Name of God should become higher than any BIRCHATA, blessing; SHIRATA, song or poem; TUSHBECHATA, praise; and NECHAMATA, consolation ever uttered B’ALMA. In other words, we desire and crave more and more SHECHINA (Divine Presence) in our realm. Since, it’s infinite we can always aspire to more.
What do we mean by B’ALMA? This word can mean ‘the whole world’ or ‘for all time’. Here we mean both. We are beseeching God to expand the Divine Presence both everywhere and everywhen.
Well, that’s it. My first installment on the explanation for the text of the Kaddish. Next week, I’ll do my best to describe some of the variations on the text of the Kaddish for various occasions. Until then, please, put expanded effort into this most crucial of liturgical declarations.