David Walk

Kaddish: Prayer and Torah

There are five kinds of Kaddish. In this article we will discuss two of them, Kaddish D’rabanan and Kaddish Shalem. These are both extended versions of the Chatzi Kaddish, which we discussed in Part 2. That basic format of Kaddish is the configuration upon which all other Kaddish varieties are built. No matter what version of the Kaddish is being recited the critical declaration is always: May the Great Name be blessed forever and all eternity (Y’HEY SHMEI RABA)! It is that testimony which can earn the reciter both forgiveness and eternity. 

The first version of the Kaddish we will discuss is the one we believe to be the earliest version of the doxology, Kaddish D’rabanan, the Rabbis’ Kaddish. This prayer first appeared in Babylonia, present-day Iraq, in the period of the Geonim, between 600 and 1000 CE. The earliest text of this prayer appears in the Siddur of Reb Amram Gaon, which appeared sometime before he died in 875.  

This Kaddish was recited after public Torah lectures. The purpose was to declare that our study isn’t merely a way to pass time or an intellectual endeavor. No, indeed, we must declare proudly and loudly: This is a Divine Service to our Parent in Heaven.  

This declaration asks for blessings of ‘abundant peace, grace (CHINA), kindness (CHISDA), compassion (or empathy, RACHAMEI), long life, abundant food, and ultimate salvation (PURKENA) to be bestowed on this distinguished group. Who makes up this group? All Yisrael, the Rabbis (or teachers, RABANAN), their students, even their students’ students, and, indeed, all those who engage in Torah study; in our community and every Jewish community. 

This is a beautiful acknowledgment of the importance to Judaism of our Torah scholars. This importance is emphasized both across generations (students and students’ students) and across the globe (here or anywhere else). 

On a daily basis, many of us hear this Kaddish recited after the Braita called Reb Yishmael Says, at the beginning of Shacharit, and after P’tum Ha’Ketoret (about the incense of the Holy Temple), at the end of the service. The first material emphasizes the power of the Sages to interpret and transmit Torah. The second, movingly, concludes by informing us that, ‘Torah Scholars increase peace in the world.’ This paragraph derives this idea from a verse in Yeshayahu, ‘And all your children shall be taught by the Lord; great shall be the peace of you children’ (54:13). We should praise these Torah instructors, because of what they bestow upon Jewish society. Beautifully, the Ben Ish Chai informs us that this Kaddish should be recited out of a profound sense of joy. Torah study makes us happy and fulfilled. 

Next, let’s turn our attention to what most of us call Kaddish Shalem (Whole) or Kaddish Titkabel. This recitation, like the Chetzi Kaddish, is done by the SHALIACH TZIBUR (Chazan, communal representative). There is one Kaddish Titkabel for every Amida (Shmone Esre) davened in the presence of a minyan. Therefore, a regular weekday gets three. When there is a Musaf service, a fourth is recited, and on Yom Kippur, there are five. 

This statement begins, ‘TITKABEL’, receive, accept or accede to our prayers. Then we describe our davening as TZLOTEHON U’BEOTEHON. These two expressions are often treated as synonyms for prayer. So, usually the first is translated as ‘prayers’ and the second as pleas or supplications. But we generally frown on the idea that our liturgy uses synonyms, each term adds a unique dimension of meaning. 

This tandem of terms seems to have first appeared in the translation of Onkelos to this verse included in Ya’akov Avinu’s blessing to Yosef, his son: And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow (Bresihit 48:22). Since we have no record of Ya’akov fighting to conquer Eretz Yisrael, Onkelos informs us that we must assume that the swords and arrows are metaphors for prayer. The Talmud already agreed with Onkelos (Baba Batra 123a). 

But what are the two kinds of prayers? Rav Kook suggested that the sword style of prayer refers to slashing and cutting away the extraneous thoughts that try to creep into our consciousness when we pray. Good prayers require a mental pruning process. And what’s Ya’akov’s ‘bow’? Prayer which is based on this lofty yearning is saturated with pure inspiration. It scores its mark like the bow and arrow of a champion archer. The ‘swords’ eliminates the negative; the ‘bow’ accentuates the positive. 

Rav Soloveitchik, on the other hand, sees both terms as contributing to the worship technique. The sword is for close contact efforts. These are the prayers for immediate personal needs, such as wisdom, health, and sustenance. While the bow refers to long term aspirations like Jewish destiny and the ultimate Redemption. In the Kaddish Titkabel we beg God to accept both categories of prayer. 

This short entreaty ends with one of the most basic, yet profound, concepts in our prayer service: in the presence of our Parent in Heaven. I know most think in terms of God as Father, but I can’t escape the sense that God is both Father and Mother. Anyway, it is crucial that we think of our prayers as having the potential to reach all the way to the Divine Throne in the Celestial Palace. These requests we present to God, for ourselves and for our nation, for the present and for the future, must be considered capable of piercing the immense gulf between where we stand and where the heavenly domain exists. 

Next week we conclude this survey of kaddish with our final plea, when we beseech God for the vessel which can contain all these requests and appeals: Universal Peace! 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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