U’va L’Tziyon: Imminent Redemption

This week we turn our attention in this series of articles about Jewish prayers to the collection of verses called U’va L’Tziyon. This prominent prayer breaks down, rather neatly, into five parts. We don’t really know when this prayer was composed, but we assume it is the prayer referred to in a famous Talmudic statement about the importance of prayer:

Every day’s curse (from the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash) is worse than the previous day’s… If the curse keeps increasing this way, what sustains the world? The Kedushah said in the prayer Kedusha D’Sidra, and ‘Amen Yehei Shmei Raba…’ said in Kadish, sustain the world (Sotah 49a). 

The Kedusha D’Sidra referred to in that statement is what we call U’va L’Tziyon. So, what is the importance of this prayer, which is built around the third recitation of the doxology, declaration of God’s KEDUSHA, holiness? There are actually three answers to this question. 

First, there’s a theory that the Romans prohibited the declaration of KEDUSHA, and it therefore became a custom to recite it after the services when the Roman spies were already gone. Second, it’s there for anyone who came to shul too late for the first two recitations of the KEDUSHA, one in Birchot Kriat Shema and one in the repetition of the Amida. The third reason suggested is that because this statement includes the term KADOSH, holy, three times, there is an obligation to recite this statement of God’s sanctity three times every day.  

But before we declare ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, we have two verses from the end of the book of Yeshayahu. Why are these verses here? The most popular answer is that there was once a custom to learn NACH (the Bible books after Chumash) before leaving shul daily for work. So, today we recite and, hopefully try to understand these dramatic verses. 

The initial verse, from which the common name of this prayer derives, ‘And the Redeemer (GO’EL or Mashiach) shall come to Tzyion, and to those that repent from sin in Jacob,’ says the Lord (Yeshayahu 59:20), states two powerful ideas. First, it reassures a frightened nation that redemption is inevitable. Then, it explains that this salvation is reserved for those who repent. This is, of course, important, because in the order of our morning service these verses are stated only a few minutes after we’ve put our head on our arm and said TACHANUN, our prayer of repentance  

The second verse, ‘As for Me, this is My BRIT (covenant) with them, says the Lord: My Spirit, which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the Lord, from henceforth and forever (verse 21). This amazing verse actually makes three crucial announcements. 

First, the BRIT made by our Patriarchs (renewed at Sinai and upon our arrival in Eretz Yisrael) is eternal. It is just as operative today as it was 3800 years ago. Second, we are all endowed with the RUACH or spirit of God. An essence of God inhabits us all.  

Third, we have an obligation to keep the study of God’s words, our Torah, alive. We do this by having them in our mouths, in other words talking about them. We talk words of Torah to our children and grandchildren. Wow, is this important, and we can never be content or complacent until we hear grandchildren expressing Torah ideas, The greatest NACHAS (for us and God): Hearing grandchildren deliver DIVREI TORAH! 

The next section of U’va L’Tziyon is the most famous: We again recite the doxology. We mentioned above why we’re doing this again, but we shouldn’t ignore the pedagogic fact that repetition is effective as a teaching model. However, please, pay attention to the fact that this time around is very different. We not only declare these important verses, but we also read the Aramaic translation of them. Notice, I didn’t say ‘recite’ but ‘read’. The custom is very strong that the Aramaic should read silently. 

Just before we repeat the doxology, we have inserted a verse from Psalms: But You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel (Tehillim 22:4). We are going to again declare our belief in the holiness of God, but we also recognize that our praises for God constitute the Divine Throne, at least in this world. 

So, what do we learn from the Aramaic translations of the statements in the doxology? First of all, when we proclaim: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory (Yeshayahu 6:4), we are describing the framework for this KEDUSHA or sanctity. This holiness exists in the highest heaven; it also exists in this earthly realm, which God created; plus, it exists in every temporal context or time frame. It was, it is and it will be. 

Then we quote the famous observation of Yechezkel: Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from His abode (3:12). In this case, the Aramaic translation is less innovative, but it does teach us that glory or KAVOD of God is YEKARA. This term means ‘precious’. It is the most valuable commodity available. And the term MEKOMO or ‘His place’ translates as BEIT SHECHINTEI or ‘House of His Presence”. What does that mean? I believe that it refers to the dual nature of the Beit HaMikdash, which exists in heaven, and will also be present in this realm, please soon. 

Finally, we quote from the Song of the Sea (AZ YASHIR): God shall reign forever (Shmot 15:18). In the Aramaic translation we change the verb ‘reign’ to the noun ‘kingdom’. When describing the eternal nature of Divine rule, we are asked to view it as a real tangible thing, rather than an invisible force. It’s a kingdom with a King! The idea of an omnipotent king is a little lost on many of us moderns, especially those of us living in democracies, but the Aramaic translation comes from a period of authoritarian rule. 

Rav Sacks OB”M was wont to translate the famous Aramaic phrase, L’ALAM U’LALMEI ALMAYA, as both ‘for all time and for all place’. He felt strongly that this statement described both time and space. 

So, that’s the first two parts of this five-part prayer. I believe strongly that the beginning section of this prayer is a wrap up to our morning service. The later parts will prepare the congregants for reentering the greater world beyond the walls of the synagogue. Remember, there are dangers out there.

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.
Related Topics
Related Posts