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We’ve Got a Secret

Everyone loves a secret! Growing up I loved the game show of that name; my family were big Gary More fans. But we Jews have secrets, too. The Kedusha service recited whenever we have a repetition of the Amida contains a profound and ancient secret. Actually, we refer to the secret in the text itself. In my Ashkenazic rite we only mention the existence of this obscure idea in Musaf on Shabbat and Chag, but Eidot HaMizrach and Nusach Sefard shuls mention it every Shacharit. Here’s the quote: NA’ARITZICHA V’NAKDISHICHA K’SOD SARFEI KODESH, We revere and sanctify You, just like the SECRET recited by the holy Seraphim. But what is this, ironically, well-known secret? Well, that will take a little tine to reveal. 

The Hebrew word SOD (which reminds modern Israelis of cleaning products) really refers to a deep mystery. This isn’t like a Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes mystery, which a clever mind can unravel. This is a mystical truth which can only become known when revealed by heavenly forces. This isn’t a puzzle; it’s an unknown. 

The SOD is embedded in the declaration of the Seraphim, which we know only because of the prophecy of Yeshayahu: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole world is filled with His Glory (Yeshayahu 6:4). Before we get to the SOD, we must deal with a P’SHAT (literal meaning) problem: What are the three holies? 

It has been famously said that the SERAPHIM were informing Yeshaya, and us, that there are three forms of holiness available to us. In ascending order, there is the holiness of time, like Shabbat and Chag; there is the holiness of place and objects, like Yerushalayim or a Sefer Torah; there is the holiness of human beings. 

However, there are two explanations to this repetition problem in the davening. We recite this formula of Kedusha three times in the morning services. The first time it surrounds the recitation of SHEMA, the second is the Kedusha service (if there’s a minyan), and then in KEDUSHA D’SIDRA (which we call U’VA L’TZIYON) towards the end of Shacharit. In that third recitation, we present an explanation of the triple sanctity. It is from the Aramaic translation of the verse: Holy in the highest heaven, holy on earth…holy forever and all time. 

 I think that we give another explanation in the very text of the BRACHA itself: 1. You are holy, 2. Your name is holy, and 3. holy ones praise You daily, SELAH! 

So, now back to the secret. The declaration is that God is KADOSH, which we have been translating as ‘holy’, but the true implication of the term is transcendent or unreachable. Then the Seraphim inform us that God’s presence fills the entirety of our world. How can God be unavailable, yet, at the same time, all around us? It’s a paradox! The Rav often said that Jews must learn to live with paradoxes.  

Now we’ve encountered the SOD. God is the ultimate beyond. God inhabits a spiritual plane unreachable for us mere mortals. When God created our realm (through a Kabbalistic process called TZIMTZUM, ‘contraction’), some Divinity was left behind. This holy remnant makes God accessible to those who seek it. That’s the SOD! Through spiritual efforts we can make SHECHINA accessible and imminent. The Seraphim trusted us with the great secret: The Unreachable is attainable to those who seek It with sincerity, purity and love. 

The next curiosity in the KEDUSHA service is the fact that we, sort of, say the same thing again, when we quote from Yechezkel in the very next line: Blessed is the Presence of the Lord from His Place (Yechezkel 3:12). In other words, we can bless, praise, contact God, even though the Divine presence is elsewhere, in God’s abode in another dimension. Why must we reiterate this idea? 

Rav Soloveitchik explained that Yeshayahu was reporting about his vision ‘

enveloped in an environment suffused with holiness. The daily morning offering was being offered on the Altar, and the smoke of the incense rose…The entire Temple was filled with the spirit of God in holiness, purity, and majesty…Moreover, Israel was economically prosperous and resided in its land…There was no doubt or uncertainty; all had knowledge of God and affirmed their belief (Before Hashem, p. 5). 

The Rav went on to describe the situation facing Yechezkel:

The historical conditions in which Ezekiel witnessed his revelation were entirely different…He experienced his vision not in Jerusalem, not in the Temple, not in the palace of God, but as a refugee and exile. Jerusalem and the myriad of holy communities of Israel were in ruins…His people were sold into slavery, beaten and subjected to hard labor…But despite the fact that it was a time of HESTER PANIM (God seemingly in hiding) …Ezekiel demonstrated, God is still accessible despite His distance…Ezekiel’s answer speaks specifically to us, who are in exile, we who must find God, Who is hidden, distant, and abiding in His ‘place’ seemingly removed from man (Before Hashem, p. 5-7). 

That leaves one more declaration in Kedusha to be explained; God shall reign forever, your God, O Tziyon, from generation to generation, HALLELUYAH! (Tehillim 146:10). We are affirming our faith that our relationship with God is everlasting. But, like always, there’s an issue. I mentioned before that we recite the Kedusha formula three times every morning, but in the other two recitations, just before Shmone Esre and in U’VA L’TZIYON, we end with a verse from the Song of the Sea, GOD will rule forever (Shmot 15:11). Why the change? 

Rav Jonathan Sacks noted that the first and third recitations describe the song of the Seraphim; the second is a reenactment of the scene. This holier endeavor requires a minyan. A minyan adds another dimension. Rebbe Nachman pointed out that everyone of us has different and unique attributes. We have to observe and learn from each other. Actually, the Rebbe learns this idea from the Aramaic translation of the introduction to the angelic declaration in Yeshayahu: They accepted (MEKABLIN) from each other. We must emulate that and learn from each other. 

Our verse from Tehillim is saying a very similar idea. When we daven in a minyan, we each add something unique we learned from our parents and teachers. Plus, minyanim, ideally, have different generations present, each historic layer informing the other. Experience encounters youthful exuberance. We are sharing the SOD from different vantage points. 

I love reciting Kedusha. It is a very moving declaration of the most important concept of TEFILA: we can encounter God. As Rav Sacks once commented: In Kedusha, we move beyond the priestly prayer-as-sacrifice, and the prophetic prayer-as-dialogue, to prayer as a mystic experience. And we share a secret. 

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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