Pinny Arnon

Y’hei Shmei Raba: The Phrase For Which the Angels Would Give Up Everything

The Alter Rebbe teaches that the highest angels “would forego everything for one ‘amein y’hei sh’mei raba …’ said with full concentration.”

The Alter Rebbe here is referring to the response that the congregation recites during the “kaddish” prayer which is repeated multiple times throughout each of the three daily services. Most Jews are at least somewhat familiar with this phrase because kaddish is recited at funerals and throughout the mourning period, and it is repeated so frequently in each service. Yet what is so profound about this phrase that it impresses the angels so deeply?

On the simplest level, “Yhei shmei rabba m’vorach l’olam u’l’almei almaya/may His great name be blessed forever and ever,” seems to be a wish that God will be acknowledged and praised throughout time. But probing the language a bit more deeply, several questions arise. If the intent is that God should be glorified, then why does it refer to “His great name” rather than simply saying ‘May God be blessed’? What is “His great name” and why is it referenced here? Furthermore, what does it mean that He or His name should be “blessed”?

“Blessed/m’vorach” is from the root of “barech,” which, as the mystics explain, means “drawn down” and revealed. When we say “baruch atta A-donai/blessed are You God,” we are praying that God should be revealed in this place of concealment. “Yhei shmei rabba m’vorach/may His great name be blessed,” is similarly entreating that He should be drawn down into actuality. But here we are specifying that it is His “great name” that needs to be accessed. What is this “great name”?

There are many names for God in Torah – A-donai, E-lohim, E-l, Sha-dai, and others. These all refer to various ways that God manifests in His creation. Yet beyond all of these names there is God’s infinite essence which is not yet revealed in the world. It is this “great name,” God’s hidden essence, that we are praying to be “m’vorach/revealed” when we recite “Yhei shmei rabba m’vorach/May His great name be blessed” over a dozen times throughout the day.

Yet why, at the end of the phrase, do we ask that this name should be blessed or revealed “l’olam u’l’almei almaya/forever and ever”? The word “l’olam” has multiple connotations. Its root, “olam,” means “world,” and it is etymologically linked to the term “helam,” which means “hidden.” Thus, in addition to “forever,” “l’olam” literally means “to the world.” By extension, it can also be interpreted as “to the hiddenness.” Translated as such, the phrase is a supplication that the essence of God should be revealed to the world in all the places where it is currently concealed.

We can now understand why this phrase is so powerful and so profound for even the highest spiritual beings. “Yhei shmei rabba m’vorach l’olam u’l’almei almaya” means “May the essence of God be revealed in all the hidden places of the world.” This is the entire goal of the creation – that we limited beings should fuse our infinite soul with our finite material reality and thereby manifest God’s infinite light in the deepest darkness.

To pronounce even one “amein y’hei sh’mei raba” with this kavana/intention, the angels would give up everything in the highest heavens. For they are purely spiritual beings, and as such they are unable to fulfill this ultimate purpose. It is only we humans, spiritual beings in physical bodies, who are able make God manifest in this seemingly Godless world.

Next time, and every time, you respond to kaddish with “y’hei sh’mei raba m’vorach,” infuse the words with this kavana, and not only will the heavenly angels pause in admiration, but you will thereby chip away at the very mission for which you were created.

– Excerpted from Pnei Hashem, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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