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07: Nekadesh Et Shimkha

  • Rav Ezra Bick



This shiur is dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev. 

May the world-wide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.





            Last shiur we introduced the concept of "davar she-bikdusha" and "kedusha" (sanctity). Most importantly, I spoke of the paradox of kedusha - it is, properly speaking, an attribute only of God, but it is found, in this world, only where we create it, by reflecting the presence of God in our lives and by striving towards perfection from within our imperfect existence. To use the metaphor of the midrash I quoted, sanctity (in this world) "grows from the earth" towards the heaven from which it was cast down. This week, we shall see how this paradox is the meaning of the prayer known as "kedusha," recited by the community during the public repetition of the Shemona Esrei in a minyan.


            For the purpose of this shiur, I shall use the version of kedusha found in the weekday nusach Ashkenaz. There are several versions of the introduction to the kedusha, one for the weekdays, and two others on Shabbat, and there are differences between different communities as well. The basic structure of kedusha, though, is the same. If we have time, I shall comment at the end on possible differences in the meanings of the different versions.


            The core of the kedusha consists of three verses:


Holy, Holy, Holy, God of Hosts, His glory fills the earth (Is. 6,3).

Blessed be the glory of God from His place (Ez. 3,12).

Forever shall God rule; your God, Zion, for generation upon generation, praise God! (Psalms 146, 10).


I. Jews and Angels


            Although there are many versions of the introductory line to these verses, they all include more or less the same point - that we are about to recite the kedusha which is recited by the angels before God. This is based on the source for the first two verses. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel describe a mystic vision where heavenly voices proclaim the glory of God, and those are the first two verses.


            Now, you will ask, does this not contradict the main point of the previous shiur - that "davar she-bikdusha" means a recitation which specifically creates sanctity within this imperfect world, which ADDS to the existing sanctity and Divine Presence in the world (which is only possible in an imperfect world, since in "the heavens" the sanctity is absolute and perfect to begin with)? Kedusha, by my explanation, can only be said by humans, and is missing its main ingredient, sanctification, when recited by angels.


            The answer is - that is quite correct. Although we derive the CONTENTS of the kedusha from the vision of the angels, real sanctification, "yitgadel veyitkadesh," can only be recited by Man. The Sages express this idea in the following manner:


Israel is dearer before God than the ministering angels, for Israel recites song at all times, while the angels do it only once a day. Others say: Once a week. Others say: Once a month. Others say: Once a year. Others say: Once every seven years. Others say: once in fifty years. But others say: Once in all eternity.


And also, the ministering angels do not recite song above until Israel has recited it down below. (Chullin 91b).


            The angels, as it turns out, are only echoing the kedusha of Israel. Initiative, genuine creativity, cannot take place "on high." The first step must be taken by Man.


            Then what, you will ask, is the meaning of the angels' role here after all? Why do we state that we are going to do that which they do (or rather, what they will do after we begin)? The answer is rooted in the dialectical nature of kedusha, as I explained in the last shiur. Real kedusha is the uncovering of PERFECTION in this imperfect world, the realization of the reflection of the ABSOLUTE within this relative, growing, changing, striving world of man. "EMET MEI'ERETZ TITZMACH" - Absolute uncompromising truth shall grow from the earth. Kedusha is not our expressing our own ideals, it is not self-expression at all. It is the realization of the absolute ideals. If it is not rooted in heaven, in the realm of the angels, it is not the sanctification of "the great Name." Kedusha is when we strive - yes! - but only when we strive to accomplish that which exists naturally in the heaven, in God's absolute realm. The angels express the absolute truth, as it appears in heaven, and we "shall sanctify Your name in the world, just as they sanctify it in the lofty heavens" (the opening line of the weekday kedusha in Nusach Ashkenaz). If you break the connection to the sanctity of the lofty heavens, you wind up with humanism, values which are not only not perfect but also are not in the process of perfection. If you leave it to the angels alone, you wind up with "kadosh" but no "yitkadesh" - our world has no value, no presence of God at all. And then, as the gemara adds, there will be no point for the angels to recite kedusha either, for what can they sanctify?


            We can now understand the meaning of the three verses of kedusha, all of which revolve around the paradoxical dialectic of kedusha, a concept which in its absolute meaning can be found only "out of this world," but whose real meaning for us can be found only in this world. Kedusha is perfecting rather than perfection; perfecting can exist only in the imperfect, but also only if it holds up the absolute perfection as its source and goal.


II. The text


1. Holy, Holy, Holy, God of Hosts, His glory fills the earth (Is. 6,3).


            The word "holy," taken by itself, means separated, withdrawn (see Ramban, Lev. 19,1); and therefore when applied to God means transcendent, beyond and above this world. Holy, holy holy - above, above, above and beyond all concept, all relativism, wholly other. Yet - His glory fills the world. I showed last shiur that the "glory" (honor, kavod) of God refers to His presence in a world that recognizes Him, honors Him. God is wholly other, yet His glory fills this world, reflected in the "hosts," the assembled loyal citizens of His kingdom, in the minyan of the community of Israel.


            The custom is to rise up on one's toes when saying the words "holy, holy, holy." This is based on the Tanchuma (parashat Tzav): "'With two (wings) he (the angel) would fly' - this is the source of the requirement to fly on one's feet when reciting kedusha." One is, so to speak, imitating an angel. But notice in which specific aspect - we imitate the angel by attaching metaphoric wings to our feet. In order to recite kedusha, you have to be able to fly, to detach yourself from the ground, to uproot your self a little and stretch upwards. You have to reach, yearningly, for the stars.


2. Blessed be the glory of God from His place.


            To the different verses are appended on Shabbat a short introductory line. Before this second verse, we find the following:


His glory fills the world; His servants ask each other, "where is the place of His glory?" They say to each other - (Blessed be the glory of God from His place).


            The gemara comments on this verse, as an answer to the question, "where is the place of His glory?", that apparently even the angels do not know the place (Chagiga 13b). I.e.; they interpret the answer to mean, "this place of His glory is His place - and no one else's."


            This verse is the opposite side of the dialectic, compared to the previous one. We say: God's glory fills the world, yet where is the place, the home, so to speak, of that glory. From where does it derive? From HIS place, from a place so transcendent that even the angels are not familiar with it. The glory of God which fills the whole world, born on the back of His servants, created, as it were, by the free acts of human beings, their strivings and their yearnings, is nonetheless the glory OF GOD, the reflection of absolute perfection. The "berakha" is in this world, but it is "from" the other world, the world where God is alone, holy, holy, holy. Blessed be the glory of God FROM HIS PLACE.


            We have come full circle. God's transcendent holiness ("holy holy holy") is reflected in the glory which fills the whole world, and this glory is rooted in a place so high and transcendent, only God knows it. Now we are ready to proclaim God's kingdom on earth (remember that kingship is the ultimate davar she-bikdusha).


3. Forever shall God rule; your God, Zion, for generation upon generation, Hallelukah!


            This is not a statement of fact, but a proclamation. "Yimloch HaShem l'olam" is like the cry of "Long live the king!" The proclamation has two parts: "God shall rule forever," and "Your God, Zion, (shall rule) for generation upon generation." The first part is general - God is king. The second is relative to us, to Zion. God's rule over Zion is God's rule over Israel, in His capital on earth, in Yerushalayim. When the Jewish people declare God king IN ZION, this has immediate real political significance. We are no longer talking theology here, but true Jewish politics - God is our king.


            Since this proclamation is actively effective and not merely declaratory, there is, immediately after it a change in the actual presence of God in our midst. We have succeeded in raising the kedusha and the kingship of God. Hence, it engenders in us an exclamation of praise in response - Hallelukah, Praise God. This last word of the kedusha is a response to the previous verse. You have succeeded in crowning God king in Zion - Hallelukah!


            This verse, unlike the first two, is not a quote from a prophetic vision of angels in the heavenly court. In fact, in the two recitations of the kedusha as recited by the angels, the one before shema ("yotzer") and the one before aleinu ("uva l'Zion"), this verse is not found. What sometimes is not noticed is that there is a different verse - "HaShem yimloch l'olam va'ed." (God shall rule forever). (In yotzer it is found AFTER shema, right before the Shemona Esrei). This substitution in place of  "Forever shall God rule; your God, Zion, for generation upon generation" is in fact the best proof that these kedushot are not actual creations of kedusha but only declarations that the process exists; i.e., they do not require a minyan, as we explained last shiur. Our declaration of kingship is "your God, Zion, for generation upon generation." The angels simply state, "God shall rule forever." Zion is not theirs to crown God over it. They are not crowning God, merely stating the truth. For this last line of ours we had no source in the heavens to copy, for how could the heavens know how to make God king over that which he is not king on His own. This line we had to discover on our own. It is taken from Psalms, the personal inspiration of king David.


III. Some variations on a theme


            The opening introduction to the daily kedusha quoted above is taken from the Ashkenaz version of the siddur. The corresponding version in nusach Sefarad is more or less equivalent, as far as the themes we have been discussing go. The same is true for the slightly different introduction in the Shabbat shacharit service. However, for musaf, nusach Sefarad, there is a somewhat different introduction, called kedushat keter, and I would like to devote a few bytes to it.


Keter, A crown will be given to You, HaShem our God, by the angelic host above with Your people Israel gathered below, together all of them will present you with kedusha, as is written in your prophets...


            There are two unique points in this version. The first is the explicit mention of kingship, of the crowning of God. This in itself is not problematic, as we have already seen the inherent connection between kedusha and kingship, but it is noteworthy that here the kedusha is explicitly defined as "presenting a crown." The second point - and this is significantly different from all other versions of kedusha - is that here we are not imitating the angels but joining them. We do not say that we will sanctify below "just like " the angels sanctify above, but that together both groups will present the crown and say kedusha.


            The gemara I quoted above, before stating that the angels could only say kedusha after us, presented a quantitative comparison, where a succession of different opinions limited more and more the number of angelic kedushot, finally opining that there would only be one in the history of the world. It is very difficult to know just what the meaning of this metaphor is, but it is clear that some sort of ultimate union of the worlds and fulfillment of the purpose of creation is intended. I think that the kedusha of "keter" is referring to ultimate kingship. This is possible only when, in some sense, the division between the upper transcendent world and the lower developing world will be closed, and all God's creatures will join together in one sanctification. The closing of that circle and its unification - "together all of them will present you with kedusha" - is the ultimate "crown" of God.


            Perhaps, Shabbat, the holy day which represents "a taste of the world-to-come," at the musaf prayer, a prayer which represents the sacrifice of the special Shabbat offering, was appropriate to at least look forward to the possibility when our kedusha will be so effective that it will join with the "perfect" kedusha of the heavens.


That is it for kedusha, at least in this framework. Next shiur we will return to the Shemona Esrei proper - we still have not examined the actual third berakha (called kedusha), in which the kedusha of which we spoke today is embedded. That will be our next topic.