Why is Kaddish So Important – Part 2

Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg

Kaddish De’Rabannan

In the previous article, the general importance of kaddish was established, recognizing the importance of our function in sanctifying the name of God, and noting how it cannot be complete until the coming Redemption. With this idea firmly entrenched, we now turn to the well-known halacha of kaddish de’rabannan.

The Talmud (Sota 49a) offers an extremely vague passage as the source for kaddish de’rabannan:

“Raba said: And the curse(klala) of each day is severer than that of the preceding, as it is stated: In the morning thou shalt say: Would God it were even! and at evening thou shalt say: Would God it were morning. Which morning [would they long for]? If I say the morning of the morrow, nobody knows what it will be. Therefore [it must be the morning] which had gone. How, in that case, can the world endure?— Through the doxology recited after the Scriptural reading, and [the response of] ‘May His great Name [be blessed]’ [which is uttered in the doxology] after studying Aggada; as it is stated: A land of thick darkness, as darkness itself, a land of the shadow of death, without any order. Hence if there are Scriptural readings, it is illumined from the thick darkness.”

Before taking up the issue of kaddish de’rabannan, we must first get a basic understanding of this Midrash (for those who see no issue in increased curses and Chazal’s solution, there is no need to read this explanation). The verse cited above comes from the section in the Torah known as the tochacha, where God reviews the different punishments the Jewish people will suffer as a result of their straying away from the derech Hashem. The Talmud takes this verse and applies it in a slightly different context. In essence, according to the Talmud, in the morning we yearn for the previous evening, and in the evening we yearn for the earlier morning. The Torah then is emphasizing a general desire of Bnai Yisrael for the past, nostalgia of sorts. Clearly, based on the above passage, this is referring to the time of the Bais Hamikdash. In other words, Chazal recognized that one of the results of the destruction of the Temple would be a general longing by the Jewish people to return back to that period of time. If this is so, one can assume that the idea of an increase in curses is not to be taken literally. Instead, it is that the effect of the state of being “cursed”, in exile without our Temple, becomes more apparent as time goes on. Chazal saw that events would emerge that would lead to Bnai Yisrael wanting to return to the way things were – being in galus, subject to rampant anti-Semitism, would mean constant reminders of this void. However, such an attitude can be dangerous. We should not be looking to return to what we once were. This idea should not be confused with remembering the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. The point here is that there is a difference between remembering and wanting to re-create. We should recognize and focus on the future redemption, knowing that it will be a different experience, rather than desire what previously occurred. The theme of kaddish, where we express our yearning not for the past but for the future, where God will be sanctified throughout the world, seems to be the perfect counter to this concern. The question now is the forum for reciting this kaddish.

 The Talmud isolates two situations – reciting kedusha desidra (contained in the tefila of “uva l’tzion”) and reciting kaddish de’rabannan after learning aggada. Rashi explains that both express the importance of learning Torah and sanctifying God’s Name. Chazal instituted the kedusha desidra in order to ensure that every Jew learn some Torah on a daily basis. As we see in the kedusha desidra, we recite the Hebrew verse, and then the Aramaic interpretation, which serves as a type of limud Torah. In the second scenario, as per Rashi, the people gather together on Shabbos to hear shiur. Upon completion of the shiur (he calls it “hagada she’hadarshan dorshin”), the people would recite yehei shmei rabba. 

The relationship between Kiddush Hashem and learning Torah is the centerpiece of Rashi’s approach.  We have established previously the importance of the sanctification of God. Now we must explain its relationship to learning Torah. In the first halacha cited by Rashi, Chazal instituted the recitation of kedusha desidra. This in essence is a study of the very idea of God’s sanctity. In other words, it is not merely enough to recite the words; rather, one must understand the concept in order to properly engage in sanctifying Him. In the second notion, we see the tzibur gathering together on Shabbos to hear a shiur, leading them to recite kaddish de’rabannan afterwards. Why is this such an important experience? It is interesting that Rashi emphasizes the fact that the people gather together because on this day there is no melacha, or work. He could have just written that it is Shabbos, but instead uses the absence of melocho as the portrayal. What this could be hinting to is a very basic, yet fundamental idea of Shabbos. To most people, a day off from work is just that – a day off. Time to catch up on sleep, lay around in a semi-catatonic state, watch TV, etc. Yet what occurs (or at least is supposed to) with the Jewish people on Shabbos is profound.  We turn away from the world of the physical and engage in learning Torah. And such an action is, in fact, the ultimate expression of the sanctification of God. So we see now how the two concepts, kaddish and Torah, go hand in hand. In one instance, Chazal sought to emphasize the importance of studying kaddish. And in the second, the gathering of Jews together to engage in Torah is in and of itself a Kiddush Hashem, leading to the verbalization of kaddish de’rabannan. 

This idea became more formalized in the system of halacha. The Rambam, in his Seder tefila (found at the end of Sefer Ahava) writes that if ten men (or more) gather together to learn Torah She’beal Peh, even if it is Midrashim or Aggadas, they recite kaddish de’rabannan afterwards. Most others learn this halacha to apply only to the learning of aggada with at least a minyan. And as many of us know, this led to the common practice of reciting “Rav Channaniah….” after a shiur, regardless of the topic, being that this is an aggadic statement (see, for example, Magen Avraham OC 54:3). In general, one should ask why it makes any difference at all what is being learned by the tzibur. Why these particular types of Torah, and what is the explanation for this debate? As we stated before, the phenomenon of the tzibur coming together to learn (and a minyan is always considered to be a miniature “Bnei Yisrael”) is something that in and of itself embodies kiddush Hashem. Yet it would seem that the very learning per se must be something that reflects the Jewish people and its relationship to Torah. As we know, the Torah She’bectav is accessible to everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike (and we have suffered greatly for this).  But Torah She’beal Peh is something that we Jews have sole access to, a body of knowledge whose keys are held onto by Bnei Yisrael. And, as we discussed last week, the role of being mekadesh Hashem is unique to the Jewish people. Therefore, after partaking of this “type” of Torah, according to the Rambam, we recite kaddish. It is through our uniqueness, as expressed in our link to Torah, that allows us to engage in kiddush Hashem. However, there is another way to look at this concept. Aggadas are not simply stories and tales, to be taken literally. There are deep and powerful ideas contained within them. The method to uncovering these ideas is part of our tradition, something we have unique access to. The methodology is (or at least should be) front and center when studying this “type” of Torah, and it is one solely found within the mesora of the Jewish people. Therefore, according to these opinions, it is the type of learning that leads us to say kaddish.

In the next article in this series, we will look at how kaddish made its way into tefilah.