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Drash Kedusha


Drash, 1998 by Rich Kruger

     The Kedusha is the high point of the Amidah, which itself is the central prayer of the service. "Kedusha" means "holiness" and that is what this prayer is about--God's holiness.

     The Kedusha has several unique features: it is the one part of the publicly recited Amidah for which we are all supposed to stand and reverently face the ark--it is improper to enter or leave the sanctuary during the Kedusha, or to engage in conversation. The Kedusha is the only part of the Amidah (apart from the priestly blessing) that we recite only during the public repetition of the Amidah, omitting it when we pray the Amidah silently. And it is also the one part of the publicly recited Amidah that requires intense congregational participation.

     Like the other sections of the Amidah, the Kedushah describes one Aspect of God and concludes with an appropriate blessing. There are 19 such blessings in the daily Amidah, fewer on Shabbat. The blessing itself, which appears at the very end of the Kedusha, is: "Blessed are You, O Lord, the Holy God." The rest of the Kedusha is an elaboration on this theme.

     So what makes the Kedusha different from the other blessings of the Amidah? Why is it accorded special treatment?

     The other blessings describe one aspect of God's activity in the world or in His relationship to us; e.g., He heals the sick, He builds Jerusalem, He listens to prayer, etc. In the Kedusha, on the other hand, we are describing God's essence, as it were, which is His holiness, His unique otherness. Moreover, in Leviticus, God says "I will be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel."

     From this the rabbis derived that it takes a community, a minyan, to sanctify God, to proclaim His holiness in the world. That is the reason why we only do the Kedusha as part of a minyan. When we pray the Amidah silently, we still address the issue of God's holiness, but we substitute a single sentence in place of the full Kedusha, before concluding with the Kedusha blessing: "You are holy, and Your Name is holy, and they are holy who praise You daily. Blessed are You, O Lord, the Holy God." The fact that we still recite the blessing without a minyan, tells us that it is not the blessing that makes the Kedusha so holy, but what precedes the blessing.

     There is not just one Kedusha. The daily Kedusha differs from the Shabbat morning Kedusha, and the Shabbat Musaf Kedusha is different still. But they all have certain features in common. They all are written in the first person plural: "We sanctify Your Name...." (The line we substitute for the Kedusha when praying alone does not begin with "We". Rather, the line reads: "You are holy and Your Name is holy....."). In addition, every Kedusha is built around three Biblical verses, which the Congregation proclaims in unison. The first is: "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh...... Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His Glory." This line comes from the prophet Isaiah's vision of God enthroned before the angels, who praise Him constantly using these words. When we recite these words during the Kedusha, we are reenacting what the angels do and joining with them, creating harmony between Heaven and earth. It is customary to raise oneself up three times on one's toes as one says "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh," symbolizing our quest to elevate God's holiness in the world.

     We follow this verse with one from the prophet Ezekiel, who also beheld a vision of God on a Throne (or Chariot). The heavenly voice Ezekiel heard in his vision proclaimed: "Blessed be the Glory of God from His Abode." The congregation concludes its sanctification of God by reciting in unison the final verse of Psalm 146: "The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, from generation to generation, Praise the Lord!" This verse is not from a mystical vision and it does not deal with God's holiness, per se, but it is certainly appropriate here, since the image we have evoked from the visions of both Isaiah and Ezekiel is of God on a Heavenly Throne. Under the circumstances, what could be more appropriate than to proclaim God's eternal Kingship?

     Once we recite this third scriptural verse, the community's sanctification of God is essentially completed, even though we have yet to recite the blessing for this portion of the Amidah. The intensity we feel during the Kedusha subsides and it's ok to relax our posture, as we glide into the "L'Dor vaDor" paragraph, which concludes with the Kedusha blessing. Unlike the three scriptural verses that form the heart of the Kedusha, the blessing at the end is recited only by the prayer leader and not by the congregation as a whole.

     This basic structure of the Kedusha, including the three scriptural Verses and the final blessing, is found in every Kedusha. On festive occasions, however, such as Shabbat, the Kedusha is expanded and embellished. For example, we take the opportunity, standing as we are before the Throne of God, to plead for God to establish His Kingship in Zion, speedily in our time.

     One unique characteristic of the Musaf Kedusha is that the Sh'ma appears right in the middle. This small inserted section concludes with the words "I am the Lord Your God," which are the final words of the third paragraph of the Sh'ma dealing with Tsitsit. The history books tell us that the Sh'ma was not always included in the Musaf Kedusha. It was added in the sixth century, after the rulers of the Byzantine Empire outlawed the public recitation of the Sh'ma. The Jews at that time complied with the law by not reciting the Sh'ma in its usual place in the Shakharit service, but they slipped it back into the service in the Musaf Kedusha, figuring that the government's spies would either have left the service by this point or would no longer be paying attention. The prohibition was eventually lifted and a few Jewish communities removed the Sh'ma from the Musaf Kedusha, but most left it in. It had become a tradition, and there it remains to this day. While including the Sh'ma in the Musaf service no longer serves the original purpose, it does provide latecomers to services, who may have missed the public proclamation of the Sh'ma during Shakharit, a second chance to participate in this important Mitzvah.

Copyright ©1998 Rich Kruger and Tifereth Israel Congregation