Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thoughts on Berachot 3

Every translation by definition is an interpretation. We learn this from a fascinating Tosfot on this Shabbat's daf which derives Halalakha Lemaaseh based on a one word paraphrase in the Gemara of the seminal line from the Kaddish: יְהֵא שְׁמֵיהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ which the Gemara paraphrases as follows: יהא שמיה הגדול מבורך.

Tosfot notes that the Gemara substitutes the word הגדול, literally "the great", for the word רַבָּא in our Kaddish. Using this one word, Tosfot rejects the interpretation of Kaddish posited by the Machzor Vitri. The Machzor Vitri translates יְהֵא שְׁמֵיהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ as 2 separate requests. "May the name of G-d become great [in this world], and may his name be blessed [in the world to come]". Machzor Vitri's explanation is based on the Midrash on יד על כס קה, note the abbreviated name for G-d קה rather than the full name יקוק. The Midrash explains that as long as Amalek exists, representing an evil counterforce to all that is good, G-d's name is incomplete. Likewise, according to Machzor Vitri, we beseech G-d in the Kaddush "May שם–קה" the abbreviated name for G-d "become רבא great and complete" in this world.

Tosfot however rejects this based on the Gemara's translation of רבא as הגדול. This means that the word רבא is as an adjective modifying שמיה. It is not a verb. שמיה רבא therefore must be translated as "his great name" NOT "may his name become great".

I looked in two translations today, the Artscroll Siddur and the Koren Sacks Siddur, and both follow Tosfot's translation of this line from the Kaddish and for good reason. The Rema actually cites this in Darchei Moshe as the source for an important Halakha. Rema says that one is not supposed to pause between the words רבא and מברך when reciting Kaddish. The reason is that this is one long praise of G-d, "May his great name be blessed". According to Machzor Vitri's interpretation, not only would one be allowed to pause between the words רבא and מברך, one SHOULD pause between these words since they are actually two different prayers, "May G-d's name become great" and "May G-d's name be blessed".

I heard one other possible halakhic application to this dispute from Rabbi Moshe Elefant who gives the Daf Yomi shiur on the Orthodox Union's website. He posited that this might be the source for the argument between Ashkenazim and Sephardim concerning whether one needs to stand for the Kaddish. Ashkenazim require one to always stand for Kaddish while according to Sephardim one can remain seated during the Kaddish. Rabbi Elefant explains that this is dependent on whether one views the Kaddish as a prayer of praise to G-d, שבח, or as a request, בקשה. For a public praise of G-d one would stand, for a request one does not have to. Ashkenazim would follow the interpretation of Tosfot that יְהֵא שְׁמֵיהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ means "May his great name be blessed". It is a praise of G-d since when we bless G-d we are praising him. Therefore, one would have to stand. Sephardim would follow the interpretation of Machzor Vitri, "May his name be great and may his name be blessed". This is clearly a form of request and for a petitionary prayer one would not need to stand.

What is so fascinating about this discussion is that Tosfot's entire line of reasoning and the halakhic applications stemming from it, all come from a one word paraphrase in the Gemara, הגדול. This is just another example of how careful and exacting the Gemara is in its use of language and how careful we should aspire to be following our sage's model.

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