L’eilah U’l’eilah

During the Yomim Noraim (“Days of Awe” or “High Holy Days”), there are a number of insertions and emendations to the text of the liturgy, designed to reflect the special nature of that time of year. Most of these fall in the text of the Amidah prayer, such as substituting “Holy King” for “Holy God.” There are, however, some textual tweaks to Kaddish as well, which we will examine here.

The first such variation is that the word “l’eilah” (“higher” or “beyond”) in the phrase “l’eilah min kol birchasa” (“higher than…” or “beyond all blessings”) is replaced by “l’eilah u’l’eilah” (“higher and higher” or “far beyond”).[1] This is an appropriate sentiment for the Days of Awe, as it emphasizes the extents of God’s majesty. What’s unusual is that the when the insertion of “u’l’eilah” is made, the words “min kol” (“from all” or “than all”) are contracted to the single word “mikol,” similar to the way we might contract “are not” to the single word “aren’t” in English. But why is this contraction necessary?

The reason is that this section of Kaddish by design includes exactly 28 words: (1) Y’hei (2) shmei (3) rabbah (4) m’vorach (5) l’olam (6) u’lamei (7) olmaya (8) yisbarach (9) v’yishtabach (10) v’yispa’ar (11) v’yisromam (12) v’yisnasei (13) v’yishadar (14) v’yisaleh (15) v’yishalal (16) shmei (17) d’Kudsha (18) brich (19) Hu (20) l’eilah (21) min (22) kol (23) birchasa (24) v’shirasa (25) tushb’chasa (26) v’nechemasa (27) d’amiran (28) b’almah – “May His great Name be blessed forever and to all eternity; May the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He, be blessed, praised, glorified, elevated, extolled, honored, raised and lauded above all blessings, songs, praises and consolations that are said on Earth.” (The phrase “v’imru amein” – “and let us say Amen” – is not inherently part of the phrase.)

These 28 words correspond to the 28 experiences in a person’s lifetime, as enumerated in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes (popularized in secular culture by The Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn”). Namely:

(1) A time to be born, (2) a time to die; (3) a time to sow, (4) a time to reap; (5) a time to kill, (6) a time to heal; (7) a time to raze, (8) a time to build; (9) a time to cry, (10) a time to laugh; (11) a time to eulogize, (12) a time to dance; (13) a time to scatter stones, (14) a time to gather stones; (15) a time to hug, (16) a time to refrain; (17) a time to seek, (18) a time to lose; (19) a time to keep, (20) a time to send away; (21) a time to rip, (22) a time to mend; (23) a time to be silent, (24) a time to speak; (25) a time to love, (26) a time to hate; (27) a time of war, (28) a time of peace. [2]

Since the number of words in this section is deliberately 28, the insertion of an additional word, no matter how relevant, requires an adjustment to maintain the word count. Accordingly, the two-word phrase “min kol” is contracted.

There is an additional variation to Kaddish during the Yomim Noraim: according to some practices, the phrase “Oseh shalom bimromav” (“the One Who makes peace in His heights”) becomes “Oseh hashalom bimromav” (“the One Who makes the peace…”). However, as mentioned in our article Biblical Verses in Kaddish, that phrase is from a verse in the Book of Job (25:2). Accordingly, some authorities oppose this particular change, as it necessitates varying the language as used in Scripture. [3]

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[1] In some customs, simply “l’eilah l’eilah.”

[2] There is an additional significance to the number 28, which will be addressed in a forthcoming article on the phrase “Yehei Shmei Rabbah.”

[3] There are those authorities who oppose the use of the phrase “Oseh hashalom…” during Kaddish but not at the conclusion of the Amidah; consult your rabbi for guidance in this matter.