Kaddish is what we call a davar sheb’kedusha, a type of prayer in which God’s Name is caused to be praised. Prayers of this type require a minyan, based on the verse, “I will be sanctified among the children of Israel” (Leviticus 22:32 – see Talmud Megilla 23b). They are said with the feet together and, according to the Zohar (cited by Magen Avraham 192), the congregation is called by the shaliach tzibbur to praise God. Accordingly, Barchu (a davar sheb’kedusha) means “let us bless,” while Kedusha begins “nekadesh,” “let us sanctify.” Devarim sheb’kedusha also have a congregational response other than “Amen.” In the case of Barchu, the response is “baruch Hashem hamevorach…” For Kedusha, it is “Kadosh, Kadosh Kadosh…” For Kaddish, the seminal phrase is “Yehei shmei rabbah…” (“May His great Name be blessed forever and all eternity”).
The importance of the phrase “Yehei shmei rabbah…” is discussed throughout Talmudic and Midrashic literature. Just a few of these occurrences include:
* (The prophet Elijah said:) When the Jews enter their synagogues and yeshivas and respond “May His great Name be blessed,” the Holy One Blessed be He nods His assent and says, “Happy is the King Who has such praise in His house” (Talmud Brachos 3a).
* One who replies “Yehei shmei rabbah…” can rest assured that he has a place in the Next World (Talmud Brachos 57a).
* Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: all who respond “Yehei shmei rabbah…” with all their might have their evil decrees torn up as per the verse (Judges 5:2) “they have them torn up in Israel when the nation gives themselves over; bless God.” What’s the reason “they have them torn up?” Because of “bless God.” Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Even if one has the taint of idolatry on him, he will be forgiven it… (Talmud Shabbos 119b).
* Since the Temple was destroyed, each day increases in curses more than the day before… So what sustains the world? The “kedusha d’sidra” (recited in the prayer Uva L’Tziyon) and the “Yehei shmei rabbah” recited after Torah study. This is as per the verse (Job 10:22), “A land of thick, total darkness, a shadow of death with no order.” But if there is order, it dispels the darkness (Talmud Sotah 49a).
* When the Jews gather in their yeshivas to hear Aggadah from a scholar, after which they respond “Yehei shmei rabbah…,” then God rejoices and is elevated in His world. He then says to His ministering angels, “Come see this nation I created and how they praise Me.” (The angels) then dress Him in glory and splendor” (Yalkut Shimoni Mishlei 247).
* If one has studied Chumash, he will be asked by God, “My son, why didn’t you study Aggadah and Mishna? When a scholar delves into his studies, I forgive and erase his sins! Not only that, when one answers Yehei shmei rabbah, even if an evil decree has been sealed, I forgive and erase it” (Midrash Mishlei 10).
* (In the future,) after they eat, drink, and bentch, God will bring a Torah scroll and teach from it…, then David will sing songs of praise before God and the righteous in Gan Eden will respond with Amen Yehei shmei rabbah, while the sinners will answer Amen from Gehinnom. God will ask His angels, “Who is this saying Amen from Gehinnom?” and they will reply, “Master of the Universe! Those are the sinners of Israel! Even though they are suffering greatly, they strengthen themselves to say Amen before You!” Immediately, God will command the angels to open the gates of Gan Eden (for the sinners), who will enter and sing before Him as per the verse (Isaiah 26:2), “Open the gates and the righteous nation that keeps the faith will enter” (Otzar HaMidrashim, Gan Eden).
Again, this list is not exhaustive. Clearly, “Yehei shmei rabbah…” is a most powerful prayer!
We mentioned in an earlier article that this section of Kaddish by design has exactly 28 words, corresponding to the 28 life experiences described in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Similarly, the phrase “Yehei shmei rabbah” has exactly 28 letters. (This requires spelling the word “shmei” without a letter yud that might otherwise be there. This is called chaseir – lacking. It’s not uncommon for some words to be written with or without a variable letter yud or vav.) This 28 has another meaning: it’s the numerical value of the word “koach,” meaning strength. As noted above (Talmud Shabbos 119b), if one recites “Yehei shmei rabbah” at full strength, his sins will be forgiven. (The phrase “Yehei shmei rabbah…” also contains seven words. Seven is likewise a significant number, corresponding to the days of Creation, the levels of the Heavens, and more.)
Apparently, the phrase “Yehei shmei rabbah…” even “outranks” Kedusha! The Talmud in Brachos (21b) asks, “Everyone agrees that a person saying Shemoneh Esrei does not interrupt his prayer to answer Kedusha, but does he interrupt it to say Yehei shmei rabbah?” Rav Dimi answered in the name of several predecessors that “One does not interrupt his Shemoneh Esrei for anything except for Yehei shmei rabbah. Even if one is delving into the mystical secrets of God’s ‘chariot’ (in the first chapter of Ezekiel), he interrupts for Yehei shmei rabbah.” While the final halacha does not reflect Rav Dimi’s opinion, the very fact that the question is asked, as well as that so many authorities feel so strongly about it – especially in face of the unanimous position regarding Kedusha – speaks volumes as to the significance of this phrase.