The complex poetry of this week’s parsha takes us from some of the great highs to the deepest of lows. I would like to focus on one pasuk that we meet on many occasions and serves as the basis for an entire style of avodat Hashem.
“Ki shem Hashem ekrah, havu godel lelokanu” “When I call out the name of Hashem ascribe greatness to our God”.
This pasuk serves as the basis for many halachot:
The Gemara in Brachot (21a) uses this pasuk as the source for the obligation for making a bracha on the learning of Torah. “When I call out the name of Hashem- by learning Torah; ascribe greatness to our God- by saying a bracha”. (The concept of Birkat Hatorah is a critical concept in Judaism and deserves its own shiur which I hope to write in the future). While the Rambam feels that the Gemara is not mandating a full fledged mitzvah the Ramban in his comments on the Sefer Hamitzvot quite beautifully makes the case for Birkat Hatorah to be a mitzvah medeoraita.
Later in Brachot (45a) the pasuk is used as a source for the obligation of “zimun” (three people who have eaten together are supposed to combine and say the birkat hamazon as one unit).
The Sifri learns from this passuk that when the shliach tzibur says “Barchu et Hashem Hamevoruch” the congregation is to answer “Baruch Hashem …..” The same Sifri, in a similar manner learns the obligation for answering the Kaddish.
The Rosh (Teshuva 4) uses the same logic to require one to answer “baruch hu uvaruch shemo” to any bracha that one hears.
Many have the custom to add this pasuk at the outset of the amidah, (except in places where it may constitute a hefsek such as shacharit and maariv).
All of these halachot revolve around a single theme, the responsive community.
When we are involved in prayer or praising of God we do not do so alone, rather we organize ourselves into a community whose sole purpose is avodat Hashem. The pattern is always the same, the leader turns to the group and suggests, recommends and even demands that they praise God, the group responds by offering praise or agreeing to his blessing or adding to it. This style of responsive interaction is rooted in the pasuk itself “When I call out the name of Hashem ascribe greatness to our God”. We are a religion rooted in the communal experience; the Bet Keneset is the prime example of the Jewish institution that any Jewish traveler seeks on his journey. It is there that one can find the community, where one has the key to all Jewish experience (admittedly not all experiences in the shull are religious ones but it has done wonders for the sense of community).
There is another halacha that is based on this passuk that is directly related to this week. The Gemara in Yoma (37a) uses our passuk to explain the mishnah that we paraphrase in the mussaf of Yom Kippur. When the Kohen Gadol would mention the special name of God “When I call out the name of Hashem” all the kohanim and others standing in the mikdash would bow down and say “Baruch shem kavod malchuto leolam vaed” “ascribe greatness to our God”.
Our custom is to bow four times during musaf on Yom Kippur. We bow once during “alenu” as we did on Rosh Hashana and three additional times, once for each confession of the Kohen Gadol. The Kohen Gadol would confess for himself while doing “semicha” on his bull then he would confess for the entire group of Kohanim on the same bull and finally for all of Am Yisrael on the scapegoat. On each occasion he would actually mention Gods special name three times. (In the Mikdash he would mention the holy name once more upon declaring the lottery of the two goats by dedicating one to “Hashem”; however our custom is not to bow when we recall this part of the service).
According to the Rambam those present in the Mikdash on Yom Kippur would bow ten times, one for each of the above mentioned utterances of Hashem’s name. This was done as a sign of respect and awe and is based on the pasuk that we have chosen to focus on today.
If we take a look at the Mishnayot in Yoma which describe the entire day of Yom Kippur in the mikdash we find something interesting. In mishna 3:8 we find the first confession described. The Kohen confesses and the people respond “Baruch shem kevod malchuto lolam vaed”.
In Yoma 4:2 we find an identical description concerning the second confession.
In Yoma 6:2 we find the description of the third confession and only here do we find the additional paragraph telling us that the people not only responded verbally but they bowed down as well. Why was this left out of the previous two instances?
The Tosfot Yom Tov and many others assume this to be simply in the interest of saving space. The mishnayot in this case are fairly repetitive and therefore despite the fact that the same thing happened in each case the details are not repeated. This is plausible but leaves us wondering why the additional paragraph was added in only in the last mishna as opposed to having it only in the first one. This answer is so widely accepted that if you are trying to follow this shiur while looking up the mishnayot yourself you may find that the version of the text that you are using may have actually added the extra paragraph into all three places.
Rav Soloveichick suggests an alternative explanation for this omission based on the comments of Rashi. One of the ten miracles that took place in the Mikdash according to the mishnah in Avot is that do to the enormous amounts of people who came to the mikdash they would be standing one right next to the other however when it came time to bow each individual had their own space. Rashi explains why that this was so important so that no one would hear the confession of his neighbor which cold be an embarrassing thing.
(Note: The confession that we say is standardized and if one was to hear their neighbor it would not create any embarrassment, in the mikdash everyone said their own confession for the sins that they committed. Today as well we should suffice with the printed version but rather everyone should say a personalized version).
According to Rashi the people were saying vidui- confession while they were bowing. The act of bowing was not only to show respect and awe but as well was seen as the most appropriate posture for one to say vidui.
This, suggests Rav Soloveichick, would explain the why the mishnah seems to say that the people only bowed on the last occasion. It was during this last confession that the sins of all of Am Yisrael were being mentioned by the Kohen Gadol. As he was doing so, while placing his hands on the scapegoat, each individual was an active participant by saying their own vidui.
As we approach this Shabbat Teshuvah and Yom Kippur may we be able to realize all of the individual as well as communal aspects of the passuk- “Ki shem Hashem ekrah, havu godel lelokanu” “When I call out the name of Hashem ascribe greatness to our God”.