Dvar Torah P’Kudei 3/8/08

When I looked at the parsha, I wondered why I was assigned this weeks parsha. In it,

Moses: gave a full accounting of the expenditures for tabernacle; since I am the   treasurer  of Darchei Noam I thought maybe Catherine was sending me a not so subtle message of the importance of honesty. I also noticed that there was a discussion of priestly garments: Was it a hint about my clothes? I don’t think so,  Since I married Hanna I’ve been told that I am dressing better. So unable to find an ulterior motive I just looked for a topic.

Near the end of parsha,  we read, “Vayechas heanan et ohel moed uchvod adonai maley et hamishkan  The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the presence of the lord filled the Tabernacle.”  And, the cloud was in view throughout their journeys bechol masayhem.


We have spent the past month reading about the mishkan. Why was the mishkan so special? The root of mishkan is the same as for lishkon, to dwell, and for shechina.  So the name itself says that the entire purpose of the mishkan was to serve as a place for God’s presence to dwell. It was like a portable Sinai, a way to maintain communication with God.

So where does that leave us today? Where do we find the shechina to help us in our wanderings?  Do we need to wait for the 3rd Temple to have the shechina dwell among us?  I would like to talk about the Kedusha this morning. First I am going to explain how I get from this question to the Kedusha, then we will look at the parts of the Kedusha. Then look at the Kedusha as a unit and hopefully, by the end we will see how it can serves some of the same functions as the mishkan.


One answer to what we do today without a mishkan can be found in the seudah shlishi song Bilvavi.

Bilvavi mishkan evneh l’hadar k’vodo

Uv’mishkan mizbeyach asim       l’karney hodo  

Ul’neyr tamid ekach li et eysh ha’akeyda

Ul’karban akriv lo et nafshi, et nafshi ha y’chida


In my heart I will erect a sanctuary to glorify his honor, and in the sanctuary I will place an alter to the glories of his splendor. For the eternal light I will take the fire of the Akeyda, and for a sacrifice I will offer my soul, my unique soul.


So the poet is saying that the mishkan we’re trying to build is in our hearts maybe through prayer and meditation. Now some of you may be thinking. That sounds good, but I don’t really feel the burn of the fire of the eternal light when I am praying, and I don’t really know how to meditate.


My answer to you is to quote Rabbi Tarfon in Avot D’Rabbi Natan.  Rabbi Tarfon says; “God did not extend God’s presence upon the Israelites until they labored. As it says, And they shall build for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell in them”.  It’s supposed to be hard work. That’s the point.

Seeking closer contact with God is part of the long and controversial mystical tradition in Judaism. There is a statement in the Mishneh (Hagiga 2:1) which says: “whoever speculates upon four things it were better for him if he had not come into the world- what is above, what is beneath, what before and what after”. And we know the story of the Pardes where four rabbis entered the Garden of mystic speculation and only Rabbi Akiva came out intact.


So how did the rabbis balance the dangers and the desires of seeking closer contact with God?  One way was by bringing mysticism into the realm of what could be called normal mysticism, such as incorporating it into ritualized prayer. And the prayer that epitomizes normalized mysticism is the Kedusha.


First let’s look at where it comes in the service. If you think about the structure of the tefillot, there are parallels with the structure of the mishkan. Entering the mishkan, a priest passes through less holy areas until he reaches the holy of holies. As he leaves, he retraces his steps descending in holiness. In tefillot, we also work our way up in holiness from pseukei d’zimra which is like an outer courtyard, through the Shema which is like the inner courtyard finally the Amidah and especially the Kedusha which is the kodosh hakodeshim of the service. And then we gradually descend in holiness through the final prayers.


The core of the Kedusha is 3 sentences with various connecting verses.

Kadosh, kadosh , kadosh

Baruch kvod adonai mimkomo

yimloch adonai l’ olam

All of the different versions of the Kedusha, whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic, are built around these three sentences. Only the introductory and connecting verses vary, with Shabbat and holidays having additional verses.


The first verse, kadosh comes from Isaiah and in his vision he saw God surrounded by seraphim, who said to each other holy holy holy is the lord of hosts, the whole world is full of his glory.  And in the next sentences Isaiah said, “I am doomed, for I am a man of impure lips… and I have seen… God….”  And then one of the Seraphim, which literally means burning ones flew to him and touched Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal and said that Isaiah’s iniquity has gone away and his sin would be atoned for. Isaiah was purified and could stand before God.


When I hear of the angel touching his lips, it reminds me of the preamble to the Amidah ,  Adonai, Sefatai tiftach. God, open my lips that my mouth can tell your praises. It’s like we are trying to get God’s help the way Isaiah did.   


The second line, baruch kvod adonai mimkomo comes from the famous Merkavah vision of the divine chariot in Ezekiel. The Merkava has been the point of departure for mystics who have tried to retrace Ezekiel’s steps and find their own path to a direct encounter with God. It is so dangerous that Rabbis only allow it to be taught privately to people over 40. By the way, Ezekiel describes  the angels as standing on a regel yeshara, a straight  leg, which is why we stand with our feet together and legs straight during the Amidah.


This 2nd verse is difficult to understand especially in context. The verse before says, A wind lifted me and I heard behind me Kol rash gadol the sound of a great noise.   saying Blessed be the glory of God from his place. What does that even mean?  I discuss that in a minute.


It seems logical that these first two verses were chosen. They come from the intense mystical experiences of two prophets and imitate words of praise spoken by angels presumably on God’s instructions, so they were bound to please God. In addition, the 2 verses seem to go together since they both speak specifically about Gods glory (kavod).  


They also play off each other well since in the first verse the seraphim are facing each other implying harmony and the second verse is the roaring rash godol of the ofanim. And the Kedusha  even has the two groups of angels talking to each other with the seraphim saying the world is full of god’s glory and then one angel asks what place does it emanates from? and the ofanim rebuke him saying, ”it’s from his place, meaning, that’s God’s business.


But, the third line, Yimloch adoanil li’olam…, god will reign forever surprisingly comes from Psalm 146. No angels here. Why is this in the Kedusha?

Let me offer a few interpretations of the 3 verses and see if they help explain and help us connect with God.

Kadosh, kadosh describes God as infinite in space. The whole world is full of his glory. Yimloch…, god will reign forever, describes God as infinite in time.

And the second verse Baruch kevod adonai, is tough to figure out and maybe that is the point. God is infinite in mystery. It’s a fun verse to meditate on.


Onkelos interprets the 3 fold repetition of kadosh as referring to God separate from heaven, earth and time. God is separated from heaven since he has no form, from earth in that he is not made of matter and from time since he is eternal.

Targum Yonatan said it refers to God in the physical world, the spiritual world and the world to come.

Baruch kvod also has various interpretations, Mimkomo, “His place” can refer to his position or level of eminence, as in “I took my father’s place” We see God acting in various roles but we don’t really know what he is so we say blessed is the glory of God as we perceive it coming from whatever role we see him in. It’s a bit convoluted but the Rabbis struggled with this verse too.

On a less lofty note, James Kugel in the book How to Read the Bible, notes that scholars have suggested that the original phrase was not Baruch but Berum, You can see how similar the chaf and mem are in the ancient Hebrew script used back then (see example). Berum means “as it rose” So the verse would read, I heard a great roaring sound as Gods glory rose up from its place The verse was referring to the chariot taking off again.  This portable chariot was an important symbol for Ezekiel’s Babylonian audience since it meant that God’s glory could leave the destroyed sanctuary and travel to them.


Here’s an interpretation I think I made up. Infinity divided by any number is still infinity. So, even though God is everywhere, he is still infinite in any particular place. So any place we sense God’s presence we are still encountering his infinite glory, God’s imminence as opposed to transcendence. Hey, my mind wanders.

The third line, Yimloch is pretty straightforward but you will notice that in other places in the service, like U va L’zion the first two lines are followed by a line Adanai Yimloch l’olam va-ed. This also expresses God as infinite in time, but it doesn’t have L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation, which expresses God in connection to man that the kedusha line has. And the connection with man is the whole point of the kedusha.


We can also look at the Kedusha as a unit, especially the musaf version, and whether or not you take the imagery of angels and heavenly choirs literally, the Kedusha as poetry  is still very successful at giving us a sense of mystery and awe.

One of the poetic devices used is that the last word of each of the three key lines is the first word of the next line which expands on it.

kevod the last word of the kadosh line, is the first word of the next line

mimkomo the last word of Baruch becomes expanded on as the first word of  mimkomo hu yifen berachamim.

And the last words of the 3rd line l’dor vador, gets immediately expanded again in l’dor vador nagid gadlecha. And that sentence repeats the root, kadosh, three more times before coming to the final blessing which ends with that word. So the theme keeps building and expanding.

The musaf Kedusha also includes the first verse of the shema and the last 3 words (ani adoani elohachem). And having the beginning and ending is like including the whole prayer. It was added in the 5th century CE when Persian guards at shacharit kept the Jews from saying the Shema. The guards left by musaf and so the Rabbis snuck it in there.  These Shema additions employ the same poetic theme when the word elohanu in the Shema is expanded in the hu elohanu paragraph.


So whether you meditate on the deeper meanings, enjoy the poetry or just enjoy the melodies and the sense of community hopefully, you will be uplifted by the Kedusha. A book on Jewish worship put it nicely.  When we pray, we don’t expect the cosmic order to be altered for our sake; the privilege of having a dialogue with God is its own reward. The goal of prayer is to pray with genuine emotion and  to built and mishkan in our hearts.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, prayer may not save us, but it makes us worthy of being saved.

Shabbat Shalom.