Is “Kedusha” Arrogant?

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Many of us say Kedusha1 hundreds, maybe thousands, of times in our lives. Unfortunately, there seems to be a basic aspect of the prayer which makes no sense. The premise of Kedusha seems to be that we will sanctify God (Nekadesh et Shimkha, We will Sanctify Your Name). But how is it possible to think that we are going to make God holy? What is the meaning of this statement? We say every day that we are going to take the unchanging God from a state of “unholiness”, and through our prayer, make Him holy. Does this make any sense to you whatsoever? Does this not seem arrogant, and theologically foreign to Judaism?

So what is the possible meaning of this prayer?

Rabbi Dr. Faur says the following, and I will quote him at length:

Qedusha is a delocutive expression. It derives from a special class of verb, ‘to say’ that particular word (e.g. ‘to welcome’, that means: ‘to say: welcome’!). Similarly, in Hebrew le-qaddesh (to sanctify) means: ‘to say: qadosh! (holy!). Thus, in the qedusha of the hazara, before exclaiming “Holy! Holy! Holy!” it is stated: Neqaddesh et Shimkha be-‘Olamakh, keshem shemeqaddeshim Otakh bi-Shme Marom. Properly translated it means: “We shall declare that your name is ‘Holy’, just like it is declared among the heavenly beings.” Similarly in the Sephardic liturgy: Naqdishakh ve-Na’arisakh ke-No’am Siah Sod Sarfe Qodesh, “We shall declare: ‘You are Holy! You are Exalted! As in the reverential chanting of the congregation of holy Seraphim.” (Homo Mysticus: A Guide To Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed, page 87)

This being the case, Dr. Faur has explained away the problem very simply. It is not that we “sanctify” God, whatever this might mean, but rather we express that He is Holy! Properly understanding this word, we see that the question never really gets off the ground.

With this explanation in mind, I think it seems clear that the text of the Kedusha does just this. In it, we declare that God is holy, not perform a ritual whereby He becomes holy. It seems that this is the simplest meaning of the entire text, and so this is the conclusion one should come to. I was confused, however, by the introduction, though I am told by others that they were not.

At any rate, I think this clears up the question of how it is we might sanctify God. For more on holiness itself (and Faur mentions it in passing later in the paragraph quoted above), it’s worth taking a look at Menachem Kelner’s Maimonides’ Confrontation With Mysticism, where he effectively demonstrates the true meaning of “holiness” according to Rambam.

1 The daily Kedusha (Sanctification) prayer, is recited in the morning blessings before Shema, during the repetition of the Shmone Esrei (Silent prayer, also called Amida,or even just Tefila/prayer), and during Uva Le’Ziyon. In it we imitate the angels in their praise of God, and say “Holy! Holy! Holy! God of Legions!”.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Is “Kedusha” Arrogant?

  1. Le Newyorkais

    Well, maybe not Kedusha, but many prayers r arrogant. The Rabbis tell us that there r 3 types of prayer: praising the Lord, thanking him for goodies bestowed, and requests for new goodies. They decribe it as 1 would approach a powerful king.
    First of all, the analogy of God to a king (think Kim Jong-un) is bad enough, but it gets really dishonest when we call him Father. What father on earth, besides a sick-o abusive 1, would allow 1/3 of his children and grandchildren to perish horribly. Now, maybe Pops did not actually kill us, but he did allow the bullies to do so.
    Second, why do we have to ask him for basic necessities. We ask for food, for example. but what right does a possibly insane deity have to withhold food, when he “intelligently designed” us to NEED food. Talk about rigging the system: create creatures who need this substance called food, then lord it over us (pun intended), so we have to beg for that substance. It seems to me that God is a dog trainer more than anything else.
    Third, why does God need or even care about being praised and served by 1 (i.e., man) of the millions of species he created? All right already, God. Thanks for that mixed bag of creation. But we r grown-ups now, so leave us the hell alone.
    The only real answer is that God is the 1000-pound gorilla in the room whom we must pacify and beg for our very existence. Otherwise, he will crack our worthless skull.
    Man’s 200,000 years on earth have taught us the futility of prayer. So let’s chuck it.
    lastly, please do not give me that third-grade circular reasoning that he dictated prayer for OUR benefit, not for his. Look, if we realize that he does not care, does that not take ALL the meaning out of prayer? We do it for US (wink, wink), while maintaining the fiction that we do it for him. Come on.

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