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Annulling Decrees

We are taught that answering “Amen, yehei shmei rabba” (“Amen, His Name should become great”) during kaddish with all of one’s might can annul all harsh heavenly decrees (Shabbos 119b). Some take this statement literally and rule that one should use all of his physical energy to answer kaddish (Tosfos). Others maintain that it refers to one’s powers of mental concentration (Rashi).

The words of our Sages beg the following question: Since Divine justice is very precise, if there is a decree then the person requires this punishment in order to make amends for a transgression. How can he have the decree annulled merely by saying “Amen, yehei shmei rabba”? The purpose of all Divine punishment is to cause us to reflect on our actions so that we redirect ourselves towards serving Hashem properly. When a person says, “Amen yehei shmei rabba” with all his strength, holding nothing back, he lifts himself to the height of his powers to sanctify Hashem’s Name. Since he has already reached the highest pinnacle of Divine service, there is no longer a need for a harsh decree to motivate him further.

While this might sound easy in theory, in practice this is extremely difficult. Focusing all of one’s energy and concentration for every kaddish is no simple task, and one could easily miss the mark. At the same time, a person must be careful not to go overboard, since this could cause others to make fun of his actions, which would be a serious transgression (Mishna Berura 55,5 citing Rabbeinu Yona, Brachos 13b). Focus and insight are crucial to achieving the right balance, so that one can properly sanctify Hashem’s Name.

Answering kaddish raises us to great heights,and in doing so we have the ability to erase all harsh decrees.

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and



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