By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

4. When reading K’riat Sh’ma, after finishing the first verse, one quietly says: *Barukh Shem K’vod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed* (Blessed is the Name of the Glory of His Kingdom forever), after which, he resumes reading in his usual fashion *V’ahavta et Hashem Elokekha* (You shall love the Lord your God) until the end.

Why do we read thus? We have a tradition that at the time that Ya’akov our father assembled his sons in Egypt at the time of his death, he commanded and exhorted them regarding the unity of God and the way of God which Avraham and Yitzchak his father followed; he asked them and said to them: “My sons, is it possible that there is among you someone unfit who does not share my belief in the unity of God?”, as Moshe Rabbenu said: It may be that there is among you a man or woman…(Devarim [Deuteronomy] 29:18). They all responded and said: “Sh’ma Yisra’el Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” (Hear Yisra’el! The Lord is our God, The Lord is One) – in other words: “Hear from us, our father, Yisra’el, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The elder responded and said: “Barukh Shem K’vod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed”. Therefore, all Jews have the custom to say the praise with which the elder Yisra’el praised, after this verse.

Q1: Why is this line read “quietly”?

AW (Art Werschulz) : (a) It’s an interruption in the sequence. (b) It’s not from the Torah. (I seem to recall it’s not from the Tanach, but I can’t double-check right now.) (c) It was “stolen” from the angels when Moshe received the Torah.

EC(Jonathan Wolf): It may be simplistic, but I once heard a story that the origin is historical. That is, during the time of the Roman Empire, the Jews would say “Blessed be His name and let his Kingdom reign forever” as opposed to the Roman kingdom. In danger of discovery, they would say this quietly. However, on Yom Kippur, even fear of apprehension by the Roman’s could not stop them from proclaiming, loudly, the glory of G-d’s kingdom. This may not be “deep”, but it seems logical.

Q2: “…after which, he resumes reading in the usual fashion…” Does this imply that the rest of K’riat Sh’ma must be read aloud?

AW: Yes.

YE (Yitz Etshalom): This issue is not so clear. Whereas Rambam at no point codifies whether or not K’riat Sh’ma must be said aloud (beyond vocalizing the words loud enough for the reader himself to hear them – see 2:8) – Rashba (Responsum 1:452) indicates that although there are communities where the entire K’riat Sh’ma (except “Barukh Shem…”) is read aloud, there are communities where the entire K’riat Sh’ma is said quietly – and he seems to prefer this custom.

Q3: This “story-telling” is atypical of Rambam. Why the lengthy explanation – and why the need for explanation at all? Rambam could have simply stated the Halakha, as is his style.

Q4: How does Rambam know that Ya’akov “commanded and exhorted them regarding the unity of God…?” In the source of this story (BT Pesahim 56a) there is no mention of this particular “command and exhortation”.

Q5: Why does Rambam cite the (much later) verse from Devarim, said by Moshe Rabbenu? – and why mention that it was said by Moshe Rabbenu?

Q6: Why do we have the custom to recite this line aloud on Yom haKippurim?

AW: On YK, we attain the sanctity of angels (if not more), by our teshuvah and innui. Hence, we are entitled to say this line, without fear of angelic repercussions.

EC: Because during the Days of Awe we are reminding ourselves and the community of G-d’s sovereignty over all the earth. We are celebrating the rule of HaShem over all the universe at this time in particular.

Q7: What is the meaning of these six words: “Barukh Shem K’vod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed”?

[YE: The last posting was presented, after the questions and responses of some of our Haverim, in the form of a shiur. Several Haverim wrote to me, indicating that they prefer this format – I will try it again this week and, hopefully, the feedback will support this decision. Please let me know which format is preferable.]

Barukh Shem K’vod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed


The Mishna in Pesahim (4:8) lists six things which the people of Yericho did, three of which met the opposition of the Sages and three of which the Sages let by. Among the non-opposed customs is :”Korkhin et Sh’ma”. The Tosefta, quoted in the Gemara (56a), brings two opinions as to the meaning of these Yericho custom: R. Meir says that they did not pause in the Sh’ma (this statement itself is subject to various interpretations – all of which focus on the idea that they read the words in such a fashion as to make the meaning unclear or opposite of the intended meaning – see Rashi, Tosafot there). R. Yehuda disputes this, claiming that the people of Yericho did not say “Barukh Shem…”. In either case, the meaning of “Korkhin” is “bound together” – to wit, their custom was to “jam together” some component of K’riat Sh’ma which everyone else “expanded”.

The Tosefta in Sota (6:2-3) describes how B’nei Yisra’el sang at the sea (Sh’mot [Exodus] 15:1-19). Since the Song at the Sea is introduced with “Then Moshe and B’nei Yisra’el sang”, it follows that Moshe was acting as the praise-leader. Three opinions are presented:

(a) They sang (in response to Moshe) like Hallel being led by an adult – where after each phrase, they repeat a common phrase of praise; e.g. Moshe said: ” I will sing to God” and they responded “I will sing to God”, Moshe said: “For He has triumphed gloriously” and the people responded “I will sing to God.” This opinion is attributed to R. Akiva.

(b) They sang in response like Hallel being led by a minor – where after each phrase, they repeated that same phrase (since the minor is only “cueing” them). This is the opinion of R. Elazar b. R. Yose haG’lili.

(c) They sang in response to Moshe like people reading K’riat Sh’ma – where Moshe would sing the opening part of a phrase, and they would complete that phrase. Moshe said “And then Moshe…sang” and B’nei Yisra’el responded “I will sing to God”; Moshe said “The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation;” and B’nei Yisra’el responded “This is my God, and I will praise him, my fatherÕs God, and I will exalt him.” This is R. Nehemia’s opinion.

We see that there were three types of antiphonal readings which were practiced in the synagogue during the times of the Mishna: (a) “Hallel” – where a stock phrase is the response; (b) “cueing” – where every word is read by the community and the cues are provided by the leader; and © “call and response” – where the reader and community progress through the reading, alternating between reader and community. K’riat Sh’ma is the example par excellence of “call and response”.

The Mishna refers to the public reading of K’riat Sh’ma as “Pores al Sh’ma”. The word “Pores” means to divide – which indicates that the Sh’ma was divided between the leader and the community. Y.M. Elbogen (HaTefilla BeYisra’el, pp. 19-20) cites this Tosefta and opines that the leader would say “Sh’ma Yisra’el” after which the community would respond “Sh’ma Yisra’el, Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem Echad” – after which the reader would answer “Barukh Shem…” Elbogen cites Albek’s opinion, that the leader would say the first verse in its entirety and the community would respond with “Barukh Shem…” In any case, the common custom, as reflected in the Tosefta, was to read K’riat Sh’ma antiphonally. An exception to this custom was the behavior of the people of Yericho, who were “Korekh” the Sh’ma and, since they all read it together, there was no room (or need?) for the “Barukh Shem…” response.


The Gemara in Pesahim then goes on to explain why “we” (everyone outside of Yericho) say “Barukh Shem…”. The story of Ya’akov is related: On his deathbed, he assembled his sons and wanted to reveal to them the “End of Days” – at which point, the Shekhina (Divine Presence) left him. He said (here it is unclear if he was speaking to himself or aloud) – “Perhaps my bed has a blemish, like Avraham who sired Yishma’el and like my father Yitzchak who sired Esav?” His sons then said to him: “Sh’ma Yisra’el… just as there is nothing but One in your heart, so there is nothing but One in our hearts.” At that point, Ya’akov exclaimed “Barukh Shem…”

The Gemara argues as follows: We can’t say it [in normal fashion], because Moshe Rabbenu didn’t say it. To ignore it is also inappropriate, because Ya’akov did say it. So they ordained that it be said quietly.

Before analyzing this Gemara, it should be noted that there are two other Midrashic sources for the “Sh’ma Yisra’el…” – “Barukh Shem…” connection:

(a) Devarim Rabbah 2:31: Why did the Jewish people merit the reading of the Sh’ma? R. Pinhas b. Hama said: From the Giving of the Torah they merited to read the Sh’ma. How so? We find that when God introduced His words at Sinai, He began with this matter. He said to them: “Sh’ma Yisra’el” – “I am the Lord, your God”. They all responded, saying: “the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Moshe then said: “Barukh Shem…”

(a subtle point here contradicts the Gemara in Pesahim. The Gemara did not want to equate “Barukh Shem…” with the rest of the Sh’ma, because it was not said by Moshe – and here, it is specifically put into Moshe’s mouth.)

(b) Devarim Rabbah 2:36: (quoted in Shibbolei haLeket #15) When Moshe went up to heaven (in Midrashic literature, Moshe’s ascent to Sinai to receive the Torah is expanded to include an ascent to heaven, where he interacts with the ministering angels), he heard the ministering angels praising God with it [Barukh Shem…] and he brought it down to the Jewish people. Why then do we not say it aloud? (Shibbolei haLeket comments: meaning – Why did he not write it into the Torah, that it should be said aloud, as we say the [rest of] K’riat Sh’ma?) It is like someone who stole a piece of jewelry from the king’s palace and gave it to his wife; he said to her: “Do not adorn yourself with this publicly, rather only in the house.” However, on Yom haKippurim, when they [the Jewish people] are pure like the ministering angels, they say it out loud: Barukh Shem K’vod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed.

Each of these three sources pinpoints the Sh’ma-Barukh Shem connection at a different location/event: Ya’akov’s deathbed – and the reason the Barukh Shem is not said aloud is because it was not said by Moshe; at Sinai – and we are not told why it is not said aloud; in heaven, and it is not said aloud because it is “stolen property” which is not wise to flaunt.

One orientation shared by all three sources is that “Barukh Shem…” stands independent of K’riat Sh’ma – either said as a response to K’riat Sh’ma by someone other than the declarant of God’s Unity (Ya’akov responding to his children, Moshe responding to B’nei Yisra’el) or said as independent praise of God (the angels).


Looking back into the Gemara in Pesahim, we immediately encounter several anomalies:

(a) If Ya’akov reasoned that the Shekhina left him because of the presence of an unfit member of his family, why did this only happen when he wanted to “reveal the End of Days”? Why not when that son walked in the room?

(b) Why did Ya’akov mention the unfit sons of Avraham and his father, Yitzchak?

(c)What sort of response was “Sh’ma Yisra’el…” to his question? Surely, someone can be a monotheist (“…the Lord our God, the Lord is One”) while still being “unfit”! If Ya’akov was concerned that one of his sons was blemished, what sort of reassurance did their unanimous “Sh’ma Yisrael…” declaration give him – and why did they choose those words with which to reassure him?

(d) What is the reasoning behind saying it quietly? Just because we have a tradition that Ya’akov once responded to Sh’ma Yisra’el with “Barukh Shem…” – is that sufficient reason say it, such that we mustn’t “ignore” it?


When Ya’akov called his sons to his deathbed, he wanted to reveal the “End of Days” to them. In other words, when the final redemption was coming. We are not told why, but it stands to reason that, since they were in a foreign land under foreign rule (Egypt), he wanted to give them hope and consolation that this situation would not long endure. (We find the same type of “farewell” in Yosef’s final words to his brothers at the end of Beresheet [Genesis]).

Why did the Shekhina disappear, leaving him without the information which he wanted to impart? He must have reasoned that there were two possibilities: Either this was information which it was inappropriate for him to disseminate, or the future was not as rosy as he would have liked. Why would that be? – because someone among the family was not going to maintain the ways of Avraham and Yitzchak, thus removing himself from the promise of redemption! So when the Shekhina left, Ya’akov reasoned as follows: My grandfather, the great Avraham, was not able to train all of his children to follow his path, the “way of God, doing righteousness and justice” – he sired Yishma’el. My great father, Yitzchak, was unable to keep both of his sons in the Avrahamic tradition – he had Esav. Perhaps I have also been unsuccessful in this regard – maybe this is not the “family of Israel” which is destined to inherit the legacy and land promised to Avraham and his descendants. So he confronted them – but there must have been more that he asked them, besides “is there one unfit among you?” – he was concerned with their maintaining the path of his father and grandfather – which is twofold: monotheism and justice. “Are you keeping the faith in one God” and “Are you following the path of Avraham and Yitzchak, acting justly?” Acting justly, first and foremost, is reflected in their behavior towards each other (which had already been found wanting – when the brothers plotted to kill Yosef and ended up letting him be sold into slavery).

Their response, seen through the eyes of the Midrash, provides an answer to both challenges: God is One (montheism) and God is OUR God (family unity – everyone is included in the statement and in the continuity of the family mission). Ya’akov now understood that the Shekhina’s disappearance was due to the impropriety of him imparting this information to his children – not because they were disassociated from the promise of redemption.

Ya’akov, upon hearing of their unity in maintaining Avraham’s belief and justice system, praised God who would forever, as of that time, be glorified and praised: “L’olam Va’ed” – For ever and eternity. “Barukh Shem” is, then, a response to a realization that God’s glory on earth is affirmed and rooted so strongly that it will never cease.

This idea is also the basis for the other two Midrashic sources: When Moshe heard that B’nei Yisra’el joyfully accepted the Torah and responded in the affirmative, he understood that they were prepared to commit to an eternal covenant. The angels, of course, (however we understand their existence) are easily able to declare that God’s glory is eternal – where they stand and praise, that is the constant and obvious reality.

The Gemara then concludes that we must say this line – because Ya’akov said it. Just as when we hear God being blessed, we respond with “Amen” – to include our own praise – similarly, whenever that moment of the acceptance of God’s kingdom is experienced, we must respond with the same response as Ya’akov – to affirm and recognize that through this declaration, God is glorified.


Rambam has a slightly different approach to the story of Ya’akov on his deathbed. Based on several other Midrashim, he feels that Ya’akov was giving the “typical” farewell which always includes a warning about not straying from the teachings of the leader (we see this with Yehoshua – and, of course, with Moshe). Rambam’s clue that this was the sort of challenge Ya’akov was presenting is based on a more explicit “deathbed” farewell – that of Moshe Rabbenu. Just before his death, he cautioned B’nei Yisra’el: Lest there is someone among you, a man or a woman, who is thinking of “straying from the path”. Of course, in the case of Moshe, we are not privy to the people’s response – but, then again, the response of Ya’akov’s sons is only transmitted to us through the Midrash and is not found in the Torah text.

Following the Midrash, Ya’akov’s “farewell” was accomplished in a remarkably insightful way – by challenging his sons as to their commitment to the Avrahamic system, he forced them to declare aloud their allegiance. This declaration serves three important purposes:

(a) It creates a “moment in time” which will forever be embedded in the sons’ memories – making it much harder to violate the trust which they committed to their father in his last moments;

(b) Vocal declarations strenghten inner convictions (see Rabbi Soloveitchik’s comments on the demand for vocal confession on Yom Kippur in his Al HaTeshuva); <

(c)It creates a bond between the brothers that prevents each of them from “straying from the path” – because each of them heard the other 11 – and was heard by the other 11!

In effect, when we say the Sh’ma, the first line is said aloud because we are addressing three audiences: Ourselves, our fellow declarants, and our ancestors. To ourselves, we are vocally committing to our beliefs; to our fellows, we are urging them – and being urged by them – to hold steadfast in that commitment; and to our ancestors, we are demonstrating that we are being true to our obligations about which they instructed us.

Now, to the questions: – Q1: Why is this line read “quietly”? A: It is our personal response to hearing our own declaration -and that of everyone around us – of allegiance and commitment.

Q2: “…after which, he resumes reading in the usual fashion…” Does this imply that the rest of K’riat Sh’ma must be read aloud? A: Not necessarily – “the usual fashion” probably implies aloud OR quietly, however the person is accustomed to read.

Q3: This “story-telling” is atypical of Rambam. Why the lengthy explanation – and why the need for explanation at all? Rambam could have simply stated the Halakha, as is his style. A: Rambam is clueing us in to a profound aspect of the Mitzva of K’riat Sh’ma – it is not only a declaration of personal commitment and acceptance of God’s authority – it is also an affirmation to our ancestors and to each other, modeled after that deathbed scene with the original “Yisra’el” in Egypt.

Q4: How does Rambam know that Ya’akov “commanded and exhorted them regarding the unity of God…?” In the source of this story (BT Pesahim 56a) there is no mention of this particular “command and exhortation”. A: As we saw, their response had to be triggered by some discussion/exhortation about the unity of God – otherwise, their response doesn’t match the question.

Q5: Why does Rambam cite the (much later) verse from Devarim, said by Moshe Rabbenu? – and why mention that it was said by Moshe Rabbenu? A: To demonstrate that this type of “farewell challenge” has a model and Rambam’s understanding of the Ya’akov story has a basis in actual Torah text.

Q6: Why do we have the custom to recite this line aloud on Yom haKippurim? A: If we follow the Midrash that the line was “stolen” from the angels, the answer is simple: several Midrashim point to the “angelic” quality of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur. In addition, the response “Barukh Shem…” has its origins in the Beit HaMikdash – that was the response from anyone who heard God’s Name mentioned there (see the Avodah service on Yom Kippur). Since Yom Kippur is the day where we imagine ourselves in the Beit haMikdash – it is appropriate to utilize “Barukh Shem…” to enhance that experience.

Q7: What is the meaning of these six words: “Barukh Shem K’vod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed”? A: (now that I see everyone declaring God’s Unity and their commitment to maintaining the path of Avraham…) God’s kingdom will be glorified forever – it is now clear and demonstrated!

Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.