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Answering to Kaddish on the High Holidays

It is customary to add a number of special passages to the Kaddish recitation on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Specifically, the one reciting Kaddish adds, "Te’anu Ve’te’ateru Be’rahamim Min Ha’shamayim," praying that the congregation’s prayers should be lovingly accepted by G-d, and he prays that G-d should open all the heavenly "gates" for the congregation ("Shaareh…Shaareh…Shaareh…"), whereupon the congregation answers "Amen."

Unfortunately, people sometimes afford greater importance to these additions than to the basic text of the Kaddish. They answer "Amen" loudly and emotionally to the "Shaareh" prayer, but do not respond, or respond halfheartedly, to "Amen Yeheh Shemeh Rabba" and the other basic sections of Kaddish. It is important to remember that the essence of Kaddish is "Amen Yeheh Shemeh Rabba," and the special High Holiday additions are of secondary importance. While of course it is proper to answer "Amen" to the "Shaareh" prayer, one must not neglect the essential part of the Kaddish.

A remarkable passage in the Pirkeh Hechalot underscores the special power and importance of answering "Amen Yeheh Shemeh Rabba." Rabbi Yishmael tells that an angel once invited him to come and see what was in store for the Jewish People, and the angel brought him to the inner chambers of the heavens. He showed Rabbi Yishmael a ledger, and Rabbi Yishmael saw that written in the ledger were all different kinds of crises and calamities decreed against the Jewish People. The angel warned that these were the decrees issued that day, and even worse decrees were going to be issued the next day. Sure enough, the next day Rabbi Yishmael was again brought into these chambers and saw that even worse calamities were written in the ledger – captivity, starvation and deadly wars.

The angel told Rabbi Yishmael that in truth, even worse tragedies than those were decreed against the Jews, but when the Jews assemble in the synagogue and announce, "Yeheh Shemeh Rabba," these decrees never leave the heavenly chambers.

We often fail to realize just how precious and powerful answering Kaddish is, as it can help ensure that evil decrees remain "locked up" in the heavens and are never unleashed against us.

On the High Holidays, we are pleading for the annulment of harsh decrees that might be issued against us because of our sins. Therefore, especially on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we must pay careful attention to ensure that we answer the Kaddish with full concentration and intensity.

Summary: It is customary to add special prayers to the Kaddish recitation on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but these additions should not distract our attention from the main body of the Kaddish and the requirement to answer "Amen Yeheh Shemeh Rabba."


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