Uva Letziyon, a Precious Prayer
Chazal tell us that Yaakov’s davening was the introduction of tefilas Maariv, which sometimes includes Uva Letziyon. I therefore introduce:
Question #1: Why does the kedusha that we recite in Uva Letziyon include an Aramaic translation?
Question #2: Why does the Uva Letziyon kedusha quote a different pasuk, Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed, instead of the third pasuk that we usually say for kedusha, Yimloch Hashem le’olam Elokayich tziyon ledor vador halelukah?
Question #3: If I am delayed in beginning the second Ashrei of the morning prayers, should I daven in order, or should I recite Uva Letziyon together with the tzibur and recite Ashrei later?
The greatest thing man can accomplish in life is to praise Hashem, and, indeed, all of our mitzvos and all of our studying Torah are different ways whereby we demonstrate homage to Hashem and fulfill His will. In addition, we actively praise Hashem in many places in our prayer, but, most particularly, when we recite Kaddish and Kedusha. The precious prayer Uva Letziyon, recited most frequently towards the end of the daily Shacharis, includes the Kedusha referred to as the Kedusha Desidra.
The importance of this prayer is manifest in the following incredible passage of Gemara:
Now that the Beis Hamikdash has been destroyed, with what merit does the world exist? The Kedusha Desidra and the Yehei Shmei Rabba recited after the weekly sermon (Sotah 49a with Rashi).
What is the special merit of these two prayers that gives them the ability to sustain the entire world? Both of these prayers involve two highly important mitzvos – studying Torah and praising Hashem – and both are performed by the entire community (Rashi ad loc.). It is presumably for this reason that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 132:1) emphasizes that one must be very careful to recite the Kedusha of Uva Letziyon with proper concentration. Furthermore, it is prohibited to leave shul until these passages are recited (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 132:2).
Why are these two mitzvos special? Through Torah study we understand a glimmer of the brilliant blueprint with which Hashem created the world. At the same time, reciting Kedusha and Kaddish is our praise in Hashem’s honor. By combining these two concepts, sanctifying Hashem’s name and studying His Torah, we literally maintain the world’s existence!
Rashi (Sotah 49a) explains that the Kedusha Desidra was established so that every Jew be involved in studying Torah each day, since the prayer includes passages that are immediately translated. Being recited both by scholarly Jews and unlettered ones is precisely the reason for its great worth.
The words of the Kedusha parallel the exalted, sublime praise recited by the angels. We recite Kedusha itself three times in three different forms during weekday Shacharis. The main Kedusha that we recite during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei consists essentially of three praises, first the words beginning with Kodosh, Kodosh, Kodosh, from the book of Yeshayahu (6:3), then the sentence Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo from the book of Yechezkel (3:12), and then the words beginning with Yimloch, which are from Tehillim (146:10). The first two of these verses, Kodosh and Baruch, are the actual descriptions of the Prophets witnessing the angels praise Hashem.
Although when we recite Kedusha we are describing, or perhaps even mimicking, how the angels praise Hashem, the angels must wait for us, the Jews, to praise Hashem, so that they may begin their praise (Chullin 91b). Singing Hashem’s praises in this fashion demonstrates not only our ability to rise to the plane of the angels, but actually expresses our ability to supersede their level.
For this reason, we recite the main Kedusha standing, with our feet together like angels (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 125:2). We lift our bodies by tiptoeing at the beginning of the reciting of each of the three verses (Shla). Furthermore, one should look heavenward while reciting Kedusha (Rama), and some authorities rule that one should keep one’s eyes closed (Taz), although this approach is not universally accepted (Mishnah Berurah 125:6).
One should be careful to recite the Kedusha together with the tzibur, not earlier and not later (Mishnah Berurah 125:3). We rule that as long as one begins reciting each sentence while the tzibur is still reciting it, one is considered to have recited it together with the tzibur (Elyah Rabbah, cited by Bi’ur Halachah).
Why Three Kedushos?
Why do we recite the Kedusha a total of three times during our Shacharis? Would not one recital be sufficient?
The first Kedusha that we recite daily is an integral part of the long, first brochah of what we call the birchos kerias shma — the brochos that accompany the recital of the morning shma.
Above, I mentioned the Gemara’s statement that the world exists in the merit of the Kedusha Desidra. The main focus is that every Jew should participate in the daily recital of Kedusha as part of the tzibur. At the time that this prayer was initiated, many of the less learned individuals who attended daily morning services were not concerned about arriving on time, and, consequently, missed the earlier kedushos. So that these Jews not be deprived of the merit of reciting Kedusha together with the community, Chazal instituted this prayer, Uva Letziyon (Avudraham).
Redemption before Kedusha
The main focus of this article is on the third Kedusha and the prayer that surrounds it, whose words begin Uva Letziyon. The beginning of the Uva Letziyon prayer introduces the Kedusha Desidra by reciting three verses. Why do these verses precede the Kedusha Desidra? The opening two are consecutive verses from the book of Yeshayahu, the first of which promises the future redemption, and the second of which refers to the covenant of the Torah.
We are about to complete our morning daily prayers, with which we hope to establish the “Torah-ness” of our day, and now we are embarking on our daily struggle for financial survival. Immediately prior to beginning this effort, we should be reminded that there will be a future redemption in which we are assured participation, provided that we maintain cognizance of our responsibility to Hashem (Hirsch).
The second verse begins with the words, va’ani zos berisi osam amar Hashem…
Hashem says: “As for Me, this treaty I have made with them.” However, as Rav Hirsch notes, the verse should then say va’ani zos berisi itam, with them, an indirect object, and not osam, which is a direct object. The word osam implies that the treaty is not simply with the Jews, but that the Jews are the object of the treaty – the bris is the very essence of what the Jews are — we exist because we are Hashem’s People. Thus, the second verse reminds us that our raison d’etre is to be Hashem’s People, and that this sensitivity should remain with us as we begin the day’s mundane activities and throughout the ensuing day.
The third verse, which reads ve’ato kodosh yosheiv tehilos Yisroel, is from Tehillim (22:4), and means that Hashem awaits the praises of the Jewish People (Avudraham). As I mentioned before, the angels must wait until the Jews begin saying the Kedusha before they may begin their praises. The Jewish People are the sole bearers of the recognition of Hashem for all of Mankind (Hirsch). Thus, this verse is an obvious lead into our shira to Hashem.
Closing of Uva Letziyon
After we recite the Kedusha, we recite a verse from Divrei Hayamim to verbalize the request that the recital of Kedusha bring us closer to Hashem and repair our hearts. We then include prayers for Divine assistance in learning to fear Hashem.
This last request raises a question: How can we ask Hashem to help us fear Him? After all, everything is in G-d’s hands except for the fear of G-d, which is in our hands. Thus, this is the one item that we should not ask from Hashem, but should assume responsibility for, ourselves!
The answer is that we ask Hashem for His assistance in our learning to fear Him – we start on the road and request His help in continuing (Avudraham). As the Midrash states, “Hashem said to Israel: ‘My sons, merely open for me an opening for teshuvah as large as the eye of a needle, and I will expand for you openings wide enough for wagons to drive through'” (Shir Hashirim Rabba 5:2).
With this background to the prayer, we can now begin exploring the answers to our opening questions. The first question was: Why does this Kedusha include an Aramaic translation?
At the time that this prayer was established, the familiar language spoken by Jews was Aramaic, and some of the common people did not understand Hebrew. For this reason, several other parts of our liturgy specifically intended for everyone’s comprehension were also written in Aramaic. The most common instance of this is the Kaddish (see Tosafos, Brochos 3a s.v. Ve’onin), but note, also, ha lachma anya in the Pesach Seder, which includes a personal invitation to any Jew to join the Seder, and the kohen’s question to the father of a firstborn at a pidyon haben, mai ba’is tefei. With the same goal in mind, at the time of the Gemara each verse read during the kerias haTorah was immediately followed by the Targum translation, an observance that we no longer follow, since the average person no longer understands Aramaic. A vestige of this practice remains when we recite the Akdamus praise on Shavuos as part of the kerias haTorah. (By the way, some Yemenite communities still follow this practice of reciting the Targum after each pasuk during kerias haTorah.)
For the same reason, since the Kedusha Desidra was instituted to include the unlettered, it was accompanied by the traditional Aramaic translation, so that everyone who read it would understand it (Tur; Avudraham).
It is also important to note that the Targum is not simply a translation of the verses, but serves as a commentary. For example, the Targum that we recite to the verse Kodosh, Kodosh, Kodosh, which is from Targum Yonasan, teaches that the repetition of the word kodosh is not to show how holy Hashem is (three increasing levels of sanctity), but that His Holiness exists in the highest Heavens, in the earth that He created, and forever.
The second question asked above was: Why does the Kedusha of Uva Letziyon quote a different verse, Hashem Yimloch Le’olam Va’ed (Shemos 15:18) rather than the verse that we recite for Kedusha in the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei? With a bit of an introduction, we will discover that the answer to this second question is also linked to the basic theme of why we recite the Kedusha Desidra. Let us first study a related passage of Gemara:
Onkelos the Convert composed the translation of the Torah that he had been taught by Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Yonasan ben Uziel composed the translation of Nevi’im that he had been taught by Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi [the Last Prophets], and the Land of Israel trembled 400 parsah by 400 parsah. A Heavenly voice emerged, declaring, “Who is it that revealed My secrets to mankind?” Yonasan ben Uziel stood up and declared, “It is I who revealed Your secrets to mankind. It is revealed and well-known before You that I did this not for my honor nor for the honor of my father’s household, but only for Your honor – to decrease contention in Israel.”
He [Yonasan ben Uziel] also wanted to reveal the translation of the Kesuvim. A Heavenly voice emerged, declaring, “You have done enough!”
What is the reason [not to translate the Kesuvim]? Because it contains the End of Days – the arrival of the Moshiach (Megillah 3a). (The translation published on Kesuvim called Targum Yonasan is of unknown, but definitely much later, origin, and was certainly not written by Yonasan ben Uziel. It does not carry the imprimatur of an old, accepted translation.)
With the background that this Gemara provides, I can now explain why the Kedusha Desidra includes a different verse to praise Hashem’s Kingship. In the Kedusha recited during the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, the third verse, beginning with the word Yimloch, is from Tehillim, which is part of Kesuvim and therefore has no traditional Targum translation. As mentioned above, the main purpose for reciting Kedusha Desidra is to include the entire Jewish population – including even the unlettered, who required an Aramaic translation. Since the sentence beginning with the word Yimloch was without a Targum, a different verse, Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed, that conveys the same concept, Hashem’s Monarchy, is substituted, because it is a pasuk in Chumash and therefore has a Targum Onkelos (Avudraham).
What should we recite aloud?
The fact that this verse is from Chumash, whereas the two preceding verses are from the Prophets, became the cause of some interesting practices. The Avudraham mentions a custom, rejected by the halachic authorities, to recite the entire Kedusha Desidra quietly, to avoid calling attention to the fact that Hashem yimloch le’olam va’ed is mentioned last, although as a verse from Chumash, it has greater sanctity than the two passages from the Prophets. Although the majority of halachic authorities rule that all three Kedusha verses should be recited aloud (Mishnah Berurah 132:4), other sources mention a custom of reciting only the two pesukim of Kodosh and Baruch aloud – but not Yimloch, which was recited quietly – again to avoid calling attention to the fact that this verse is not recited until after the words of the prophets (Avudraham).
Aramaic out loud
There is a dispute among the authorities as to whether the Aramaic translations may be said audibly. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 59) explains that, according to the Zohar, these passages are not to be said aloud, and the Rama (132:1) also rules this way. However, the authorities quote that the Arizal was not concerned about this and interpreted the Zohar in a different way. Most communities follow the practice of the Beis Yosef and the Rama and recite these passages quietly.
Kedusha Desidra with the Tzibur
At this point, we can address the third question asked above: “If I am delayed in beginning the second Ashrei, should I daven in order, or recite Uva Letziyon together with the tzibur and recite Ashrei later?”
Since the whole thrust of Uva Letziyon is that the angels wait until we collectively sing shira, every individual should participate in this recital. Therefore, except for someone who is at a place in the prayer where there should be no interruption, everyone should join for the recital of Uva Letziyon and certainly for the refrains. For this reason, the Magen Avraham (Introduction to 132) rules that someone who has not yet davened and finds himself with a tzibur who are ready to recite the Kedusha Desidra should join them in their recital (cf., however, Shaar Hatziyun 132:3), and certainly that someone who is a bit behind the tzibur should skip ahead to recite the Kedusha Desidra together with the tzibur and recite Ashrei afterwards.
We should note that there is a major dispute among the Rishonim whether one may recite the Kedusha Desidra and the Kedusha of the Birchos Kerias Shma without a minyan. The conclusion of most authorities is that one may recite these two kedushos without a minyan. However, one should strive to recite them with a minyan whenever possible.
On Shabbos and Yom Tov
On Shabbos and Yom Tov, Uva Letziyon is not recited in the morning at all. Instead, its recital is postponed to Mincha. This is because the late-arriving individuals who were the reason for the takkanah of the Kedusha Desidra arrived early enough on Shabbos to daven Shacharis with the tzibur and be present for the Kedusha. Instead, Chazal postponed the recital of Uva Letziyon to Mincha because there was a weekly drosha on Shabbos afternoon, attended also by the amei ha’aretz, that closed with words of hope about the future redemption, the sanctity of the Kedusha and our role in praising Hashem – so the drosha naturally led into the prayer Uva Letziyon (Avudraham). Others provide a slightly different reason for postponing Uva Letziyon to Mincha – since the Shabbos morning davening is fairly long, Chazal postponed Uva Letziyon (Siddur Vilna, quoting Orchos Chayim).
Kedusha at Night
Aside from the daily dose of Uva Letziyon, there are three occasions when we recite this prayer at night. Those three occasions are Motza’ei Shabbos, after reading the Megillah on Purim, and after reading Eicha on Tisha B’Av.
Why Motza’ei Shabbos?
The reason why this prayer is recited on Motza’ei Shabbos is because this is when the deceased evildoers who now inhabit gehennom return there. To ease their plight a bit, we add this prayer, which somewhat delays their return to gehennom.
When this prayer is recited at night, the accepted custom is to omit its two opening verses (those from the Book of Yeshayahu) and begin with the words Ve’ata Kodosh. This is because reciting the words Uva letziyon goel, and the redeemer will come to Tzion, as a prayer, is inappropriate at night. Recital of these words as a prayer at night implies that we are hiding the salvation and the freedom from bondage that Hashem will bring. On the contrary, this redemption will happen in broad daylight.
Why on Purim and Tisha B’Av?
On Purim night we recite this prayer immediately after completing Megillas Esther, expressing the manifestation of Hashem’s Kedusha that resulted from our redemption. We recite this prayer on the night of Tisha B’Av, both because it is a special time to pray for the ultimate redemption and because it is a consolation that deliverance will come (see Abudraham and Aruch Hashulchan 693:1).
We now understand why the prayer Uva Letziyon is so important. Let us all now strive to recite it with the appropriate respect and focus.