Baruch Shem kevod Malchuso is a praise that doesn’t appear in the written Torah but its source is rooted in this week’s parasha. What is the source and its importance? Why do we whisper it all year after the Shema, but say it out loud on Yom Kippur? And how should we mention it on other occasions, such as at the Yom Kippur Katan services, recited on Erev Rosh Chodesh, — must it also be whispered then? What should one do if he skipped it by mistake?
This praise is mentioned in halacha as a remedy for mistakenly mentioning G-d’s Holy Name. How does it rectify the mistake? Is there any difference between mistaken mention of G-d’s Name and an unnecessary blessing? And how should it be recited then — out loud, or whispered?
In the Beis Hamikdash (may it be rebuilt, speedily in our times!) this verse takes the place of Amen. Why is that?
Of this and more, in the coming article.
Sources for Reciting Baruch Sheim
In this week’s parasha we read: “And Yaakov called his sons and said, ‘Gather and I will tell you what will befall you at the end of days’” (Bereshis 49:1). While Yaakov apparently wanted to reveal to his children the course of future history, he went on to chastise three of them, then blessed the rest. No secret of history appears in any later psukim. Why did Yaakov change his plans?
The Gemara in Maseches Psachim describes the conversation that took place on that fateful day:
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: “And Yaakov called his sons and said, ‘Gather and I will tell you.’” Yaakov wanted to reveal to them when the End of Days will be – when the Moshiach would come, but the Divine presence left him.
This departure of the Divine presence frightened Yaakov, and he asked: “Perhaps the reason this happened, was because there is an imperfection amongst my offspring just as Avraham had Yishmael, and Yitzchak had Eisav.”
To allay his fear, his children responded: “Hear O Yisrael, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one” (Devarim 6:4). Just as you have only one G‑d in your heart, so too we have only one G‑d in our heart.”
At that time Yaakov said, “Baruch Sheim kevod malchuso leolam va’ed — Blessed be the Name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.”
The Sages were in a quandary: “Should we recite this as a part of the Shema prayer? But Moshe did not record it in the Torah. But how could we not say it if Yaakov said it?”
They therefore established that the line should be whispered quietly.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 61:13) rules that after reciting the Shema one should say “Baruch Sheim” quietly as per the above-mentioned Gemara. The poskim dispute the rationale for this ruling:
The Tzlach (Psachim 56a) understands that the reason for whispering is to differentiate between those verses that are recorded in the Torah and the praise that is not mentioned in the Torah. The Mishna Brura follows this opinion (Orech Chaim 61:30).
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (Chochmas Shlomo, Orech Chaim 61:13) understands it differently. In his opinion the reason this verse is whispered is because it is a praise that belongs to the heavenly angels, which we have no right to pronounce. This is the reason Moshe Rabbenu didn’t record it in the written Torah. But since Yaakov Avinu said it, we recite is quietly.
The Arizal writes (Sha’ar HAyichudim 4:5b) that it is whispered because reciting it aloud can cause spiritual harm due to its holiness.
These diverse explanations result in various differences in halacha, as we shall see.
The Shulchan Aruch (619:2) rules that on Yom Kippur this praise should be recited aloud. The source for this ruling is the Midrash (Devarim Raba, Va’etchanon 2:37):
When Moshe went to Heaven to receive the Torah from G‑d, he overheard the angels praising G‑d: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” After hearing it, he brought it to the Jews below. Since this praise belongs to the angels, it is recited in secret. And why?
Rabbi Assi says: “It is as if someone took jewlery from the king’s palace and gave it to his wife. He told her, ‘Do not wear this out in public, only in the house.’ So too, this praise that was taken from the angels, from G‑d’s palace, we do not say out loud. However, on Yom Kippur we are like angels, and we say it out loud in public.”
And where did Yaakov learn this praise? The Tashbetz (volume II, chapter 236) explains that Yaakov heard it from the angels in his dream of the ladder.
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger proves from the difference on Yom Kippur that his reason for whispering Baruch Sheim is the primary one. Otherwise, why would Yom Kippur be any different?
According to the Tzlach, though, (and by extension, the Mishna Brura) we can explain that the year-round whispered recitation is to provide clear indication that this verse is not part of the written Torah. Once that is established, we can recite it aloud on Yom Kippur because on that day we are similar to angels and praising Hashem with praises that belong to them is then possible.
Baruch Sheim is recited on various other occasions, such as at the culmination of the Yom Kippur Katan services on Erev Rosh Chodesh, when the Shema is recited followed by a 3-times Baruch Shem response. The Tzlach (Psachim 56a) writes that it is customarily recited aloud on these occasions. Some differ on this, maintaining it should be whispered here as well (which is the custom in several communities today). The Tzlach explains that it depends on the above dispute regarding the reason it is recited quietly: If it is in order to differentiate between a prayer from the Torah and one that is not, when not reciting the full Shema there is no concern one might mistakenly think it is part of the written Torah, and there should be no problem reciting it out loud. However, according to the approach of Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, since the reason is in order to avoid arousing the ire of the heavenly angels, it should always be whispered, even when recited after the poem “Ana bekoach” or in order to remedy an unnecessary blessing.
The Ben Ish Chai writes (Torah Lishma 196) that Baruch Shem must only be whispered when recited as part of the Shema because in reciting the Shema one brings upon himself a special light, and the loud and silent portions must be in the correct sequence. However, in the course of Torah study, there is no problem reciting this verse out loud.
Whereas the Ben Ish Chai states quite clearly the proper way to recite Baruch Shem in the Shema and during Torah study, he does not rule how to recite it in other prayers.
Amen Yehei Shmei Raba
The Maharsham (volume V, chapter 9) quotes the Targum Yerushalmi (Bereshis 49:1) in explaining that when Yaakov’s twelve sons said the Shema, the words he actually answered were: “Yehei Shmei Raba mevorach l’olam u’lolmei olmaya, which we say in Kaddish.” The Maharsham explains that the words Yehi shmei raba which we recite in Kaddish are actually an Aramaic translation of Baruch Sheim. Since the Kaddish is in Aramaic which the angels don’t understand, their jealousy isn’t aroused when we recite it out loud in Kaddish. But when the words are recited in Lashon Hakodesh as we do in Shema they must be whispered.
Out of Sequence
The Bach (Orech Chaim 61) is of the opinion that skipping this praise does not invalidate the entire prayer, and one who skipped it still performed the mitzva of reciting the Shema. However, the Levush (Orech Chaim 61) maintains that not only does a skipped Baruch Shem invalidate the Shema, even lack of proper full intention also renders the prayer invalid. The Mishna Brura (61:29) mentions a dispute on the matter, but in the Biur Halacha rules that it is not crucial.
Rectifying Unnecessary Blessing
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 6:1) writes that one who recited an unnecessary blessing must rectify it by reciting “Baruch Sheim” so that Hashem’s Name should not be mentioned in vain.
This rectification appears in the Tosefos (Brachos 39a); Rambam (Brachos 4:10); and Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 206:6): whenever Hashem’s Name was mentioned by mistake, either in blessing or otherwise, Baruch Sheim should be said to make amends for it.
Praise In Place of Error
The Rambam (Shvuos 12:11) writes that one may not mention G-d’s Name in vain – i.e., for no valid reason. One who did so by mistake must quickly offer praise so His mention should not be in vain. The Rambam mentions, for example, if one mentioned Hashem’s Name by mistake, he should add the praise “Baruch Sheim” or “Gadol Hu u’mehulal me’od – Great is He and Praised extensively.” Once this praise is uttered, it rectifies the needless mention. The Kesef Mishne and Radvaz both identify the Yerushalmi as the source for this ruling. This apparently indicates that any utterance of praise is acceptable, not only Baruch Sheim. Other poskim seem to indicate, though, that only Baruch Sheim is adequate.
The Mabit (Kiryat Sefer, Shvuos 12:11) explains how this works: the pasuk (Devarim 32:3) reads: “When I call out the name of the Lord, ascribe greatness to our G-d.” This pasuk teaches us that following every mention of G-d’s Name we must add praise of Him. This was the accepted practice in the Mikdash – following every blessing recited in the Mikdash, the audience would respond: “Baruch Sheim Kevod malchuso l’olam vo’ed.”
Mention of G-d’s Name in vain constitutes a grave sin of Chilul Hashem – desecrating G-d’s Name. One can only correct this by making a Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying His Name. This, explains the Panim Meiros (volume III, chapter 9), occurs when one says Baruch Sheim, a praise that completely corrects the sin of mentioning G-d’s Name in vain.
The Chazon Ish (Orech Chaim 137:6) explains that there is actually no prohibition involved in thanking Hashem with the full Name, whether in the proscribed prayer formulae or in any other language. Therefore, one who mentioned G-d’s Name by mistake can continue with words of praise, in which case his mention of G-d is part of His praise. It is of no consequence if the praise begins with G-d’s Name or ends with it.
The Chida (Nachal Kedumim, Kedoshim) follows the Zohar’s approach (Yisro 91b) to explain how Baruch Sheim corrects a mistaken mention of G-d’s Name. When Hashem created the world, He carved His Name on a stone and placed it upon the mouth of the depth [Tehom]. This Name prevents the waters from rising up and flooding the world. When one takes G-d’s Name in vain in a false oath, he degrades this Name and the letters of the holy Name depart. As a result, the waters well up and threaten to flood the world. There is a special angel in charge of the seventy keys to G-d’s Name whose job is to replace the Name in the correct spot. The Chida, based on Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Krakow, explains the connection between this angel and the praise of Baruch Sheim. Therefore, by mentioning this praise, the ministering angel receives the energy to do his job properly and rectify the damage that resulted from the unwarranted mention of Hashem’s Name.
The Imrei Emes (Parasha Va’eira) explains that in the future we will understand that nothing was in vain and the concept of Baruch Sheim will be clear to all, because there will be nothing else in the world but Hashem’s Lordship.
Correction or Atonement
The Klausenberger Rebbe (Divrei Yatziv, Orech Chaim 83:4-6) understands that the Yerushalmi and Rambam maintain that praising Hashem with Baruch Sheim corrects everything damaged by the unnecessary blessing. However, he understands that the Shulchan Aruch maintains that further atonement remains necessary.
Delaying Baruch Sheim
Another difference between the approaches leads to a difference in timing. If Bruch Sheim atones for an unnecessary blessing, it does so whether it is recited immediately after the unnecessary blessing or much later. However, if it fixes the damage by using the mention of Hashem in order to praise it, it must be uttered immediately.
The Achronim are split on this: the Eshel Avraham (Orech Chaim 25:4) maintains that reciting it immediately is praiseworthy but not obligatory, while the Minchas Yitzchak (volume VII chapter 7) maintains that the correction must happen immediately for it to be effective.
What’s wrong with reciting an unnecessary blessing? The Chazon Ish explains that while there is no Torah prohibition involved in randomly reciting the blessing for bread even when not eating bread, i.e. – praising Hashem for giving us bread, since the sages instituted these blessings and instructed us not to recite them without partaking of the object of the blessing, we must not recite them at random. This is to impart fear of Heaven in us by refraining from uttering them outside of Chazal’s directives.
Therefore, he asks, how does reciting Baruch Sheim help correct the rabbinic prohibition of only offering praise at Chazal-appointed times?
He answers that the sages instituted reciting Baruch Sheim after an unnecessary blessing to indicate that an unnecessary blessing is like taking Hashem’s Name in vain. And according to the approaches that see Baruch Sheim as correcting damages, this sin, too, is corrected.
To complete this discussion, we should add several further comments:
The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orech Chaim 206:6) that one who began the first three words of a blessing (“Baruch ata Hashem”) and then loses the object of blessing (it fell from his hands or he is otherwise unable to partake of it,) should say Lamdeni chukecha (“teach me Your statutes”) which is a complete pasuk: “Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes” (Tehilim 119:12) so as his mention of the Name will be part of Torah study. This is preferable to reciting Baruch Sheim.
One who mistakenly continued the blessing until the word Elokeinu can continue koras imanu bris b’chorev as in the pasuk (Devarim 5:2): “The Lord our G-d made a covenant with us in Chorev.”