Kaddish is unique in that it deals primarily with God’s honor (kevod Shamayim), and therefore, one’s response must be with intense kavana, and one certainly should not chatter during its recitation (SA 56:1; MB 1). The Sages say that anyone who answers “Amen, Yehei Shemei Rabba Mevorakh…” (“May His great name be blessed…”) with their full powers of concentration will cause a judgment of even seventy years against him to be torn up (Shabbat 119b; Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona). They further say that when Jews enter the synagogues and recite “Yehei shemei rabba mevorakh..” aloud, harsh decrees against them are nullified (Tosafot ad loc., citing Pesikta). Additionally, they say that the answer to Kaddish arouses mercy for Jews in exile. When Jews enter synagogues and batei midrashot and respond, “Yehei shemei rabba mevorakh…,” the memory of those in exile ascends before God, and He shakes His head in pain, so to speak, and says: “Fortunate is the king who was glorified this way in his house,” and the desire to redeem Israel awakens before Him (see Berakhot 3a).
Since we sanctify God in Kaddish, it must be recited with a minyan, for God is only sanctified by an “edah” (a group) of Jewish people.
Kaddish was composed in Aramaic because that was the language spoken by all Israel during the Second Temple era, and therefore even the uneducated could understand it and have kavana in their response. The following is a translation of the prayer:
Magnified and sanctified may His great name be,
in the world which He created by His will.
May He establish His kingdom,
cultivate His salvation, and bring His messiah near,
in your lifetime and in your days,
and in the lifetime of the entire House of Israel,
swiftly and soon –
and say: Amen.
The congregation then responds: “Yehei shemei rabba mevorakh le-alam u-le’almei almaya,” (“May His great bame be blessed forever and all time.”) The ĥazan continues:
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted,
raised and honored, uplifted and lauded
be the Name of the Holy One,
blessed be He,
beyond any blessings,
song, praise, and consolation
uttered in the world –
and say: Amen.
That it is the main part of the Kaddish, also called Half-Kaddish, and responding to it is of utmost importance, more important than answering Kedusha (MB 56:6). 1
- There are differing customs regarding the response of “Yehei shemei rabba…” According to Ashkenazic and Yemenite (Baladi) customs, we conclude with “Le-alam u-le’almei almaya.” According to Ĥasidic and Yemenite (Shami) custom, we say one additional word, “yitbarakh” (“blessed”). According to Sephardic custom, we continue until “de-amiran be-alma” (“uttered in the world”). Another difference is that after “berikh Hu” (“blessed is He”), Ashkenazim respond “berikh Hu” while Sephardim, if one has finished reciting until “de-amiran be-alma,” responds “amen” and otherwise does not respond. One should pause between “Amen” and “Yehei shemei rabba,” for the “Amen” is a response to what the ĥazan said previously, and “Yehei shemei rabba” is a praise in itself (MB 56:2). ↩