Sunday, September 19, 2004

“. . . haKel HaKadosh nikdash bi-tzedakah:” Thoughts for Aseret Y’mé Teshuvah/The Ten Days of Repentance

For some reason, this phrase has stuck in my head for the past two Rosh Hashanahs (Rashé Hashanah?). The translation’s a bit tricky—I’ve seen the word “tzedakah” translated as righteousness, charity, victory, and retribution. The whole quote (from Isaiah, chapter 5, verse 16), found in the Amidah just before the brachah/blessing HaMelech HaKadosh (the Holy King), reads as follows: “Vayigbah HaShem tz’va-ot bamishpat, v’haKel haKadosh nikdash bi-tzedakah (And the L-rd of Hosts is exalted by judgment, The Holy G-d proved holy by retribution,” according to the Jewish Publication Society translation). Well, I’ve also seen the word “mishpat” translated as justice. So I figure it’s open season for interpretation. Here’s my version: “And the L-rd of Hosts is exalted through justice, and the holy G-d is sanctified through righteousness.”

I see no reason to assume that HaShem has to do all the work. What can we do, as individuals and collectively, to elevate HaShem’s name through justice? What can we do to sanctify HaShem through righteousness? Isaiah points us in the right direction (in the Haftarah for the morning of Yom Kippur) when he exhorts us to let the oppressed go free and share our bread with the hungry. I’ve always thought that the fact that “tzedakah” can mean both righteousness and charity says a lot about the Jewish attitude toward charity. It doesn’t surprise me that our tradition tells us that tzedakah, along with teshuvah/repentance and tefillah/prayer, help us to earn forgiveness. But it’s even more important to commit acts of righteousness/charity throughout the year.

Here’s some recommended reading for the Yamim Noraim/High Holidays from two much better writers:

The Personal and the "Am" , at

Rosh Hashanah Sermon, at



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