Nephesh Hachaim 1:11
Following up on the thought offered in the last chapter that despite our being connected to physicality we’re nevertheless superior to angels, R’ Chaim now harkens back to an idea he’d presented earlier on that in fact the very highest angels are powerless to recite Kedusha until we do 1.
His point here is that that’s true despite the fact that angels are inherently holier than we are, and that they aren’t simply paying homage to us 2: they’re simply and utterly unable to start reciting Kedusha until we do.
For at bottom, the objective of the recitation of Kedusha R’ Chaim says is to “elevate” and to “connect worlds to those above them” 3, and to thus “make them holier” 4 and “add luster to the gleam of their light” 5. And yet angels who dwell up above are ironically incapable of doing that on their own and must wait until we begin the process down below to follow through on it 6.
In fact, R’ Chaim suggests, if not a single Jewish congregation in the world was to recite Kedusha, it stands to reason that the angels up above wouldn’t themselves recite it 7 — whetherthey’re Seraphim, Ophanim, or Chayot 8. While we here down on earth could recite it, given that we incorporate all of the world’s sources and roots.
This also touches on the idea of our reciting Perek Shira (“A Chapter of Song [s]”) which guarantees a place in the World to Come to anyone who recites it daily 9.
For when we — who incorporate all of creation — recite Perek Shira in fact, we empower the angels who oversee the animals and birds depicted in it to recite the songs contained there 10, and as a result they animate and empower those creatures 11.
1 See R’ Chaim’s own first note to 1:6 above, and see our first footnote there for a brief citation of it.
This is referring to the Kedusha formula that we recite in the Yotzer section of Shacharit, in the repetition of the morning Shemone Esrai, and in the repetition of the afternoon Shemone Esrai). See Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 3:12, and Psalms 146:10 for the text that Kedusha is based on. And see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 125 and its commentaries.
Yet, see Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach 241 which cites an instance in which the angels recited Kedusha before we did. But that was before the granting of the Torah, and when we were under extraordinary circumstances (i.e., we were crossing the Red Sea).
R’ Chaim refers a number of times in this chapter to the irony of the fact that we, who are “down below”, affect the angels who are “up above”, to underscore our high station.
2 That is, as if they were “respectfully” holding themselves back from reciting their part of it until we’d begin ours.
3 Yet see 1:10 above for our inherent ability to do that whether we’re reciting Kedusha or not.
4 And see 2:6 below for the fact that all of the mitzvot we perform enable that.
5 See Pri Eitz Chaim Ch. 3 for this idea.
Note, though, that that can also come about by our offering sacrifices, R’ Chaim himself points out in Ruach Chaim 1:2.
R’ Chaim’s larger point here thus seems to be that despite our lesser holiness, and notwithstanding our ability to elevate the station of the universe through all of our actions, we’re still and all able to dramatically and momentously affect the very relationship between angels and G-d Himself as well.
6 R’ Chaim then cites Zohar 2:247b as proof of his statement, which focuses on the idea of the various angels bonding together despite their rank to recite Kedusha (even though they’re not able to bond the worlds together as we can).
We hold that R’ Chaim is once again underscoring our contention in the last few chapters that he’s addressing the select few. He does that here by directly quoting the Zohar’s statement at this juncture that the angels who set out to recite Kedusha “join in holiness with all those (outstanding individuals down below) who know how to sanctify their L-rd together” while subtlety avoiding the line soon to come in the Zohar about the angels’ reactions to those more common people who don’t know how to sanctify G-d!
R’ Chaim then cites Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chazarat Hashatz, Ch. 3 as proof of the idea that our recitation of Kedusha elevates and interconnects the upper worlds and sanctifies them even more than before.
And finally, R’ Chaim humbly inserts the idea here that this might explain why we hoist our feet up as we recite Kedusha — in order to represent this.
7 R’ Chaim cites Zohar 3:190b.
8 R’ Chaim cites Zohar 1:42a and 2:247a.
See Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah Ch. 2 for the different sorts of angels.
9 R’ Chaim cites Eliyahu Rabba 1:14.
See 1 Kings 5:13 and Job 12:7-10 for possible allusions to Perek Shira’s main theme.
10 After us, just as the angels themselves would recite Kedusha after us.
11 R’ Chaim cites Likutei Torah, Vaetchanan.
(c) 2019 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.
He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).