Eternity Has Its Limits1
When I call out the Name of Hashem, declare the greatness of our G-d.
Rashi: The word ki [which can be translated in many different ways,
including “because”] in our pasuk means “when.” The verse therefore means,
“When I call out and mention Hashem’s Name, you are to declare His greatness
in response, and bless His Name.” From this pasuk Chazal therefore derived
the obligation of answering Baruch Shem kevod malchuso le-olam va’ed /
“Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and for all time” in
the beis hamikdosh.
Maharal: Rashi seemed utterly reasonable – until his last phrase. If the
pasuk calls for a response by people when they hear Hashem’s Name, why would
it be limited to the beis hamikdosh, rather than anywhere that someone calls
out His Name? More accurately, where is there any hint of this in the pasuk?
Because Rashi is committed to providing access to the plain meaning of the
text – and not to amplify it with halachic tidbits – his comment has to be
sourced in the understanding of the text itself.
Rashi’s halachic source is the gemara; 2 it states that the
Baruch Shem response is limited to the beis hamikdosh, and replaced by the
simple “amen” everywhere else. The reason must be as follows. The Name
mentioned in our pasuk is the Explicit (i.e. Four-Letter) Name. We
know3 that the Explicit Name was uttered only in the Temple.
Everywhere else, we substitute the Name that substitutes the notion of
adnus/ mastery for the Ineffable Four-letter Name. The response “Baruch
Shem…” is appropriate only after the explicit recitation of Hashem’s Name is
it is actually written.
Here is why. 4 Our pasuk speaks of declaring His greatness upon
hearing His Name called out, or pronounced explicitly. The gemara makes two
assumptions about “declaring His greatness.” It stipulates that it should
come as a berachah/ “blessing.” It requires that this blessing be of the
kind that can continue “forever.”
“Forever,” it turns out, is relative. We never pronounce the Four-Letter
Name as it is written – other than in the beis hamikdosh. We substitute the
adnus-Name. This is not a permanent feature, however. The gemara5
observes that this substitution is limited to the here and now. In the
messianic future, we will all pronounce the Name as it is written. This
means that at the moment we have a disjoint approach to the Name we refer to
in the Baruch Shem kevod response. The adnus-Name is a legitimate Name in
its own right. It is a Name today, and will always be. Were we to respond to
it with the Baruch Shem formula, the “forever and for all time” reference
would make complete sense.
But this is not the entire picture. We also use the adnus-Name as a
substitute for the Four-Letter Name, which we refuse to explicitly pronounce
today. When we use the Baruch Shem formula (as we do in reciting the Shema),
we mean something very different when we speak of “forever.” We can only
mean a passing, temporary eternity – the eternity of the current phase of
human civilization. We know about (and look forward to!) a new kind of
society, in which under the aegis of Moshiach, we will pronounce the
Four-Letter Name as it is spelled, mirroring what will then be a much fuller
appreciation of its meaning. When we speak today of His Name evoking our
declaration of greatness, we mean a limited “forever” – one that will come
to an end with the messianic enlargement of its pronunciation.
Ironically, were we to stand in the beis hamikdosh of old, the “forever”
would be a fuller one. The Name is recited there as it is written; this will
not change even in the future. Its “forever,” therefore, has no expiration
The formula “Baruch Shem kevod malchuso” attempts to satisfy our pasuk’s
requirement of declaring Hashem’s greatness upon hearing His Name. As Rashi
writes, the declaration is the blessing of His Name. Here, then, is the
crucial point. Berachah always implies going beyond the essential. It means
surpassing limits, rather than staying within them. [Elsewhere, Maharal
observes that the most important legal part of the Torah – The Ten
Commandments – begins with the letter aleph, whose numerical value is one.
Law is monolithic. It doesn’t bend for this individual or that group. It is
uniform and predictable. The Creation story, however, begins with the beis
of Bereishis. Beis is the first plural number, and therefore a good symbol
of plurality, of going beyond. The purpose of Creation is to bring His
berachah to the world, and the beis gives it a good start.]
In the beis hamikdosh, where the Name was read and will be read in the
future in the same way, without change, the Name can indeed by blessed. Even
more of the fuller nature of that Name can be revealed to us. That
revelation is the berachah of the Name.
Outside of the beis hamikdosh, however, the Name will not expand but
contract. Whenever we read the Four-Letter Name, we substitute the
adnus-Name. That component will cease to exist in the future. Our projection
for the Name, therefore, is one of limitation and shrinking. Meeting it with
a Baruch Shem is therefore inappropriate.
The gemara6 sees our pasuk as the source of answering Amen in
all places outside of the beis hamikdosh. We now understand why. The
“greatness” that we are asked to declare cannot come in the form of a
berachah like “Baruch Shem.” Amen is the best substitution and response.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim, 32:3;, Pesach 60:8-10
2. Taanis 16B
3. Yoma 69B
4. What follows is R Hutner’s explication of the Maharal, but not explicit
in his words.
5. Pesachim 50A
6. Berachos 21A