Q. I know that the text of the Shema appears in the Torah, except for the second line, Baruch Shem. Why do we add this line during prayers? Also, why do we say the line quietly during the year, but aloud on Yom Kippur?
A. The line reads, Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed – “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever”. Unlike the Shema itself, Baruch Shem is a liturgical response used in the Temple when the name of God was pronounced. Originally the verse was simply Baruch shem k’vodo l’olam, “Blessed be His glorious name” (Psalm 72:19), but in time two words, malchuto and va’ed, were added.
Malchuto, “His kingdom”, was introduced in the days of the Romans. Their emperors claimed divine honours, but for Jews there was only one Divine King. In these circumstances the Shema, in addition to being an affirmation of the unity of God, became a proclamation of loyalty to ol malchut shamayim, “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven”, and the response, Baruch Shem, was expanded to include reference to God’s kingship.
Va’ed was a weapon of war in an internal Jewish struggle. At the time of the Second Temple the minim (sectarians) argued, ein olam ela echad, “there is only one world” – i.e. there is no life after death. The Pharisees pointed to Biblical phrases that indicated that God’s concern extended min ha’olam ve’ad ha’olam, from one world to another, both earth and heaven. Baruch Shem therefore emphasised that the kingdom of God was l’olam va’ed, covering all time and space.
Throughout the year Baruch Shem is said softly, probably because it is non-Biblical and less sacred than the Shema itself. On Yom Kippur, we recall the solemnity with which the people responded when the high priest uttered the ineffable name of God. This historical association explains why Baruch Shem receives such once-yearly emphasis.
Another story relates that Moses heard the angels say Baruch Shem in heaven and he taught it to Israel. Generally we recite it in a whisper, because we are conscious of our mortal frailty; on Yom Kippur we are cleansed from sin, emulate the purity of the angels, and echo the angelic words aloud. However, our spirituality usually does not survive Yom Kippur and we are fallible human beings again with the old vices and lapses. If only our lives during the year always entitled us to say Baruch Shem loudly!
The rabbis did not leave it at that. The Midrash says that Jacob (also called Israel) was desperately concerned lest his sons deny God. “Hear, Israel!” they reassured him, “The Lord is our God, the one Lord!” In relief Jacob exclaimed Baruch Shem – “Thank God! Blessed be His glorious name for ever!”
The legend has its point for today, when the Jewish spark in some people burns so feebly that one fears Judaism is weakening, until on Yom Kippur there is a grand manifestation of faith and like Jacob we are impelled to exclaim, Baruch HaShem! – “Thank God!”