Pesachim 100 - 106
Making a Big Kiddush
“Please say Kiddusha Rabbah for us.”
When Rav Ashi stayed at a place named Machuza for Shabbat, he was asked by the congregation to make Kiddush for them after the Shabbat morning services. They gave him a cup of wine and said to him, “Please say Kiddusha Rabbah for us.” This term — Kiddusha Rabbah — was unfamiliar to him.
What did he do? He thought to himself, “All the blessings on a cup of wine begin with the beracha of Borei pri hagafen.” So, he decided to say that beracha first, pause afterwards, and see what the elderly, wise people do. If, immediately after this beracha, he would see an important person start drinking from his own cup, Rav Ashi would understand that the Kiddusha Rabbah was completed and there was not need to say the additional beracha that is part of the Kiddush recited on Friday nights.
Indeed, drinking commenced after Borei pri hagafen. In effect, saying this one beracha is the accepted halachic definition of the term Kiddusha Rabbah. True, many communities have the custom to add a brief introduction to this beracha with a verse or verses from the Torah — such as “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it” (Shemot 28:11) and “And the Bnei Yisrael will keep the Shabbat… (Shemot 31:16-17). But the Kiddusha Rabbah is essentially the beracha of Borei pri hagafen (or hagefen for Bnei Sfarad, since the reply of Amen at the end is halachically considered as part of the beracha, which, as matter of grammar in Lashon Hakodesh, determines the segol vowel for the first syllable in the previous word - Rav Ovadia Yosef, zatzal).
But, why did Chazal call this kiddush, which consists of a single blessing, by the seemingly paradoxical name of Kiddusha Rabbah — “the great Kiddush”?
The Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, a grandson of Rashi, and whose commentary is printed on the daf here in a typical Shas) explains that this Kiddush of a single blessing is accorded a special and seemingly grandiose title because it is the universal opening for every Kiddush on any Shabbat or Chag.
Another explanation for this special name is to distinguish the shorter text of the day Kiddush from the longer text of the night Kiddush. The word Rabbah — great or large — is meant as a euphemism, which is used in order not to draw attention to its relative brevity. Calling it “the small Kiddush” would be disrespectful. Instead, euphemistically, it is called the “great” Kiddush. (Rabbeinu Nissim)
Euphemisms are found in many places in Judaism. In fact, the very term for “euphemism” is sagi nahor, which literally means “much light” and refers a blind person. However, I learned from my revered teacher, HaRav Moshe Shapiro, zatzal, that every euphemism must also be true on some level. Otherwise, there would appear to be a violation of the Torah’s tenet to “Distance yourself from a matter of falsehood.” (Shemot 23:7) The Rav explained: Although a blind person is usually thought of as being in the dark and not having light, it is also possible for a person to be blind and not able to see due to too much light!
In the same manner, we can understand the “hidden” truthfulness in referring to the day Kiddush as Kiddusha Rabbah. The afternoon prayer service is called Mincha, and there is Mincha Gedola which is what the service is called when praying in the early afternoon, whereas Mincha Ketana is later in the afternoon (based on the “Mincha” time when the daily afternoon offering was brought in the Beit Hamikdash, from nine-and-a half hours of the daytime onwards.) Commentaries explain that the earlier portion of the afternoon is called Mincha Gedola — the “greater” Mincha — because the greater portion of the afternoon remains (Perishah, Orach Chaim 232:5), and the latter portion of the afternoon is known as Mincha Ketana, the “lesser” Mincha because only a small portion of the afternoon remains. Likewise, when the Kiddush is said after the morning prayers on Shabbat, a relatively greater, larger part of the day lies ahead. Therefore, there is “truth in advertising” this Kiddush as Kiddusha Rabbah.
On a related note, we have friends in Israel who are originally from Holland (one from Amsterdam and one from The Hague), whose custom is to make Kiddush before the third meal of Shabbat as well. They would say Kiddush before each meal of Shabbat. According to our discussion above of the nomenclature for the various parts of the afternoon, perhaps it might be appropriate to refer to this third Kiddush as Kiddusha Ketana or Kiddusha Zutrata (in Aramaic). Admittedly, I do not recall learning anything on this topic, and the reader is warmly invited to share any thoughts and sources with me.
- Pesachim 106a