Commentary

Tasting the World to Come: A Novel Interpretation of Tzidkatkha Tzedek

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Noam Stadlan

I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the editors who spent countless hours improving this article, to Prof. Simi Chavel for assistance with Biblical verses and translations, and to Rabbi Marianne Novak for help in formulating the ideas expressed here. All errors are mine only. This article is dedicated to the memory of my beloved daughter Batsheva Chaya Stadlan z’l.

On Shabbat Minhah after the repetition of the Amidah, there is an ancient practice, codified as early as the siddur of R. Amram Gaon, to recite three verses from Psalms. Commonly referred to in the aggregate as Tzidkatkha Tzedek, these verses are:

Your righteousness is eternal; Your teaching is true. (Psalms 119:142)

Your righteousness, high as the heavens, O God, You who have done great things; O God, who is Your peer! (Psalms 71:19)

Your righteousness is like the high mountains; Your justice like the great deep; man and beast You deliver, O Lord. (Psalms 36:7)

The usual explanation[1] for the placement and recitation of these verses is that Moshe Rabbeinu died at the time of Shabbat Minhah, and therefore this recitation is a form of Tzidduk ha-Din (accepting the divine decree). The Zohar (Parshat Terumah) expands the number of those commemorated here to three ancestors who died on Shabbat afternoon – Moshe, Yosef, and David – with each verse referring to one of them.[2]

In this essay I would like to suggest that the equation of Tzidkatkha Tzedek with Tzidduk ha-Din is not as certain as portrayed, and an analysis of the pesukim of Tzidkatkha Tzedek in conjunction with an investigation into the themes of Shabbat afternoon can lead to an alternate understanding of the prayer. But before developing that thesis, we should start by defining two key terms.

Tzedek and Din

Both tzedek and din are difficult terms to define. It appears to me that these are best understood as reflecting a human, not divine, perspective. Generally, tzedek[3] may be thought of as justice tempered with compassion. While tzedek may usually be thought of as beneficence, in certain circumstances it can encompass adverse outcomes, specifically for those (evil-doers) who deserve it. Din, on the other hand, denotes strict justice, untempered by mercy. Applied to outcomes of judgments (whether human or divine), tzedek is an outcome that seems fair or better, while din can reflect outcomes that may appear fair, but also those that do not. These definitions will help us to argue for a distinction between the motifs of Tzidkatkha Tzedek and Tzidduk ha-Din. To do so, let us briefly review the latter.

Tzidduk ha-Din

Tzidduk ha-Din is commonly recited at the cemetery by the relatives of the deceased. The circumstances under which it is recited and the precedents for its recitation, as will be shown, illustrate that it is a statement of acceptance of the will of God, even (especially) when it is painful and seemingly unjust from a human perspective. Tzidduk ha-Din, after all, is not recited on happy occasions, but only following the death of a loved one or relative. The core of Tzidduk ha-Din is the din: God has decreed, and Tzidduk ha-Din is at best willing and at worst grudging acceptance of the decree, whether it seems fair or not. If Tzidkatkha Tzedek is equated with Tzidduk ha-Din, this means that Tzidkatkha reflects an unquestioning acceptance of God’s plan, no matter how painful or incomprehensible.

The core verse of Tzidduk ha-Din and the source of the concept that God’s judgement is perfect is the verse from Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:4):

The Rock! His deeds are perfect, Yea, all His ways are just; A faithful God, never false, True and upright is He.

Ramban interprets this verse as an allusion to the attribute of justice (din).

Tzidduk ha-Din as referring to acceptance of the divine decree is first[4] found in the Gemara and the Sifre. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 18a) relates the story of the murder of R. Hananiah ben Teradyon and his wife, and the sentencing of their daughter to a life of prostitution:

When the three of them went out after being sentenced, they accepted the justice of God’s judgment. Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon said: “The Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). And his wife said the continuation of the verse: “A God of faithfulness and without iniquity.” His daughter said: “Great in counsel, and mighty in work; whose eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways” (Jeremiah 32:19). Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi said: How great are these righteous people, that these three verses, which speak of the acceptance of God’s judgment, occurred to them at the time of accepting the righteousness of His judgment.

It is used in similar fashion in Numbers Rabbah (8:4), where Ritzpah bat Ayah recites the verse, and says Tzidduk ha-Din as she accepts the murder of her children.

As a further illustration of the implications of the verse, the Gemara Bava Kama 50a quotes R. Hanina:

Anyone who states that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is forgiving [vatran] of transgressions, his life will be relinquished [yivatru], as it is stated: “The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

In other words, God does not waive heavenly justice.

The emphasis of this verse clearly is on judgment (din). The righteousness (tzedek) aspect connotes acceptance, but not necessarily human understanding. It is an acknowledgement of God’s righteousness in His own eyes.

The Historical Understanding of Tzidkatkha Tzedek

Given this background to Tzidduk ha-Din, we can see why the proposed link to Tzidduk ha-Din is far from certain. Further, there are additional reasons to question the equation of the verses of Tzidkatkha Tzedek with Tzidduk ha-Din. Tosafot (Menahot 30a) note the custom of reciting Tzidduk ha-Din on Shabbat because of the death of Moshe, but then argue that Moshe died on a Friday, not on Shabbat. This suggests something of a difficulty with this equation. Similarly, the Midrash Psalms (90) states that on the day of his death, Moshe wrote a Sefer Torah for each tribe, something he obviously would be forbidden from doing on Shabbat.

Given this contradiction,[5] other rationales or explanations for Tzidkatkha have been proposed. One suggestion[6] is that Tzidkatkha is like Tzidduk ha-Din not because of the death of Moshe, but because of the sinners who return to Geihinom after Shabbat (after having a respite on Shabbat). Therefore, it is not the death of Moshe and others that is being accepted, but the punishment of those deserving of it. However, this explanation is not without weakness. One argument against this is that Geihinom apparently is in operation on Rosh Hodesh and Yom Tov, days on which Tzidkatkha is not said, due to them being days when Tahanun is omitted. So if one were reciting it to accept the punishment of those in Geihinom and/or try to bring them some merit, it would be logical to recite it every day, even on days that Tahanun is omitted.

Abudarham (David ben Yosef Abudarham, c. 1340) brings another reason for reciting Tzidkatkha at Shabbat Minhah. After Minhah one eats Seudah Shelishit, and the Gemara (Shabbat 118a) states that anyone who eats three meals on Shabbat is saved from three punishments. Abudarham connects each verse of Tzidkatkha to a punishment, and concludes that we recite Tzidkatkha to acknowledge the three punishments from which we are saved by consuming Shabbat meals.

The commentary in Siddur Avodat Yisrael, however, reviews much of the above and states: “And this is difficult and contradictory. If Tzidkatkha is like Tzidduk ha-Din in that it is not recited on days when Hallel is recited, then, why do we recite Tzidkatkha every Shabbat? After all, we do not recite Tzidduk ha-Din on Shabbat.[7] And what Yom Tov is greater than Shabbat?” The commentary points out that the rationale for reciting or omitting Tzidkatkha is not consistent with identifying it with Tzidduk ha-Din. It then concludes:

But the apparent truth is that Tzidkatkha is not Tzidduk ha-Din. It was established to reflect Tahanun of weekdays. And because we do not say Tahanun on Shabbat, we have Tzidkatkha instead of Tahanun. Therefore if Shabbat is a day on which we would not say Tahanun had it been a weekday, we also don’t say Tzidkatkha on that Shabbat.

The Siddur Hegyon Lev (with commentary by the author of Peri Megadim) also records much of the above information, and comments: “The conclusion from this is that the recitation of these verses is more ancient than the Geonim, who struggled to find a rationale for it.” It appears quite possible, then, that the connection between Tzidkatkha and Tzidduk ha-Din, while ancient, may be more of a post hoc justification, and that a different understanding may be offered.[8] To do so, let us return to the verses that comprise the Tzidkatkha prayer.

The Pesukim of Tzidkatkha in Context

The plain meaning of the verses of Tzidkatkha emphasize beneficence, not a mandate to submit to God’s will. While the word “mishpat” occurs once, “din” does not appear at all. A survey of the context of the pesukim and the classic commentators on Tanakh at those locations does not support a Tzidduk ha-Din interpretation. For the most part, the commentators understand these pesukim as praising God’s beneficence. This beneficence is not hidden, but is clearly discernible from a human point of view. Punishments, when mentioned, are only for the wicked.

The first verse is from Psalms 119:142. There is a verse (Psalms 119:137) prior to the one incorporated in Tzidkatkha that potentially could be construed as referring to din. It states: “You are righteous, O Lord; Your rulings are just.” But this verse refers to God as Tzadik, and the word used for ‘just’ is yashar, not din. Furthermore, most of the verses in Psalms 119 emphasize an attachment to mitzvot and their performance, the reward for those who perform mitzvot and the punishment for those who do not, and the desire to be close to God through mitzvot. Radak comments on Psalms 119:142 that the righteousness that God has established with the world is one that will be eternal. Din or similar concepts are not mentioned. Metzudat David states that the word tzidkatkha refers to the tzedakah that God performs for those who remember His commandments – that righteousness stands forever.

The theme of Psalms 71 (the source of the second verse) is that God is a refuge for those who depend on Him. God is depicted as Rescuer, Hope, and Support. The term “ve-tzidkatkha” here continues the pattern of referring to God’s good (in human understanding) deeds and His beneficence. Malbim uses the verse to discuss various ways in which God provides salvation, whether through natural or supernatural means. In all three midrashim that reference this verse (Lamentations Rabbah 1:41, Pesikta Rabbati 46:1, and Leviticus Rabbah 26:8), tzidkatkha is meant as beneficence, something that is good from the human perspective.

Psalms 36 (the source of the third verse) begins with a meditation on sin and its consequences. But then, starting with verse six, a contrast is drawn between sin and God: “God, Your faithfulness (hesed) reaches to the Heavens, Your steadfastness (emunah) to the sky.” And then our pasuk continues the characterization of God. To the hesed and emunah enumerated in the previous pasuk, our pasuk adds beneficence and justice (using the word mishpat, not din), all culminating in the conclusion that God will save man and beast. The next four pesukim emphasize human dependence on God’s goodness, and are chanted by many after reciting the berakhah over the tallit gadol.

A midrash on this pasuk (Midrash Tanhuma Buber Noah 8:6) uses the third verse to emphasize how God’s beneficence actually reigns over the the attribute of din:

Another interpretation (of Psalms 36:7): Your Righteousness is like the mighty mountains. R. Simeon bar Yohai said: Just as the mountains hold down the deep so that it does not rise and flood the world, so Your righteousness holds down divine justice and retribution so that they do not come into the world. Your righteousness is over Your judgments as the mighty mountains are over the great deep.

According to this midrash, the pasuk is an embrace of beneficence and rejection of din. This fits quite well with the peshat of the pesukim, the context of the perakim in which the pesukim are found, and the understanding of traditional commentary. Understanding these pesukim as referring to din and not tzedek is a very radical change, one not supported by the context.

The Shabbat Experience

In light of the above, I would like to suggest an alternate understanding that fits more closely with the peshat of the pesukim, one that is based on an ideal of the Shabbat experience. The verses of Tzidkatkha make up the final public liturgy unique to Shabbat. The next public prayer is Maariv, which is recited after Shabbat. Perhaps, then, similar to the Shema Yisrael/Barukh Shem/Hashem Hu of Yom Kippur, Tzidkatkha should be seen as the culmination of our Shabbat prayer and experience. Just as those verses recited on Yom Kippur are the pinnacle of our tefillah and our recognition and acceptance of the sovereignty of God, perhaps Tzidkatkha also is meant to reflect the height of our Shabbat experience.

What is the Shabbat experience? The Gemara (Berakhot 57b) tells us that Shabbat is one-sixtieth of the World to Come. The ha-Rahaman we recite in Birkat ha-Mazon in honor of Shabbat asks God to grant us a day that is entirely Shabbat, namely the World to Come. The Mishnah (Tamid 7:4 – recited as part of Shabbat Mussaf) states that the special psalm for Shabbat is “a song for the time to come, for the day that will be all Shabbat and rest for everlasting life.” Avot de-Rabbi Natan (1:8) adds more details: “a world that is entirely Shabbat, where there is no eating or drinking or business, only the righteous sitting with crowns on their heads being sustained by the emanations of the Shekhinah (an aspect of God).”

R. Levi Yitchak of Berditchev expands on this idea (Kedushat Levi on Ki Tisa):

Another way of explaining the wording of our verse (Exodus 31:13) is based ‎on the realization that God, in His love for the Jewish people, gave ‎them commandments by means of which they would establish ‎their claim to eternal life after their bodies had died (Makkot 3:16). The Sabbath features especially largely in that ‎context, as by observing it we experience a foretaste of the ‎afterlife. On that day, as part of its observance, every Jew can ‎experience the meaning of a truly spiritual experience and the ‎satisfaction it brings to the person enjoying it.‎

However, we have a rule that the reward for ‎performance of the commandments of the Torah is not given in ‎this world, i.e. during a person’s lifetime on earth (compare ‎‎Kiddushin 39b). So God therefore gave the enjoyment of the spiritual ‎pleasure on the Sabbath as a gift (not as a reward- ed.). God arranged for this “foretaste” of ‎what to expect in the afterlife, the principal reward being ‎preserved for when the person’s soul returns to its celestial ‎origins.

When a Jew experiences that as a result of observing ‎the Sabbath he enjoys an additional dimension of spiritual and ‎physical wellbeing, he does not need to be an intellectual in order ‎to fantasize about how much more of this he will experience in ‎the world to come, where he has been assured that the principal ‎reward for Sabbath observance as well as mitzvah ‎observance generally will be shared out.

The paragraph in Shemoneh Esrei unique to Shabbat Minhah reinforces the idea that Shabbat is a foretaste of Olam ha-Ba. Shabbat is the only time when the Minhah Shemoneh Esrei is different from the one recited at Shaharit. The three different paragraphs of Shabbat davening (Maariv on Shabbat night, Shaharit, and Minhah) have been understood to reflect three different Shabbatot: Maariv reflects the Shabbat of creation, Shaharit reflects the Shabbat of Matan Torah, and Minhah reflects the Shabbat of the future (World to Come).[9]

The paragraph begins attah ehad ve-shimkha ehad, “You are one and Your Name is one.” It continues, “Avraham and Yitzchak will be happy, Yaakov and his sons will rest in it.” And then the key words: menuhah – peaceful rest, hashket – peaceful quiet (in Modern Hebrew we use sheket for silence, but in earlier Hebrew the world for silence is actually dumiyah), and betah – trust/security. This phrasing is an adaptation of Isaiah (32:17):

For the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, calm and confidence forever.

The content of Attah Ehad, with the emphasis on the quiet and rest that will be enjoyed (the verbs are in the future tense) by ancestors who have already passed away, combined with the reference to eternity in Isaiah, can be understood as a reference to the world to come. A further hint that this paragraph refers not just to Shabbat but to Olam ha-Ba lies in the opening words, atta ehad. Abudarham notes that the first sentence is an adaption of a verse from Zekhariah (14:9):

And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name.

The pasuk looks towards the end of days, when all will acknowledge God. In the Shemoneh Esrei, the future tense is changed to the present tense, perhaps indicating that we can strive to experience the future Olam ha-Ba every Shabbat.

The paragraph of Atta Ehad reinforces the idea that the essence of Shabbat and of Olam ha-Ba is an incredible experience of peace of mind and contentment. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the first paragraph of the beginning prayer of Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat, ends with a form of the word menuhah (menuhati). On Shabbat we are not only granted a glimpse of Olam ha-Ba, but our “work” for Shabbat is to understand and appreciate the ultimate rest and contentment that Olam ha-Ba represents.

If we assume that one aspect of Shabbat is to develop an understanding and appreciation of Olam ha-Ba, and to experience a small fraction of it, then it seems all the more odd that the recitation of Tzidkatkha Tzedek, the culmination of this experience, is a reluctant acceptance of loss or punishment that we cannot fully understand.

Affirmation of God’s beneficence

I suggest that by the time of Minhah of Shabbat afternoon, we have had an opportunity to glimpse and understand, as much as humanly possible, the peace and tranquility of Olam ha-Ba. At the least, this seems to be a desired outcome of optimal Shabbat observance. Having some understanding of peace of Olam ha-Ba, Tzidkatkha Tzedek should be seen as an affirmation of the just God who has given rightful reward to those who did not receive what (we perceive) they should have in this world. It is not a reluctant acceptance of loss and the divine decree, but a statement of belief that those who did not experience rest and peace in this world are experiencing the ultimate in peace and contentment in the next. Simply put, Tzidkatkha Tzedek proclaims that, through our experience and understanding of Shabbat, and through it Olam ha-Ba, we realize that theodicy is an illusion produced by our lack of understanding and appreciation of the world to come. This idea is expressed in a different explication of the verse in Haazinu (Taanit 11a):

“A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, He is just and righteous” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The baraita interprets “a God of faithfulness” to mean that just as punishment is exacted from the wicked in the World-to-Come even for a light transgression that they commit, so too, punishment is exacted from the righteous in this world for a light transgression that they commit. The righteous suffer their punishment in this world to purify them so they can enjoy the World to Come.

If this is the meaning of Tzidkatkha Tzedek, then we logically should remove all of the mourning aspects of Tzidkatkha Tzedek and recite it even on those occasions when Tahanun is not said. On the other hand, while the above analysis may reflect an ideal, it does not reflect human reality. Those who have suffered deep loss often face a terrible dilemma. They want to remember their loved one, and make sure that at least the memories live on. But at the same time, the memories are reminders of the loss. So there can be significant pain associated with the memories, no matter how happy. Some memories may have less associated pain than others, but all are reminders of who is not there, consigned only to memory. Even the thought of a loved one enjoying the ultimate in peace and contentment will not eliminate the very human experience of loss. Perhaps Hazal understood this. Therefore, as Shabbat wanes, we try to appreciate the glimpse of rest and contentment that the Master of the Universe has given us, and take comfort that this ultimate of peace and contentment has been bestowed fully on the loved ones that we have lost. But this very thought reminds us of our loss. We recognize this feeling of loss by not reciting these verses on those occasions where mourning would not be appropriate.

I suggest that my analysis, while novel, is not unprecedented, given the discomfort commentators have shown with the standard explanations. What is more, it serves as a challenge to experience the aspect of Olam ha-Ba in Shabbat. Tzidkatkha Tzedek is a reminder, at the end of the day, of one purpose of Shabbat. Shabbat is not just a day of rest, relaxation, good food, friends, and family. Shabbat, experienced in the fullest, truly is a taste of the World to Come. Tzidkatkha Tzedek expresses the belief that in the World to Come, God rights all wrongs. And though that realization comes with some feelings of loss, ultimately God will “wipe the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).


[1] For example, see the standard Artscroll or Koren siddur commentaries.

[2] The idea of mourning the loss of Moshe and others is used to explain two other Shabbat afternoon customs. R. Saadia and R. Sar Shalom Gaon note that the basis for the reading of Pirkei Avot at  Minhah time on Shabbat afternoon is in commemoration of the death of Moshe, who died at that time. This is based on a statement in the Talmud that “if a scholar dies, all study ceases”- i.e., we do not have public study, just private study, and we do not directly study the deceased’s work (i.e., the Torah). Therefore the custom evolved not to have public lectures, just individual study, and not of Torah, but of Mishnah. Additionally, some have the practice not to say “gut Shabbos” to others after Minhah. While this may not be a well-known custom, R Eliyahu Kitov writes: “It is also customary, out of a spirit of mourning for Moshe, not to wish others ‘good Shabbos’ after Mincha. If someone greets a person, he should reply in a low voice.” The Book of Our Heritage Volume 2 (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1997), 718.

[3] For example, see here by Rabbi Sacks: https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/2269078/jewish/Tzedek-Justice-and-Compassion.htm.

[4] According to R. Kaufman Kohler and Crawford Howell Toy, the book of Revelation (part of the New Testament) is an adaption of a Jewish manuscript from the second temple period, and they understand Revelation 16:5-7 as a statement of Tzidduk ha-Din. From what I understand, modern scholarship has cast doubt on this assertion. A summary is available here: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12712-revelation-book-of.

[5] There are those who attempt to resolve this contradiction. For example, R. Eliyahu Ki Tov (pg. 720) writes that Moshe could have died on a Friday, but that the Jewish people were so stunned that they did not begin to fully mourn until the next day.

[6] Rabbinical Council of America, Siddur Avodat Halev (Jerusalem: Koren, 2018), 652, based on Sanhedrin 65b.

[7] According to some it is not recited on erev Shabbat after midday.

[8] As an aside, the customs of reciting Pirkei Avot and not saying “gut Shabbos” after Minhah do not necessarily support  the connection between Tzidkatkha Tzedek and the death of Moshe or others. For example, Prof. Ismar Elbogen, in his comprehensive review of liturgy, states that there are many possible rationales for the learning of Pirkei Avot, and doubts that it is related to mourning for Moshe. R. Shmuel Wosner addresses the issue of not saying “gut Shabbos” and dismisses it as not being a very widespread minhag.

[9] “It was Franz Rosenzweig who stressed the ‘messianic’ atmosphere of the Sabbath Afternoon Service. The Friday evening service deals with the belief in Creation. The Sabbath morning service speaks of Revelation. It is the Sabbath afternoon service in which the belief in Redemption is concentrated. Here, the central section of the Amida says: ‘Thou art One, and Thy Name Is One’ – a clear reference to ‘that day’ when, according to the prophet, ‘the Lord shall be One, and His Name One.’ The weekly Sabbath is meant to give us the flavor of that age which will be ‘a day that is altogether Sabbath and rest in the life of the world to come.’” From Shabbat Minḥah Prayers, a prayer-pamphlet by Dr. Jakob J. Petuchowski (1966).