Kiddush, sanctification, is the prayer said over wine through which Jews proclaim the uniqueness of Shabbat and sanctify the day. Reciting or hearing Kiddush on Shabbat is an obligation for all adult Jews. The blessing is recited while holding up the kiddush cup in one’s dominant hand. Once the blessing is concluded, the person reciting the Kiddush drinks from the wine and distributes it so that everyone present can actively participate in the mitzvah.
If every Jewish adult is required to sanctify Shabbat by reciting kiddush, why is it acceptable that kiddush is generally recited by only one person at the table? This same question can be asked, as well, regarding ha’mo’tzee (the blessing over the bread) that follows the recitation of kiddush?
The custom of including numerous people in a blessing recited by one person is based on a concept* known as “Shomea K’oneh,” which basically means “One who hears [a blessing] is equivalent to one who answers.” More commonly, people refer to this idea as “being yotzei” (fulfilling their religious requirement).
Fulfilling a mitzvah through someone else requires active listening. A person casually passing by who catches only the words “…borei pree ha’gafen” (…Creator of fruit of the vine), but fails to hear the full blessing, has not fulfilled the mitzvah of kiddush.
The most important aspect of shomea k’oneh is intent. The sages declared: “If the hearer put his mind to it, but not the performer, or if the performer put his mind to it but not the hearer, he did not fulfill his religious duty; [one’s religious duty is not fulfilled] until both the hearer and the performer [simultaneously] put their minds to it” (Rosh Hashana 29a).
Every piece of Jewish life, even when simply sitting at the Shabbat table while someone else recites kiddush, requires the active awareness of positive intent.
*It is also based on the idea that b’rov ahm hadrat melech–the larger the audience, the greater the Glory of God.
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