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The pasuk we quote in Kedusha from Yeshayahu 6:3 reads וְקָרָ֨א זֶ֤ה אֶל־זֶה֙ וְאָמַ֔ר קָד֧וֹשׁ ׀ קָד֛וֹשׁ קָד֖וֹשׁ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת מְלֹ֥א כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּבוֹדֽוֹ׃

In this pasuk, the image I understand is the Seraphim singing the praises of Hashem. They turn to each other and say "Holy."

The trope seems to connect the first 2 iterations of "kadosh" which would make sense if we imagine the Seraphim speaking one to the other and then the other to the first. The third "kadosh" would be a statement said in unison introducing the final concept. The darga-tvir combination seems distinct from the tipcha-munach-etnachta. The meaning would then be (as Chabad's translation has it) ""Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts;"

When it is read, then, there should be a slight pause between the second and third statements, but I often hear people singing and reciting the three "Kadosh" statements together and then starting "hashem tzeva-ot" as a new phrase.

The Koren siddur, in the bracha of Yotzer Ohr for weekdays has a comma after the first 2 "Kadosh" statements and then none after the third, allowing it to run into the "hashem..." statement. In Kedusha for shacharit, though, there is a comma after each of the three and this is also the case in the Kedusha Desidra. My Siddur Tefillah Hashalem has 3 commas in Kedushat Yotzer and 1 comma in the shmoneh esrei -- after the third Kadosh. The first Artscroll I found (and I don't know if there is consistency across Artscroll texts) was the Machzor for Sukkot and it has no commas.

Is there a difference in meaning intended by different ways of splitting up the three words?

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Actually, tipcha is a bigger break than tevir, and even bigger than revii (even though many people don't read it that way). The side of the Tikkun Simanim points out places where it makes a difference to the meaning. One major case is in Reeh 12:2. A more recent place, where it's simpler to see the meaning although I don't think the Simanim says anything there, is in the maftir of Pesach (Pinchas 28:20):

וּמִ֨נְחָתָ֔ם סֹ֖לֶת בְּלוּלָ֣ה בַשָּׁ֑מֶן שְׁלֹשָׁ֨ה עֶשְׂרֹנִ֜ים לַפָּ֗ר וּשְׁנֵ֧י עֶשְׂרֹנִ֛ים לָאַ֖יִל תַּֽעֲשֽׂוּ׃

Because the tipcha is the biggest break after the etnachta, תעשו is going back on the menachot for both the bulls and the ram.

That means that the 3 times קדוש should be together, with a small break for the tevir and an even smaller one for the psik.

I think this is the same as what Chabad means. English punctuation and trop are not fully compatible with each other. In English we put commas in lists of more than two things (holy isn't a "thing," but you get the idea), and we only put commas after a list in places where they would be required even if there was only one item. In Tanach, because the list belongs together, we put a bigger separation after the list.

For example, try days 2-7 of Sukkot, also in Pinchas:

וּמִנְחָתָ֣ם וְנִסְכֵּיהֶ֡ם לַ֠פָּרִים לָֽאֵילִ֧ם וְלַכְּבָשִׂ֛ים בְּמִסְפָּרָ֖ם כַּמִּשְׁפָּֽט׃ (with small changes for the different days)

לאילם does not have a pausing trop. לפרים does have a weak pause on Sukkot (not even that on Shemini Atzeret), but the stronger pauses are before (pazer) and after (tevir) the list.

(במספרם has an even stronger stop (tipcha) because it's going on the animals, not on the menachot. This is another good example where reading it wrong changes the meaning.)

  • Would that make the Chabad translation incorrect? – rosends May 3 '16 at 14:52
  • Maybe it's like "A, B, C are the first 3 English letters" (with no comma after the C). Normally you would write "and C", but it looks ok to me without "and". – Heshy May 3 '16 at 14:55
  • @Danno It wouldn't be the first time someone translated a verse against the Trop. Midrashim do it all the time. – Double AA May 3 '16 at 15:01
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    Consider as an example also Vayikra 14:7 וְהִזָּ֗ה עַ֧ל הַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר מִן־הַצָּרַ֖עַת שֶׁ֣בַע פְּעָמִ֑ים You don't sprinkle from the Tzaraat on the guy who's becoming Tahor. – Double AA May 3 '16 at 15:38
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    @Danno Commentators sometimes explain things against the Trop. Shiv'im Panim LaTorah. – Double AA May 4 '16 at 15:06

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