Say Kaddish for Me
Although the kaddish prayer is popularly associated with death, the text itself never mentions mortality or mourning. Instead, it is a call to sanctify God’s name – “May His great Name be magnified and sanctified” – with respondents proclaiming, “May His great Name be blessed, forever and ever.” It was originally connected to other prayer services and rituals. The prayer later became connected to mourners by scholars who saw the recitation of this prayer as a tremendous merit for the deceased with the power to elevate their soul.
How do the words of the Kaddish benefit the deceased? Judaism believes in the ability of every person to be able to make a distinct contribution to the world. Humans were created in the Divine image and our actions, as such, bring a certain element of divinity to the world. When a person dies, their contribution is now missing from the world. As the Talmud teaches, a person should tear their clothing when seeing someone die, as this is “like seeing a Torah scroll that is burned.” Every person brings a unique aspect of the divine to the world which gets diminished by their passing.
This absence is partially rectified by the recitation of Kaddish. The prayer fills some of the vacuum left by the deceased. It restores and amplifies the sanctification of God’s name. For similar reasons, other rabbinic sources suggest for mourners to recite Shema, chant the Haftorah, or lead the prayer services, all with the same goal.
The primary bearers of this responsibility are a person’s children, who may continue the legacy of their parent. Performing good deeds in the name of a parent serves as a credit to them and their heritage. For this reason, many mourners also take on a regular act of chesed (loving-kindness) during their mourning period and beyond. In this way, their parent’s life and death continues to bring good deeds to the world.
While kaddish was originally only recited after the loss of a parent, many mourners today also recite it following the death of a sibling or child. They may also choose to do other acts of kindness in commemoration of their loved one.
Beyond benefiting the deceased, reciting Kaddish may be therapeutic for the mourner. It serves as a powerful coping ritual by affirming God’s justice in the world and accepting responsibility to carry on and create a better world. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote,
“The Kaddish marks the beginning of a new phase of courageous and heroic mourning to which the message of salvation is addressed… No matter how powerful death is… We declare and profess publicly and solemnly that we are not giving up, that we are not surrendering, that we will carry on the work of our ancestors…”
At times, children are unable to recite Kaddish, for a variety of reasons. In such cases, others, such as grandchildren or children-in-law, may take on that privilege. It should be noted that the core responsibility is for the kaddish to be minimally recited once each day on behalf of the departed. While it is meritorious to participate in additional kaddish recitations, mourners should not feel guilty if they can’t recite kaddish at every daily prayer service.
Sometimes a person or their family realize that no one will be able to commit to consistently reciting kaddish. In those cases, an alternative is to appoint someone else or donate money to a charitable cause that will arrange for someone to recite kaddish on their behalf. The money ensures that the job will be taken seriously while connecting it with the great mitzvah of charity.
If you would like Ematai to arrange for kaddish to be recited for you or on behalf of a loved one, please contact us.