The first Kaddish I recited after my mother’s death was shocking to my ears. I resented it. Hearing the words “Yitkadal v’yitkadash“ coming from my lips didn’t seem right. It hurt.
She couldn’t be gone. I don’t accept her passing. These Aramaic words and that ominous tune, like a dirge, should be the utterance of an older man for his wife or by a woman for a parent who had died many years before.
But this prayer – the Mourners Kaddish – was now mine. My Mom had died and the second Kaddish made that clear. “May his great name be blessed forever.”
For a while after my mother’s demise, I said no when Michael Rubin asked me to daven for the congregation at the Beth David chapel, or Zev Kaufman at Mishkan Avraham. I felt emotionally shaky and didn’t want to publicly cry during the Kaddish – a very real possibility. Eventually I agreed and began to benefit from hearing the “amens” of the very supportive and colourful congregants. They helped me to feel less alone. They are heartfelt. They are authentic. They are my village.
Praying, and more specifically saying Kaddish, takes some getting used to. First, it’s imperative that while you are saying the Kaddish you have an ear open to hear others who are doing the same. The entire group must be in sync with one another or else this significant piece of liturgy will sound confusing to the congregation and the amens will come at different times. Should this happen, there is a risk that fewer than 10 people – a minyan – will respond to one’s Kaddish. A fragmented response can easily throw off the reader’s intention.
Second, the 45 seconds or so it takes to say Kaddish is to be a moment of introspection when people focus on their loved one, in some way attaching themselves to their soul. It is said
that Kaddish is a prayer that pushes
the neshamah – the soul – higher. It is therefore crucial that no interruptions of any sort occur during the reading.
When I recite the Kaddish, I create an image in my mind of my mother sitting in front of me, smiling widely as she does and listening closely to her prayer. I feel as if she is sending me a message all is well in heaven and the spiritual boost she gets from my Kaddish is appreciated, as it pushes her toward the higher gates leading closer to God.
Kaddish is a reaffirmation of life. In fact neither the word death nor any reference to it can be found in the prayer. The sages say this is done so that we, the mourners, do not drown in our sorrow. It’s important that we do not forget to live while we are experiencing a death.
Every morning and every evening throughout the world where a Jewish community resides, minyanim are taking place and somebody is saying Kaddish. This prayer, more than 800 years old, connects us the living to those who have perished. It creates that point of intersection between earth and heaven. Those who recite the Kaddish are the conduits. Those who answer with “amen” are the connectors.
As the final amen is said, our village is strengthened. Through that amen, the mourners are indeed reminded to live, and the rest of the congregation is encouraged to hold us up and reserve a place amongst them, the joyous.
“He who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all of Israel. Now say: amen.”
Contact Avrum Rosensweig here.