— A prayer for the living
By Moshe Meirovich
In the words of Ben Sira, the second century B.C.E. Jewish apocryphal sage: “We are all destined to die. We share it with all who have ever lived and all who will ever be.”
This is a fact of life. Yet, with each death we enter a mourning period that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004) has so eloquently described as five stages of grief:
Likewise, rabbinic scholars centuries ago comprehended the need to ‘concretize the abstract’ by embracing the grieving process even while standing at the grave of a loved one.
At the very moment when the heart is broken, Judaism mandates the public recitation of the Kaddish prayer thereby aiding the mourner to begin to move beyond denial by confronting death head-on.
The Kaddish, at this time of emotional upheaval, ever so slowly addresses the grieving process by encouraging the mourner to begin to accept a new reality with the ubiquitous reminder: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and helps those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:19)
In the ancient Aramaic prayer, the Kaddish asserts: “Yitgadal V’yitkadash Shmei Rabbah.” Magnified and sanctified be the great name of God throughout the world created according to the divine will.
These words underscore the words of the prophet Isaiah: “For My plans are not your plans, nor are My ways your ways declares the Lord. But, as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and My plans above your plans.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)
Poignantly, the psalmist reminds us that even though we may not comprehend God’s inscrutable will, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Hence, with the recitation of the Kaddish, the mourner publicly declares there is indeed hope and redemption beyond this moment of unbearable pain. Step by step, the Kaddish provides the mourner with a ritual to traverse the stages of grief that will surely follow while embraced by a community of family and friends who provide comfort in the house of Shiva (seven days) where Kaddish will be recited, thereby sustaining the mourners in their quest for healing.
Moreover, in the words of an anonymous author, we discover an additional purpose in reciting Kaddish: “… if there is one thing I beg you to take to heart, it is this: Say Kaddish after me, but not for me. Kaddish is the unique Jewish link that binds the generations of Israel. The grave hears not the Kaddish, but the speaker does, and the words will echo in your heart …” (“Jewish Reflections on Death” by Rabbi Jack Riemer)
Thus, the Kaddish not only connects one generation to another; it also ‘jump-starts’ the grieving process in the midst of a caring and loving community, so that the mourner can again begin to experience a measure of hope, even in moments of despair.
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