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What is the purpose of reciting Kaddish for a departed family member?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg & Rabbi Shlomie Chein

  

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Although the Kaddish itself, a prayer glorifying G-d's name, makes no mention of death or mourning, it has become the accepted practice for mourners to recite the Kaddish Yatom (Mourner's Kaddish1) in order to elevate the soul of the departed.

The Talmudists explain that Kaddish protects the soul from harsh judgments and serves as a merit to the life of the departed. The Midrash relates a story about a deceased person who was suffering tremendously because of his sins. Rabbi Akiba located this man’s young son and taught him to say the kaddish, and thus brought peace to the soul of his departed father.

Numerous explanations have been offered for how this particular prayer is connected to, and beneficial for, the soul of a departed loved one. Here are two:

1. Through their very existence the Jewish People render testimony of G-d’s existence. As the Prophet says2 “You are my witnesses”. Thus, when a Jew dies a void remains; there is an absence in the testimony of G-d’s greatness. To fill that void we say Kaddish in that person’s merit, which perpetuates the soul’s ability to be a source for the glorification of G-d. Needless to say, it is a tremendous merit for an individual (in this life and the afterlife) to be an ambassador for G-d.

2. Upon passing the soul gains a new understanding of, and appreciation for, G-d, but at the same time, the loved ones left behind find themselves with new challenges to their faith. The Kaddish recited by the mourner is a verbal reflection of the sentiments being felt by the soul of the deceased. Through the Kaddish the mourner finds the ability to explore and express deep reservoirs of faith and optimism. This too is of great merit to the soul of deceased.

Kaddish is only recited for the first eleven months after a parent’s death (because even “the souls of the wicked suffer Purgatory for [no more than] 12 months, and one should not treat one’s parents as if they were wicked”3 so we stop before 12 months). Kaddish is then recited annually on every yahrtzeit of the deceased. On a person’s Yahrtzeit, the soul makes a quantum leap to a completely new level of Paradise. The kaddish (and recitation of Mishnah in honor of the deceased) greatly assists the soul in this transition process.

See also "Kaddish"

Footnotes

  • 1. There are five versions of Kaddish, Mourner's Kaddish is one of them.
  • 2. Isaiah 43:10
  • 3. Rama, Yoreh De’ah 376:4.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Death » Mourning
Life Cycle » Death » Yahrtzeit
Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
Kaddish
A prayer sanctifying G-d's name which is sprinkled throughout the daily prayers and is recited by the leader of the services. This prayer is also recited by mourners during the first year of mourning, and on the anniversary of the death.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
yahrtzeit
The (Jewish calendar) anniversary of a person's death.