Today I went to shul to say Kaddish for Jake on the one month anniversary of his death. The Mourner’s Kaddish is one of the most famous prayers in all of Judaism. What is unusual for a prayer said in mourning, is that there is no mention of death, grief, loss, or even the name of the person for whom it is being recited. It only speaks of G-d’s greatness. It begins, “Magnified and sanctified be G-d’s great name in the world which He created according to His will.” It is recited to give an elevation to the soul, the Neshama, of the one who has gone on. Here is an explanation of how deeds done in this physical plane can benefit those in the spiritual plane.
“Jewish tradition teaches that following death the soul ascends and is judged according to its deeds while alive in the physical realm. Everything accomplished by the soul, both positive and negative, is carefully considered. One of the greatest legacies one can leave behind is a family that has been inspired to serve G-d, even during times of distress.
When in the midst of this judgment the hallowed words of Kaddish ascend, uttered by those who grieve most intensely, this serves as a great merit for the soul. Obviously, a person who inspired those around him to such an awesome level of faith and commitment has fulfilled many great deeds and is prepared for the manifested light of the Creator experienced in Heaven.” – from Chabad.org
Okay all well and good. But what if you don’t possess this ‘awesome level of faith”, what if you are only going through the motions because that is just what we do at times like this? Is it still meritorious for the departed? What if your faith, such as it is, is being challenged, disrupted, tested, as never before? How can this tragedy be for the best? How can G-d need Jake more than we do?
I have questioned, on and off over the years, the existence of an “Omniscient God”, who knows everything, has pre-ordained the course of history, does everything with a purpose, and “always for the best”. Did this God know when Jake was born, that he would be wrenched away from us after such a short time. A Merciful God? Seriously? I can’t thing of a more merciless act. But all along, this nagging little voice in the back of my mind keeps saying, “Yeah, but what if …” So I say Kaddish. For Jake. And for me. At a time when I feel so totally helpless, it is something I can do. Like making tea for a cancer patient. It may be insignificant, but it gives me something to do. Whether it makes any difference doesn’t really matter. I guess I am just hedging my bets. It won’t do him any harm, and it might do him a universe of good.
Throughout all the prayers, tehilim, blessings, tzedakah, entreaties, we have offered these past years, we have only asked for one thing. That our son be protected. For whatever reason, or for no reason at all, that protection failed. Or never existed. Here’s where that test comes in. I don’t know where it will go for me. Right now, I am not too sure of anything. But I still say Kaddish every day. Will do so for the next 11 months.
Today, while saying it, tears welled up in my eyes, I could barely finish. I was wearing Jake’s tallit and his tefillin. I felt his spirit close to me, enwrapping me, and I grieved that all I will have from now on is his spirit, and the memories I cherish. Never again to hold my Jakey Jake in my arms. Never again to place my hands on his head and bless him with the Threefold Blessings of the Kohanim. Never again to kiss him as we did everytime we parted. I didn’t get to kiss him this last time. Now we are parted forever.
I learned the Kaddish when my father died 5 years ago. I never imagined I would be saying it for my son.
Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash, sh’mayh rabah.