Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mourner's Kaddish in Jewish Tradition (Dedicated to My Grandmother)

My grandmother was a classic Italian woman.  She loved G-d, family, and food (in that order).  She was a tiny woman but I also got the feeling she could've thrown vehicles out of the way to protect me.  She knew how to cook desserts that would blow your mind--I'm thinking now particularly of her famous pound cake sprinkled with confectionary sugar...  It was because of her that I learned to love Italian culture.

And with her passing, I feel like I've lost a big part of myself.

So this post is dedicated to her.  What follows are some selected readings on the Mourner's Kaddish in Jewish Tradition:

To Pray as a Jew by Donin

"No prayer in all of Jewish liturgy arouses greater emotion than Kaddish.  No prayer instills greater reverence.  No prayer projects more mystery.  It is usually thought of as a prayer for the dead, but it is not that at all.  There are prayers for the dead, but Kaddish meaning 'sanctification' is not one of them.  Yet it is Kaddish that is recited by grief-stricken families at funerals and by mourners at memorial assemblies.  It is Kaddish that sons are required to recite for eleven months following the death of a parent.  Wherein lies the secret of this prayer's power and significance?  What does it mean--for the dead and for the living?
     Its opening words, yitgadal v'yitkadash (Ashkenazic pronunciation:  yisgadal v'yiskadash) were inspired by Ezekiel 38:23, where the prophet envisions a time when God will become great and hallowed in the eyes of all nations; they shall learn 'that I am the Lord.'  Its mood emanates from an awareness of God's infinite power and majesty.  Kaddish is a hymn that praises God and yearns for the speedy establishment of God's kingdom on earth.
     To sanctify God's name publicly has been the historic duty of the Jew....
     The simplest manifestation of Kiddush HaShem is a public declaration of our belief that God is great and holy, which elicits from others the response Yehei Shmei rabba mevorakh l'olam ul'almei almaya ('May His great Name be blessed forever and ever').  That is what we do when we say Kaddish, for the whole purpose of saying Kaddish is not merely to praise God...but to elicit the aforementioned response from listeners.  The response is the hear of the Kaddish and should be said aloud.
     Kaddish is therefore not said when one is praying alone.  Its very essence is as a public prayer.  If the minimum number of people that constitute a congregation ('a public assembly') is not met, the public nature of the sanctification of God's Name is missing.  And if there cannot be a public response, the reason for saying Kaddish disappears.
[This earliest version of Kaddish goes back to the period of the Second Temple:]

Magnified and sanctified be His great name in the world which He created according to His will.
And may He establish His kingdom
During your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, speedily and in the near future, and say Amen.

(Response:  May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)

Blessed, praised and glorified, exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all blessings and hymns, praises and songs that are uttered in the world, and say Amen.


The inspiration for mourners to adopt Kaddish as their special prayer, and the curious mystical hold it has had over mourners over the centuries, even though it was never codified, may have been based on a legend told about Rabbi Akiva who lived in the second century C.E.  It is said that he once saw a man struggling under a heavy load of wood.  Rabbi Akiva stopped the man and said, 'Why must you do this difficult work?  If you are a slave and this labor is forced upon you, I will redeem you from your master and set you free.  And if it is because you are poor and you must earn your livelihood this way, I will enrich you.'  But the man responded with obvious fright, 'Please let me go and do not detain me, lest I anger those in charge of me.'  The man's reply puzzled Akiva.  'Who are you and what is this all about?'  he asked.  The man replied, 'I am one of those unfortunate souls condemned to the agonies of hell-fire, and every day I am sent to bring my own wood for my own torment.'  Is there then no way for you to be relieved of this suffering?' asked Akiva.  'Yes,' the man answered.  'I heard it said that if my little son, whom I left behind, were to say in public Yitgadal v'yitkadash and the others would answer Yehei Shmei rabba mevorakh, or if he were to say Borkhu et Adonai hamevorakh and the congregation would answer Barukh Adonai hamevorakh l'olam va-ed, I would be set free from this judgment.'  Akiva then asked the man for the pertinent details and promised to locate his child and teach him Torah so that he could stand before the congregation and say Yitgadal in praise of God.  The legend goes on to describe how Akiva searched for the child, found him, taught him Torah, the Shema, the Amidah, the Grace after Meals, and prepared him to stand before the congregation to recite Yitgadal.  When the boy did this, the father's soul was delivered from its judgment and permitted its eternal rest.  The man then appeared to Akiva in a dream and thanked him:  'May it be God's will that you rest in peace for you made it possible for me to be at peace' (Netiv Binah I, pp. 367-368)."

Jewish Liturgy:  Prayer and Synagogue Service Through the Ages Edited by Posner, Kaploun, Cohen

"The practice that mourners recite the Kaddish seems to have originated during the 13th century, at a time of severe persecutions in Germany by the Crusaders.  No reference is made to it in the Mahzor Vitry, an early prayer book compiled by a disciple of Rashi in the 11th century."

The Mystery of the Kaddish by Charney and Mayzlish

"And in the following...Rabbi Steinsalz is our guide, phrase by phrase, the text with references to relevant excerpts from the Torah and other passages of the Bible.

     Yitgadal veyitkadash-- 'Glorified and sanctified be...' 
The main concept underlying the Kaddish is to be found in Moses' prayer (Numbers 14:17), 'And now, I pray you, let the power of the Lord be great, as You have spoken,' which is both a prayer and a request that God's power be magnified and revealed in the world.  The two-word combination, yitgadal veyitkadash, is based on a verse in Ezekiel 38:23, vehitgadalti vehitkadashti--'I will be glorified and sanctified...and they will know that I am the Lord.'
     Shemei rabbah--'[God's] great Name.'  This is found in 1 Sameul 12:22, Shemo hagadol--The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name's sake.'  The word 'great' is one of respect and esteem in regard to God's name....
     Be'al'ma di'vra chirutei--'Throughout the world which He has created according to His will.'  This parallels Psalms 135:6, 'Whatever the Lord wished, He did,' namely that God created the world as He wanted it to be, and only He rules it and can change it in whichever way He wishes.
     B'chay-yeichon uv'yomeichon--'In your lifetime and during your days.'  We ask that God's name be glorified and sanctified, not in the distant future, but in the lifetime of the worshippers...
     Uv'chay'yei d'chol beit Yisrae'el--'and within the life of the entire House of Israel,' the assurance that all will live to see God's ultimate redemption of the world.
     Ba-a-gala uvizman kariv--'speedily and soon.'  This is a new request, building upon the previous one.  Not only do we ask for redemption at some point in the lifetime of the congregants, in the distant future, but we ask for it to take place very soon (see Psalms 69:18, for example:  'Do not hide Your face from Your servant; for I am in distress; answer me speedily').
     V'im'ru:  Amein--'and say: Amen.'  There are many places in the Bible where praise of God is followed by 'Amen,' as, for example, Psalms 106:48, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting, and let all the people say:  'Amen.'  Everyone is asked to say 'Amen,' so that all will take part in the prayer...
     Y'hei sh'mei rabba me'vorach...--'May His great name be blessed...'  When the congregation answers, 'Amen,' it also adds, 'May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.' ...
     L'olam ul'ol'mei olma-ya--'forever and to all eternity.'  The literal translation of this passage is 'from one world to the other world.'  This is similar to 1 Chronicles 29:10, 'for ever and ever' (literally, 'from one world to the other world').  The double use of 'world' implies both this world and the World to Come, the world in which we live and the World on High.  
     Yitbarach v'yistabach...--'Blessed and praised...' The underlying idea of this sentence is to be found in the verse (Nehemiah 9:5), 'Let them say:  'Blessed be your glorious Name that is exalted above all blessing and praise.'...
     L'ei-la min kol birchata v'shirata...--'beyond all the blessings and hymns....' We find this idea in Nehemiah 9:5, 'Exalted above all blessing and praise....' As Ibn Ezra explains it, 'No creature can possibly praise Him or exalt Him in accordance with His greatness and elevation, for He is greater and more exalted, to the extent that no mouth can express it.'...
     Birchata v'shirata, tushb'chata v'ne-che-mata--'blessings and hymns, praises and consolations.'  According to Kabbalah, each one of these four words is linked to one of the four letters of God's ineffable name, and thus each has special significance."

No comments:

Post a Comment