I hope you had a good Thanksgiving…I know holidays can be challenging after the loss of a loved one.
We were out of town for the holiday until late last night, but wanted to put down some thoughts about the Kaddish prayer for you (it really bothered me that any rabbi would try to forbid that prayer). The prayer is in Aramaic, not Hebrew (although some scholars postulate it was originally written in Hebrew). It is said at multiple times: between each section of the prayer liturgy as a bridge to the next section (i.e. after the morning blessings and before the hymns; after the Shema and its blessings and before the Amidah, etc.).
This shows us that it is a prayer of transition: a “bridge” prayer between one level and another. Besides liturgically in our daily service, we say it especially after studying Torah, and as a prayer of mourning.
The key to understanding it is in the grammar. There are 7 ways to conjugate any hebrew (or aramaic) verb. One of those conjugations (hitpael) is “self-reflexive”, meaning that it used when we are doing the action to ourselves. As an example, “l’shanot” means “to change”, and “l’hishtanot” means “to change ourselves”. All of the verbs in the Kaddish are this hitpael conjugation. These are hitpael verbs in the Kaddish, and are in 3rd person, meaning that they mean “He ____ to himself”.
Gadol means large, and yitgadal means “He has enlarged Himself”. Kadosh means holy, and yitkadash means “He had made Himself holy”. Shemeh Raba means “the Great Name of God”. So the first sentence literally means “God’s great Name has made itself larger and more holy”. And the prayer continues with that formula.
Since God is infinite, and by definition therefore always expanding, this prayer of Kaddish is a recognition of how we are in partnership with God, and how we actually affect the Divine. We say it after we study as a recognition that our studying made God better. We say it after each section of the prayer service as an awareness that our prayers have influenced God for the good.
And we say it in mourning as a recognition that our loved one’s soul has made God more Godly. Teddy was a Divine creation, blessed your lives with love, brought joy into the world, helped you be better human beings and increased your compassion and empathy. In so doing, Teddy increased God’s quality of Godliness. So why would we not recognize that by saying Kaddish?
To deny a living creature’s effect on the world is to deny the omnipotence of God, and even more so in the case of a creature like Teddy, who affected so many people both directly and indirectly. This is especially true in this case.
How many times during Teddy’s life did he give you comfort and love when you needed it, allowing you to then do your job and affect your audience better? How many times were you strengthened, comforted, and/or guided by him, and as a result were better able to do your job as an influencer?
The Kaddish is a recognition of God’s ever-increasing greatness and Godliness. Teddy, through his life and relationships, affected the world on intimate and even subtle larger levels.
I hope that helps you understand the prayer deeper, and helps you see why saying Kaddish is appropriate for all our loved ones….both two-leggeds and four-leggeds.
Rabbi Michael Barclay
‘If you will it, it is no dream. And if not, a dream it is and a dream it will remain”