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Why Does A Mourner Say Kaddish?

Why Does A Mourner Say Kaddish?

...and how it can help a parent

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A mourner says Kaddish to help along the soul of the deceased in its journey upwards.

We may look as though we are each traveling our own road, but according to Jewish tradition, we are very tied to one another. Children, especially, are.

Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Ari, the greatest of the Kabbalists, described the family tree as a great river. Parents are upstream, children downstream. Whatever occurs upstream must flow downstream. And so, children inherit the unresolved baggage of their parents.

If so, the Ari tells us, it must be that children are empowered to repair their parents' arm of the river. Otherwise, the world would be stuck in a no-win situation—you receive all the problems from upstream without any recourse to repair them at their source.

And so every child is empowered to carry his parents higher than the parents can carry themselves. As the sages of the Talmud described the situation, "A parent can bring a child into this world, but a child can bring a parent into the world to come."

A parent cannot guarantee a child a place in the world to come. A child, however, can bring the soul of his parents into their proper resting place after they have left this world.

How does the child do that? As the parent's soul leaves this world, everything about that soul is taken into account. What's most important, however, is what this soul has left behind. When a child of that parent is doing whatever he or she can to bring more light and holiness into this world, the soul is able to climb higher, despite whatever heavy baggage may be holding it back.

The Kaddish, as we explained above, is one of those ways to draw in that light and make it shine bright. There are, of course, other ways as well: Charity, Torah Study, raising another generation of good Jews…

Even if there is no son who can say the Kaddish1, another Jewish male is still able to help the soul along by saying the Kaddish and by dedicating charity in honor of the deceased. After all, we are all connected. In truth, the Ari taught, we are all only one soul in many different bodies.

FOOTNOTES
1.

For an explanation of why the Kaddish is a typically male thing, see Women in the Synagogue

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Discussion (3)
May 4, 2010
Healing through Kadish
From a psychological perspective, if we are carrying some emotional charge such as judgment, resentment, guilt, fear, etc. towards a parent that's what the mirror image. That's what needs to be healed within ourselves. Freeing the charge allows both to open to Divine love.
Penny Cohen, LCSW
Pound Ridge, NY
June 11, 2008
Re: Easily misunderstood
I see nothing here about punishment. The fact that we inherit the unresolved baggage of our ancestors seems to me an unavoidable fact of life. But that doesn't mean we are necessarily held culpable for it.
Someone
November 15, 2007
This is easily misunderstood.
While I enjoyed reading this greatly, I must comment on the fact that the author quoted a statement made by the Ari that can very easily be misconstrued as some sort of "original sin" ideology - something not existent in Judaism at all. To clarify - the Talmud teaches that the punishment for sins committed by parents only extends to the children if the children transgress the same sins the parents did.
Matisyahu Glenn
Brooklyn, NY
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