We are saying the traditional kaddish prayer for our deceased parent. However, our father was mean and very destructive, and caused much sorrow for many, many years. How does one come to forgive when one is still reeling from the intensity of the hurt and pain? We are human beings after all, and we would need to be superhuman to forgive such a person.


What kind of answer can be given to such a painful question? I cannot claim to understand what you are feeling without having experienced it myself, and even then . . .

Instead, I will pen a few thoughts for you to ponder:

1. Focus on the Present

In Judaism, the customs and traditions not only commemorate the past, but also act to shape the present and the future. For example, our Passover Seders commemorate not only the Exodus from Egypt, but they are also a way for us to experience exodus ourselves.

Likewise, the reason for saying the kaddish prayer is not really to memorialize the deceased. Rather, explains the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, when a child prays and says kaddish, the parent is credited in Heaven for having brought into the world a child who sanctifies G‑d’s Name.1 So in a sense, saying the prayer is a tribute to at least one good thing that your parent accomplished: bringing children into the world. And perhaps by continuing to do good things yourselves, you will in some way be making your father into a better person than he ever was.

As Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (1558–1628), known as the Shaloh, says (paraphrased), “The merit of the parent benefits the child only in our physical world; the merit of the child benefits the parent only after he is not in this world.”2

The reason we are commanded to honor our parents, even though honor is generally reserved for G‑d, is because parents have children by choice.3 That alone warrants our giving them honor. Parents are humans with faults, many times glaring faults; however, they gave us the greatest gift we possess—life.

2. In Heaven

When we are born, we are given an evil inclination (yetzer hara) that causes us to have desires that lead us to make bad choices in life. However, once the soul leaves the body, those feelings and impulses no longer exist, and the soul sees reality as it truly is, as G‑d sees it. If one led a life filled with bad choices, he or she may experience intense shame over it in the World of Truth. This is one way of understanding Hell. Certainly, the person is no longer plagued by the bad characteristics and proclivities he or she had while alive.

I am pretty sure that your father, in his present reality, would want nothing more than to beg forgiveness for the pain he caused you. Unfortunately, that is not possible after one has passed on. However, your attempts to forgive him would be a great relief for his soul.

3. For Yourself

One last thought is that the act of forgiving lifts a load off of one’s heart. Even if the other is not deserving, you do deserve to be freed from the heartache that comes with anger. The Talmud tells us that those who forgive the undeserving are forgiven by G‑d even when they themselves are undeserving.4

You may also want to read Honor My Mother?! and How to Let Go of a Grudge.

I hope that these remarks are helpful to you in your time of distress. May G‑d give you comfort and peace.

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
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