1. The Reasons for Kaddish

A1 siyum - a conclusion [usually of the study of a tractate, and the like] - involves an element of joy; in our case, the conclusion of the recital of Kaddish for the eleven months since the histalkus of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz].2

The meaning of such a conclusion and the importance of its timing may be understood in the light of the fact that the Rebbe Rashab added one day to the eleven-month recital of Kaddish and later painfully regretted having done so.

At first glance, this would appear to be problematic.

Kaddish is recited in order to help the departed soul in its trial and to modify its punishment. Since3 “a rasha is sentenced for twelve months,” Kaddish is discontinued after eleven months “so that the father and mother of those reciting Kaddish should not be branded as wicked.” Reciting Kaddish for twelve months is thus a slight to the memory of the departed. However,4 “if a person knows that his father or mother were of the kind of wicked people who undergo punishment for twelve months, it is proper and obligatory for him to recite Kaddish for twelve months.”

Now, since5 “the measure in which blessing is given is greater than the measure of punishment,” then just as the law is varied for “a person [who] knows that [his parents] were… wicked…,” then surely one would expect that the law would have been varied for a case in which it is known that the departed was a tzaddik. In his case, since punishment is out of the question, should Kaddish thus not be recited at all?

An answer may be found in light of the teaching of the AriZal,6 that Kaddish is recited not only in order to moderate a verdict or punishment, but also for the sake of the soul’s ascent from level to level within Gan Eden. This explains why Kaddish is recited even on Shabbos. Since on Shabbos there is no trial or punishment on high, Kaddish is then recited for the sake of the ascents which the soul experiences within Gan Eden. This enables us to understand the meaning of the recitation of Kaddish after the histalkus of a tzaddik, which likewise involves ascents from level to level within Gan Eden.

Now, however, a contrary question arises: Why make a point of discontinuing the recitation of Kaddish at the end of eleven months, and taking care not to add even one day, to the point that the Rebbe Rashab regretted having done just that? Why should the recitation of Kaddish after the passage of eleven months be of lower standing than the recitation of Kaddish on Shabbos, which makes possible the ongoing ascent of the soul in Gan Eden?

2. Beyond the Reach of Words

To explain this anomaly:

The ascents experienced by the soul during the first eleven months are different from those that follow. The former ascents take place at a level which can be affected by speech (i.e., by the recitation of Kaddish). After the conclusion of those months, the soul ascends to a level so sublime that it cannot be advanced by [mere] speech; relative to that level, speech is of no consequence whatever.

An analogy may be found in the difference between the tefillin shel yad and the tefillin shel rosh. A blessing is recited on the hand-tefillin, but no separate berachah is recited on the head-tefillin, because the spiritual energy elicited by the head-tefillin derives from a loftier source which cannot be accessed through speech.7

This perception enables us to understand why the Rebbe Rashab regretted having recited Kaddish for one additional day - for relative to a soul’s ascent to a level so sublime that speech there is of no consequence, the recitation of Kaddish (i.e., relating to an ascent that can be secured through mere speech) is a slight to the soul.

3. Why Kaddish on a Yahrzeit?

This explanation leaves us in turn with another problem: If Kaddish is not recited after the passage of eleven months because from that time the soul ascends to a level from which spiritual energy cannot be drawn down by mere speech, why is Kaddish recited on a yahrzeit?

(Incidentally, there exists an opinion that Kaddish should not be recited on a yahrzeit,8 but this view has not been accepted throughout all the dispersed communities of Israel.)

There is a well-known [and paradoxical] difference9 between the festivals in general and Purim (and likewise Chanukah). Work is forbidden on all the other festivals because the level of Divinity that is elicited on those days cannot become manifest in mere weekday activities. On Purim (and likewise Chanukah), by contrast, the light that is elicited is so sublime, so utterly transcending any bounds, that it can be drawn down and become manifest even in weekday activities.

The same line of thinking may be applied to our paradox.

On the day of the yahrzeit the soul ascends to ultimate levels that transcend even those which it had attained in the course of the twelfth month. As is known, on the day of the yahrzeit there is a reawakening of all of the soul’s spiritual attainments on the day (and moment) of histalkus. On that day (and moment),10 “all of [the tzaddik’s] actions, his Torah study, and the divine service in which he engaged all the days of his life” ascend to the loftiest heights. As is explained in the Siddur im Dach, Shaar HaLag BaOmer,11 this ascent reaches up to “the beginning and head of [this individual’s] spiritual levels…, to the root of his soul-root at the very loftiest of infinitely-elevated levels.”

For this very reason, it can be drawn downward and revealed here below. For, as is explained in the Siddur there, “the very highest light can become manifest only in the very lowest [state of being].” This is what takes place on Lag BaOmer, “whose Sefirah is of the lowest level…, [viz.,] Hod shebeHod… - and it is precisely in that level that the loftiest lights are wedged….”

It is reasonable to assume that this paradox is most evident in the case of a tzaddik who spent all the days of his life drawing the loftiest matters down into the most mundane matters.

We can now understand why Kaddish is recited on the day of a yahrzeit - because the soul’s ascent to the loftiest of levels that can be drawn down to this lowly world, is brought about even by an activity undertaken from below, viz., the recitation of Kaddish.

4. Preparing Capacious Vessels

The period after the eleven months and before the yahrzeit (i.e., the twelfth month) is thus an intermediate period. On the one hand, the ascents of the soul at this time transcend speech (unlike the ascents of the preceding eleven months, which were brought about by speech). On the other hand, they are not yet at a level which is so lofty [and unbounded] that they can be advanced by speech in the world below (as is the case with the soul’s further ascents on the day of the yahrzeit).

This situation relates not only to work of propelling the soul’s ascent by means of speech below, but also to that which is drawn down [from the soul] and which becomes manifest here below: During this intermediate period what is drawn down mainly supplies spiritual needs, such as the love and awe of G‑d, more than it supplies material needs.

It should be noted that the above distinctions (as to the varying effects of speech) affect only the mashpia, [the soul of the tzaddik who is the conduit for the downward flow of Divinely-bestowed energy]. As far as the recipients are concerned, even in the time during which they cannot affect matters by means of speech (by the recitation of Kaddish), they should prepare spiritual vessels12 within themselves that will be ready to contain all the hamshachos, all the downward currents of Divinely-bestowed energy - including those that were drawn down throughout the first eleven months, and those of the following month up to the day of the yahrzeit, and those of the yahrzeit and all the time thereafter.

5. Time to Accelerate

There are those who ask: Who can possibly keep up a running pace with the Rebbe [Rayatz] and accompany him as he ascends from level to level? Though it may be easy to keep in step with a slow walker, more exertion is required when he walks faster, and ever so much more strength is required if he begins to run. If when the Rebbe was living in this world it was impossible to keep up to his running pace as one strove to walk in his ways, then surely this is impossible after his histalkus, when he is not limited by the finite bounds of a body!13

The answer to this objection is to be found in a teaching of the Sages:14אדם מקדש עצמו מעט מלמטה מקדשין אותו הרבה מלמעלה - “If a man sanctifies himself a little below, he is sanctified a great deal from above.” Even a little effort here below is enough to enable one to receive a great deal from above. This recalls the analogy that appears in Iggeres HaTeshuvah,15 of “the movement of a shadow on earth of a handsbreadth, which equals the sun’s movement in the sky of thousands of miles.”

This applies too to one’s efforts in walking in the ways of the Rebbe. A person first proceeds a little in his avodah down here below (i.e., he “sanctifies himself a little below,” including in his efforts the “lowly” aspects of his life). As a result, he is granted intense strength from above (“he is sanctified a great deal from above”), and this enables him to accompany the Rebbe as he ascends ever higher, and to receive all the blessings that are drawn down from above.