Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
Judaism is a multi-faceted and complex faith. It offers some a sense of culture and a home. It is a religion with a multitude of expressions. It is a prescription for living. From birth to death, our Jewish tenets provide structure and guidance for every step of the way.
When we face the death of a loved one, we are often overcome with grief, sorrow, and pain. We may enter a numbed state, cut off from the rest of the world. It is easy to get lost in our grief and become disconnected from everything else. Even in death and grief, the Jewish faith shows us the way.
When a loved one dies, there are instructions for preparing the body for burial. We have guidelines for how and when to hold the funeral, and there are rituals to help ease us out of our grief. We continue to show respect to our loved one and to live for their meritís sake. As with all moments in a Jewish life, we seek to wrap death with meaning.
The Mournerís Kaddish is one component of the mandated ritual set aside for death and mourning. While one might expect this prayer to be a plea for healing or a request for strength, the Mournerís Kaddish is a prayer offering praise to G-d. In fact, there is no mention of death in all of its verses. The first line of this prayer says, ďMay His name be magnified and made holyĒ. We ask for peace, and we offer acknowledgment to the Creator of this world.
This is not a random prayer stuck in place because no one knows what to say. When we experience the loss of a loved one, our grief may unfold in anger towards G-d. Our belief and faith may waver. Our hearts may be wrought with the injustice of the loss, and the blame may be directed toward G-d. The recitation of the Mournerís Kaddish brings us back to G-d.
We are required to recite Kaddish in public, among a minyan - a quorum of 10 men in traditional Judaism. At a time when we want to retreat into our own lives, we must come out from our homes and say Kaddish amongst others. This has benefit for not only ourselves, but for the loved one whom we are mourning. The Talmud tells us that a parent is judged by the deeds of his or her children. We are able to elevate the soul of our loved one when we continue to bring sanctity to their life.
Kaddish is recited for eleven months following the death of a parent. The soul does not move immediately to the World to Come (HaOlam HaBah), and we do our part to help them along. For the most evil or impure among us, it takes twelve months to prepare for the World to Come. Our Sages tell us to stop reciting the Mournerís Kaddish after eleven months so as not to implicate our parents as needing more than that amount of time to enter the next world.
Only men are required by Jewish law (halacha) to recite Kaddish, but women are able to as well. Both men and women benefit from the ritual. When a sibling, spouse, or a child passes away, Kaddish is recited for one month.
Jewish guidelines for the end of life help to ease us through difficult times. The Mournerís Kaddish is a prayer to sustain the living during grief. It allows us to stay connected to our recently deceased loved one and helps reconnect us with the value of life. May their memories be for a blessing.