A short post this time.
I’ve gone to recite the Kaddish yatom (kaddish)– the Jewish mourner's prayer – at synagogue several times this month for people that I did not know. A friend’s mother, a friend’s grandmother, and most recently, for a classmate from the University who tragically died on Sunday morning. May they rest in peace.
The mourner’s kaddish is an adaptation of a central Jewish prayer, the Kaddish. It is written in Aramaic with Hebrew jargon , and is a liturgical poem praising and glorifying G-d’s name and power. It is adaptable – several versions exist, and some liberal Jews like me replace “Yisrael”-the Jews-with “yoshvei tevel” –those who are upon the earth – at points. But the basic prayer glorifies G-d and the order He represents as a Life Force. It is required that ten Jews (and for the Orthodox, ten adult Jewish men) be present to recite it.
So why do we recite this prayer to mark the passing of those in our community? Several explanations exist, all of which find legitimacy in the community: legends, stories, long explanations. But there is one explanation I like.
In reciting a prayer for peace and praising G-d as a powerful force, a force of balance and hope and strength, we seek to not only pray for the soul that has left us, but heal as a community. We seek to make the death into something from which life can come, to honor what the deceased has given us, and to bring ourselves closer to the humanity that unites us all. In reciting it with a quorum, it becomes a community’s efforts to bring order to the world after death disrupts it. Because death rarely affects one person alone.
It sounds kitschy, but that’s how I like to think of it.
Traditionally one recites it for one’s own relatives alone, but I have stepped beyond to recite it for anyone that someone I know or I have a connection to. I recite it on the anniversary of the suicide of a friend; I recited it for my classmate tonight; I recite it for my mother’s parents every October and March on the anniversaries of their deaths.
And I know I can never bring them back, and the pain will not necessarily go away forever. But to bring a semblance of order, a semblance of peace, is to honor the one who passed and to give strength to those who remain. And thus I shall recite, year in and year out: “Exalted and sanctified is G-d’s great name, in the world which He created, and may He establish His Kingdom…”
(Yes, it sounds like the Lord’s Prayer in many regards. Some theologians think it has a common origin. The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic sounds quite close to the Kaddish at a few points.)