The Last Kaddish: The Week's End, March 29, 2024
Mar 28th 2024

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִםזָכִיתִי לְהַשְׁלִים אֲמִירַת קַדִּישׁ לְעִלּוּי נִשְׁמַת אָבִי-מוֹרִי,מֵאָז עֲלִיָּתוֹ לְגִנְזֵי מְרוֹמִים וְעַד עַתָּה.

Our Father in Heaven, I have been privileged to complete the recitation of Kaddish to elevate the soul of my father and teacher, from the time when he was taken to the Heavens until now. From The Last Kaddish by Rabbi Benjamin Lau

By the time you are reading this, I will have recited the last Kaddish in honour of my father, Avinoam Ben Tziyon.

I have dreaded this day since the first time, by the graveside, when I tried to get the words out and couldn’t. And so, not surprisingly, the lead-up has felt like a grief regression, even though I realize that, in fact, it is a new stage of the process that shares familiar textures with the beginning stages of the Kaddish journey.

In the weekly newsletter this year, our Spiritual Leadership Team members are sharing teachings about Tefillah, about prayer. Kaddish Yatom – the Mourner’s Kaddish–is unique in that it is only recited by some members of the congregation, mourners and those observing a Yahrzeit – anniversary of a death. The singular focus of the Kaddish is praise of the Divineit is a prayer recited by mourners in which the beloved one who has died is never mentioned.

I was taught that this approach of praising God at a time of grieving helps the mourners to be reminded of, to lean towards, and to continue choosing life even amidst what may be horrific suffering. I’m not sure that this reasoning is what moved me about the Kaddish recitation process as much as whispering the words so that I could hear my voice accompanying me, being in community, and finding the opportunity over the course of this period to say Kaddish in so many different places with so many different kind souls to help me by making the minyan.

My term of Kaddish ends at 11 months. Because there is a second month of Adar this year, however, the Yahrzeit – the anniversary of my dad’s deathwon’t be till two months from now, at the end of May.

I have felt miffed about this. Why do I have to stop at 11 months? Why can I not continue straight through to the Yahrzeit which is two whole months away?

When I recently visited with my dear friend, Rabbi Dorothy Richman, she could see my distress about this strange calendaring. She offered this text, suggesting that I might find it comforting.

Mishna Eduyot 2:10

אף הוא היה אומר חמשה דברים של שנים עשר חדש. משפט דור המבול שנים עשר חדש. משפט איוב שנים עשר חדש. משפט המצריים שנים עשר חדש. משפט גוג ומגוג לעתיד לבא שנים עשר חדש. משפט רשעים בגיהנם שנים עשר חדש. שנאמר (ישעיה סו, כג) והיה מדי חדש בחדשו

“He [Rabbi Akiva] also used to say that there are five things that [last] twelve months: The judgment of the generation of the flood, twelve months; The judgment of Job, twelve months; The judgment of the Egyptians, twelve months; The judgment of Gog and Magog in the time to come, twelve months; The judgment of the wicked in hell, twelve months[…]” 

Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 376:4

עַל כֵּן נָהֲגוּ לוֹמַר עַל אָב וָאֵם קַדִּישׁ בַּתְרָאי''ב חֹדֶשׁ

Thus, the practice is to say Kaddish for the father and mother for eleven months.

These five people and communities, wicked and questionably deserving of redemption, are judged for a full 12 months. Our loved ones aretzadikim/tzadikot righteous ones.(Ok, maybe the text doesn’t say that exactly, but that is what I am saying about my dad and possibly what you are saying about your loved ones.)Stopping before the end of the 12 months shows that they are not sinful and deserving of judgement as those marked above. This early cut-off proposes that the mourning process of 11 months has attended to any cleansing of sin that was necessary, and our loved ones are ready for the world to come without further delay.

There is so much to tell you about this journey: the various places I’ve recited it; who were the people who joined me; what meaning I derived from it; and how it has impacted my life. These alone are a full article’s worth, or maybe the beginning of a book!

So, for this Week’s End missive, I’ll end with the final lines of The Last Kaddish by Rabbi Benjamin Lau, the final words of El Maleh Rachamim:

Therefore, God of mercy, shelter him in the shadow of Your wings forever, and bind his soul in the bond of everlasting life. God is his inheritance. May he rest in peace, and let us say: Amen.