What is“Kaddish”?

Kaddish, or more precisely “The Mourners’ Kaddish”, is the short prayer first said by mourners immediately after burial. Kaddish is said throughout the Shiva week during the prayer services, and daily at the synagogue during the eleven months after the death of a parent, and on the ‘yartzeit’, the anniversary of the relative’s passing.

The Mourners’ Kaddish is not just a memorial prayer for the deceased. In fact, if you look at the text, reproduced in Appendix C, you will notice that the deceased, or even death, is not mentioned at all!
The Mourners’ Kaddish is an affirmation by the mourner of God`s justice and a universal prayer for peace and redemption.

Why is this type of prayer said now? What is it meant to accomplish? I think we can answer both of these questions with a story. Rabbi Akiva, one of the great sages of the Talmud, had a terrible dream in which the recently deceased tax collector was in great anguish. This was an era when tax collectors had great power, and this man had caused much trouble and was despised. Rabbi Akiva understood that the tax collector`s predicament was caused by the bad deeds committed in

his life and also understood that the one way to help him was to have good deeds done on his behalf. Rabbi Akiva found the tax collector’s unlettered son and taught the boy how to read and how to say the Mourner`s kaddish. The tax collector soon returned to Rabbi Akiva’s dreams and reported that his lot was much improved because the public sanctification of God through reciting the Kaddish is a merit to the soul of the deceased.

As the story demonstrates, saying Kaddish and prayers are helpful to the parents, but they are not the main thing. “ The principal thing is for the children to walk in the proper path, and when they do so they obtain divine merit and grace for their parents”, (Zohar). Children are an extension of their parents. Every good deed a child does counts as a good deed for both the child and the parent. (Alas, the opposite is true as well). The best thing we can do for a parent is to live good, moral, Jewishly connected lives!

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