Why do we recite the mourner’s Kaddish? In his lyrical, insightful “Kaddish,” Leon Wieseltier speaks of the child reciting Kaddish as “evidence” — he is the proof that his parent lived such that he raised a son competent enough and concerned enough to recite the prayer.
But why this prayer? The Kaddish glorifies God but makes no mention of death. For many interpreters, it is an affirmation of life — in community we express our gratitude for the years we have left in the shadow of the death we memorialize.
I heard in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach a memorable and beautiful interpretation. The Kaddish, said Rabbi Carlebach, is what the dead would say to us if they could speak from where they were. They would sanctify and glorify God as we do in the ancient Aramaic prayer. We become the conduit for a truth that we just begin to intuit in this world.
When I recited the Kaddish for my father, I did what I knew he would have wished. In that sense I served, alongside all those others in the minyan who joined me, as the evidence. But I dearly hope that I was also speaking the words he would speak to me, offering the encouragement and reassurance in death that he did, so often, in life.
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