I don’t usually recommend a book until I have finished it, but I already spoke about Sarah Hurwitz’s book “Here All Along.” I found myself loving it more with each chapter for so many reasons (as a person who highlights memorable sections, I have an almost all yellow book!). Today I want to share her writing on the Kaddish. I have always believed that we Jews have the most wonderful rituals for death, which sounds strange. However, we recognize the pain along with the need to go on. Hurwitz wrote about many of the varying rituals; however, her comments on Kaddish gave me something new to think about.
What is so unique about this prayer that we say when someone has died? Part of the process is that it must be said in a minyan, which guarantees that you will be surrounded with support. Yet this prayer does not mention death, grief or afterlife and it is really praise for God. It has been understood as a show of faith in the face of loss. Here are some thoughts from Hurwitz’s book:
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer pointed out that the Kaddish doesn’t say “Magnified and sanctified IS God’s name,” but rather “Magnified and sanctified MAY His great name BE.” The thought is that at this moment we are not saying God’s name is magnified, praised, etc. but we’re pleading for it to become so. Hurwitz says, “Your name really isn’t so great and holy to me right now.”
Another thought is that the Kaddish isn’t about praising God but about consoling God. “With the ‘Kaddish,’ perhaps we are acknowledging that God is grieved and diminished by the loss of our loved one, just as we are…” Understood this way, the Kaddish implies that we and God are mourning together.
Hurwitz shares an account from a mourner who writes with gratitude to God for giving her such a wonderful mother. Hurwitz says, “So perhaps the ‘Kaddish’ is not asking us to praise God despite our grief but because of our grief, maybe even out of gratitude for our grief.” She quotes Queen Elizabeth from a memorial statement about British citizens lost on Sept. 11, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
I am not sure if these ideas are helpful when we are feeling the depths of our sadness but as the time passes, the memories remain and each year and on those particular holidays that we say the Kaddish, we hopefully can praise God again.
Traditional Judaism details our responsibilities to honor the deceased and care for the mourners. These rituals give us the guidelines to follow when we do not know what to do or say. There is not a right or wrong way to grieve. Hurwitz shares grief expert Dr. Donna Shuurman’s thoughts, “I look at rituals not as closure — I don’t think the word closure goes with death — I look at them as punctuation.” Hurwitz sums it up, “The best we can do is pause, create space for our loss, and find a way to live our lives without our loved one. And the Jewish death and mourning rituals seem to do an excellent job of guiding people through that process.”
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.