Kaddish, the Prayer for the Dead

    August 1998          
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The Meaning of Kaddish with a Translation

By Chaim Lazer

To many, Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. When a close relative departs this world, the remaining relative recites this prayer in a minyan of ten men.

Where do we learn that our prayers can help some one who is no longer in this world? Do we have such power that through the mere recital of some words, we can help some one in another world? What can be the relationship between our recital of this prayer and the spiritual well being of another soul in a distant world?

The source of Kaddish is found in a story.

Rabbi Akiva was walking through a forest. He saw a man, darkened with coal dust, carrying a heavy load of fire wood on his shoulders and running at a very rapid pace. Rabbi Akiva commanded the man to stop and the man stood for Rabbi Akiva.

"Why are you running with such a heavy load? If you are a slave, I shall free you! If you are poor and must exert yourself to such an inhuman extent, let me give you money and make you wealthy!"

"Please," the man entreated Rabbi Akiva, "Let me continue my work!"

"Are you human or are you from the demons?"

"I am neither a poor man nor a slave. I am a soul that is being punished by collecting huge amounts of fire wood for a giant fire into which I am to be cast."

"Tell me, what was your occupation when you lived in this world?"

The man answered, "I was a tax collector. I took bribes from the rich, and I had the poor executed. Not only that, I had illicit relations with a engaged girl on the holiest day of the year, on Yom Kippur."

Rabbi Akiva inquired, "My son, have you not heard that something from the other worlds that could be done to help you and alleviate your suffering?"

"Please," he cried, "Allow me to resume my work. My task masters will be angry with me and punish me further. They say that I have no way of being redeemed. Had I had a son who would stand up in public and cause others to praise G-d, then they could release me from this punishment. But I left a wife who was pregnant, who knows if she had a son or daughter? And if he were a boy, who would teach him Torah?"

"What is your name?"

"My name is Akiva, my wife's name is Shosmira, and I was from the town of Elduka."

Rabbi Akiva felt extremely bad because of this soul and he searched from town to town until him came to that very town. He asked in the town, "Where is this man's house?"

The villagers answered in hatred, "May his bones be ground to dust in Hell!"

"Where is this man's wife?"

The villagers answered with bitterness, "May her name and memory be blotted out from this world!"

"Where is this man's child?"

"He is uncircumcised, and no one will circumcise him!"

Rabbi Akiva grabbed the man's son and began to teach him Torah. Rabbi Akiva fasted for forty days and then heard a voice from heaven. "Rabbi Akiva, do you fast for this boy?"

Answered Rabbi Akiva, "Yes!"

Teach him to read and write. Teach him to recite grace after meals, teach him to say 'Shema' and to pray." When the boy shall pray in public, causing the people to praise G-d's name, then the punishment shall be lifted from this man."

When this happened, the soul of the man came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream.. "You have spared my soul from the punishments of Hell."

(This story is from one of the many legends found in the Talmud. In the Zohar Chadash, it is mentioned that the prayer is the Kadish.)

What is the power that is demonstrated here? What can cause a evil man to be redeemed from a fitting punishment?

The answer is simple. The redemption is not in the mere recital of Kadish, but in causing others to praise G-d. Children who live lives of doing good, bring credit their parents.

Judgment is not only on the deeds that are done, judgment is also on the actions that are caused. If a man leaves a son who increases the respect that mankind have for G-d, then it is a credit for the father, even if the father is evil. This is the secret of the Kadish, that the causing of others to acknowledge the greatness of G-d in public can serve to counter balance the evil that was perpetrated by the father.

Prayer for the dead? Yes, Kaddish is a prayer that helps those who have left this world, but the words have no reference to the dead. All that is mentioned is the greatness of G-d. Read them for yourself:


Exalted and hallowed be His great Name (Congregation: Amen.)

Throughout the world which He has created according to His will,

May his kingship reign, and His redemption come forth and hasten the coming of His Redeemer (Congregation. Amen.)

In your life and in your days and in the lifetime of the entire House of Israel, speedily and quickly say, Amen. (Congregation: Amen.)

May His great Name be blessed in this world and in all worlds. (The Mourner Repeats this line)

Blessed and praised exalted and extolled, honored, adored and lauded be the Name of the Holy 0ne be He, (Congregation: Amen.)

Way beyond all the blessings, hymns, praises and consolations uttered in the world; and say, Amen. (Congregation: Amen.)

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and a good life for us and for all and say, Amen. (Congregation: Amen.)

He who makes peace in His heaven, may he make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen. (Congregation: Amen.)


from the August 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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