The recitation of Kaddish for a loved one is a central religious practice for many Jews. Traditionally, this prayer is recited in order to testify on behalf of our loved one as they make their way to the world to come. By praising God in honour of our relative, we are expediting their arrival in the world to come.
For some, this explanation is meaningful. For others, the idea that this person needed any help in order to enter the world to come is absurd due to the amazing character of their life. The problem that I have always had with this explanation is that it does not make clear why we can only say the Kaddish as part of a minyan, the quorum of 10 Jews. If it is simply making testimony, one should be able to do that anywhere and at any time, not exclusively at a service with a minyan.
I would therefore like to suggest that more than a minyan is needed to say Kaddish. The rabbis established the Mourner’s Kaddish to get the grieving loved one to services. In other words, the essence of chanting the Mourner’s Kaddish is not the saying of the words but, instead, getting the mourner to be present within the community.
It is sad, lonely, and often devastating to suffer a loss. Trying to navigate those emotions alone can leave the mourner broken and in despair. In his book, And God Cried Too, Rabbi Marc Gellman likens the experience of mourning to being a stick that, under duress, can quite easily be broken. However, if that stick is surrounded by other sticks, it is far more difficult to break. The shiva is meant to serve as those supports for the first week and calling upon the mourner to join their community to recite the Kaddish assures that this individual is never left alone. They can be supported by their community along with others who grieve as well.
For this reason, when someone comes to the daily minyan at Kehillat Beth Israel to say Kaddish and that day there is no minyan, we remind them that they have done their duty by coming together with their community and allowing us to support them in their sadness. And those who came to support them have done their jobs by being there, even if they are only person number 8 at the service. By coming to the service, not only do we honour those we’ve lost, but also we can find the support that we need in navigating that loss.
However, for some, coming to minyan and saying Kaddish is not sufficient. For others, the timing of the service may not be viable. So, we are aspiring to find another way to assure that those who may be most broken can find the supports that they need. Following the holidays, we will be initiating a grief support group for the Jewish community. Under the guidance of a grief counsellor, we will be providing opportunities for those who are suffering following a loss to be supported not only by a professional, but by others who grieve as well. Please stay tuned for more information about this program, and if you’d like to be involved in its creation, please let me know.
May both God and community provide comfort to all who mourn.