Thursday, May 10, 2012

What would my mother think?

What would my mother think of my going to shul every day to say kaddish for her? 

My mother was very spiritual but not a big shul goer.  She was deeply committed to the Jewish people and its traditions, but was not a "halachic jew" (strict follower of Jewish law).  She wouldn't have expected me to do what I am doing.  She wouldn't have been offended had I, for instance, decided I would only go once a day to shul or, instead of saying kaddish regularly, done some kind of community service project in her honor.  She probably would have said something like, "if that's what you feel you need to do, then do it."  (Since I do feel the need to say kaddish three times a day, she is probably proud of me.)  She would have been offended only if I had not honored her memory in some real and Jewish way.

Yesterday in shul, the Rabbi's short d'var halacha (words pertaining to Jewish law) between Mincha and Ma'ariv posed the question of whether a child should say kaddish for a parent when the surviving parent has specifically instructed the child not to do so.  (I need to ask the Rabbi what would happen if it were the deceased parent who had so instructed the child.)  As in many matters of halacha, there was no definitive answer.  On the one hand, there is a principle  that honoring one's parents does not give them the ability to require children to countermand obligations imposed by the Torah.  On the other hand, it turns out that saying kaddish, which has such a powerful hold on Jews as a means to mourn, does not even rise to the level of a rabbinic obligation (let alone a Torah law), but is more in the nature of a custom which, admittedly, has assumed the status of an obligation.  In addition, one can, technically, fulfill one's kaddish obligation by having someone else say kaddish (thus the dubious practice of paying a rabbi to say kaddish in one's stead.)

The Rabbi's words provoked a funny comment by a fellow shul goer who will be completing his kaddish year shortly: "You mean I didn't have to say kaddish?  Now you tell me."  

And so I am not saying kaddish because my mother expected me to.  And yet I not saying kaddish just for myself.   I am saying kaddish for myself, and also for her, and also because I'm supposed to and also because I feel the need to.

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