Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kaddish D'rabbanan

Today is Erev Yom Kippur, the eve of the Day of Atonement. The days leading up to this solemn holiday have been a time to take stock of our lives, to think about how we could live better lives and to ask for forgiveness of those we've wronged. It's also a time to think of how fortunate we are to have those people who love us and help give our life meaning.

I include in this list the various rabbis in my community who have supported me generally, and especially in times of need, and whose wisdom has helped enrich me intellectually and spiritually.

Last Shabbat, the Sabbath day immediately preceding Yom Kippur, was Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Returning or of Repentance. It is one of the two times a year when rabbis traditionally give extended sermons, the other being Shabbat Ha'gadol, the sabbath before Pesach (Passover).

This year, the Rabbi spoke about how we educate our children, how we need to nurture yet firmly guide them toward Jewish adulthood. His words touched me deeply, and I felt my mother, whose idea of psychotherapy was also grounded in the firm guidance of adults in the practical steps toward achieving maturity and self-fulfillment, would have approved wholeheartedly of his message. I was grateful for his words.

As a mourner, I got to express my gratitude by reciting Kaddish D'rabannan immediately following his talk. Kaddish D'rabannan is recited after hearing words of Torah study. Generally I recite it three times daily, twice during the morning service and once between the afternoon and evening services after the rabbi engages in a short D'var Torah.

Kaddish D'rabannan is strange because it is only recited by mourners, yet it is not a mourner's kaddish. It is a prayer that expresses the hope that rabbis and their students and their students' students and all those who engage in Torah study wherever they are should know peace, prosperity and long life. Shouldn't we all? Why should only mourners say this?

The simple answer is that it is another kaddish and only mourners recite kaddishes (unless they are leading prayers). Perhaps another reason is that rabbis can fulfill an important role in helping those who grieve after a loss. I am grateful that the rabbis in my community have given me strength and support during this kaddish year. As the new year begins, I wish them peace, prosperity and good health so they can continue their important (dare I say holy) work.

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