4/19/13

On my father's Yahrzeit my thoughts on his immortal soul

At the breakfast at the Park East Synagogue this morning in honor of my dad's yahrzeit I spoke briefly about the dimensions of the immortality of his soul. I explained that by observing the mourning customs and reciting Kaddish for the soul of the departed, we seek immortality on its behalf in heaven above and on earth as part of the eternal Jewish people. Last month I summarized my thoughts on this process as follows below.

Is the Jewish soul immortal? Yes, tradition teaches us that if the proper procedures are followed, the Jewish soul is immortal. And the immortality is redundant. The soul of a departed loved one lives on in a vertical immortality in heaven and in a horizontal immortality as part of the collective of the Jewish people.

To guarantee the duplex immortality of a soul, a mourner must say the Kaddish prayer for eleven months in the synagogue. As an agent on behalf of our father's soul, we are completing that process this week for the recitation of the Kaddish for our dad, who passed away last year.

We previously wrote in our book, God's Favorite Prayers, about the connection between the vertical immortality of the soul and the recitation of the mourner's Kaddish.
This lilting and poetic passage does have a certain unique cadence, yet it seems to us in its words to be no more than a standard glorification of God, nothing about death or dying or the deceased. Why then is this prayer especially apropos for a mourner? Because reciting this heavenly angelic Aramaic praise is the epitome of a mystic’s liturgy. It is a stand-in enactment by the mourner on behalf of the departed loved one. The mourner stands in place in the synagogue and recites the words.

But acting in the mode of the mystic archetype, the mourner advances to the next level of mystical prayer. She is not just addressing God with the outpourings of her personal anxiety and vexation, but imagining that she is standing aloft in heaven, representing the soul of her beloved departed, knocking on heaven’s door to seek entry for that spirit into a secure, eternal place close to the divine light and near the warmth of God.
Now to add some new thoughts on that the other horizontal dimension of the immortality of the Jewish soul, we ask why the requirement to recite the Kaddish for eleven months in the synagogue? Why the obligation on the mourner to lead the services in the public in the community?

To present adequate answers to these questions we will need to write a book. For now let us advance the main thesis.

The Jewish soul achieves a horizontal immortality, going forward eternally through time into the future, by its membership in the people of Israel. One might think that the membership of the soul of the departed Jew after his death in the community of Israel is a certainty, a given, automatic, and nothing need be done further to solidify that.

But that is not how it works. To secure a place for a departed soul in the community of Israel, we Orthodox believe that we must recite the daily Kaddish in the synagogue for eleven months. By doing that, we firmly embed the soul of the departed in our community. And as long as that community, that people endures, that soul will have a horizontal immortality as part of the collective body of Israel.

It's been both an onerous obligation and a privilege for us to have that obligation over the past eleven months to recite Kaddish in public on behalf of our dad. And in a few days we will rest from that daily recitation of Kaddish, certain in the continuous duplex immortal life of our father's dear soul, in the eternity of heaven and in the everlasting perpetuation of the Jewish people on earth.

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