May 24, 2013
To the Editor:
Rabbi Zahavy’s column about kaddish (“Dear Rabbi,” May 3 Jewish Standard) and the letter responding to it (“Do the angels pray in Aramaic?,” May 10 Jewish Standard) raise a host of issues that must be dealt with rationally.
When my parents died, I, as an Orthodox Jew, said kaddish three times daily for 11 months for both. I did it out of respect for Jewish law and tradition and respect for them. Certainly not because I expected that my actions or inactions in this world would have any effect on their position vis-a-vis God in the World To Come. Rabbi Zahavy says that “to secure a place for the departed soul”… “many Jews believe” that by daily recitation of Kaddish, you will be “certain” about the departed’s immortal life “in the eternity of heaven.”
To begin with, our religion makes very clear that we are rewarded and/or punished for our own deeds and not for what anyone else does. My parents’ place in the World to Come does not depend in the least on what I or anyone does on their behalf.
Secondly, both he and the letter writer, Israel Polak, discuss whether angels do or do not communicate in Aramaic! One of my problems, relating to this and the Kedushah, has to do with the issue of angels praising God. It is established that 1) angels have no free will and 2) God has no need of our prayers nor of our praise of Him. We are the ones who need to pray and to praise God. Why then does the Creator of the Universe need to hear, as the Talmud states, the Kedushah illustrates, and Rabbi Zahavy argues, words of praise from beings who have no choice in the matter?
While it may be comforting and romantic to believe, as Rabbi Zahavy says “many Jews” do, that we can intercede with God “to gain heavenly immortality for the soul of a departed one,” it makes no sense that our intercession will, as it were, cause God to change His mind.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, replies:
Mr. Bernstein makes good points. I agree that we always must offer respectful performances of our ritual. And surely we do not expect our prayers will compel God to act. But my explorations seek to understand why we say this Aramaic or Hebrew prayer in this place and for this amount of time.
I do believe that God hears my fervent and humble prayers and that they do make a difference. That is why, during Yizkor on the second day of Shavuot, I said the El Maleh Rachamim, asking God to grant proper rest in heaven for the dear souls of my father and my mother, “O God, full of mercy, Who dwells on high, grant proper rest on the wings of the Divine Presence in the lofty levels of the holy and the pure ones, who shine like the glow of the firmament…”