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Torah Attitude: Parashas Chayei Sarah: The power of Kaddish

This Torah Attitude is dedicated to Micha'el Shlomo ben Avraham Hershel HaKohein, on his birthday. May he be blessed to spread the word of Torah for many healthy, happy, prosperous years to come!

Summary

Abraham's specialty was chesed (lovingkindness). When the Talmud teaches that we have to emulate G'd, one of the examples is to bury the dead. It is important to eulogize someone who passes away and to bewail the loss. The Heavenly Court takes into account what is being said down here, when the person is being judged. The Shulchan Aruch rules that when someone passes away in a town the whole town should take off from work to assist and ensure that the person gets a fitting burial as soon as possible. When the deceased is escorted to his final resting place, it is a great act of kindness to participate and show one's respect. There is a tremendous benefit for the one who passed away when kaddish is recited in his merit, preferably by a descendant or close relative. Although it is a benefit to the one who passed away even when someone is hired to say kaddish, it does not come anywhere close to when his son says kaddish. In kaddish, we express our longing and wish that G'd's name shall be sanctified and His sovereign power shall be accepted by the whole world.

Abraham's chesed

In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed our obligation to emulate G'd's ways, and we elaborated on how to conduct ourselves when we visit the sick. Each of our Patriarchs had their special characteristics that they perfected in their service of G'd. Abraham's specialty was chesed (lovingkindness). The Torah describes his great hospitality and how much he cared for strangers even though their lifestyle was very different than his.

Bury the dead

In the beginning of this week's parasha, the Torah relates that Sarah died and how Abraham went to great effort and expense to ensure that she received a burial place in accordance with her greatness. G'd wants us to do acts of kindness not only to living people but also to someone who has passed away. When the Talmud (Sotah 14a) teaches that we have to emulate G'd, one of the examples is to bury the dead. When Moses passed away it says (Devarim 34:6): "And He buried him." Says the Talmud, G'd Himself buried Moses. The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 91:5) points out that the type of kindness extended to a person after his demise is truly altruistic and sincere, for the recipient will never be able to reciprocate in any way (see Rashi Bereishis 47:29).

Eulogize and bewail

The Torah describes how Abraham mourned Sarah, as it says (Bereishis 23:7): "And Sarah died and Abraham came to eulogize her and bewail her." The Talmud (Shabbos 105b) teaches how important it is to eulogize someone who passes away and to bewail the loss. The Talmud (Yevamos 78b) quotes from the Book of Samuel (21:1) where we find a description of how there was a famine for three years in the time of the reign of King David. For three years King David investigated and tried to figure out why G'd punished the Jewish people so harshly. He finally turned to the high priest and requested that he ask G'd to tell what was the cause of the famine. G'd answered that there were two reasons. One of them was that the Jewish people had not eulogized King Saul properly and they failed to extend him the honour he deserved. On the other hand, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b) teaches that when righteous people pass away and are eulogized properly it serves as a protection both for the one who is being eulogized and for those present.

Effects Heavenly judgment

Apparently, the Heavenly Court takes into account what is being said down here when the person is being judged. Therefore, when the one who eulogizes describes the good qualities and deeds of the person who passed away, it benefits him personally and it also enables him to protect those he left behind. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 344:1) warns that one must be careful not to over-exaggerate as that can cause harm both to the one being eulogized and the one's in attendance.

Whole town assist in burial

The Torah further relates how Abraham made arrangements to purchase the Cave of Machpeilah where he knew that Adam and Eve were buried already. At a public gathering, he requested to meet with Ephron who owned the cave. Rashi quotes from the Midrash Rabbah (58:7) that the whole town had taken off from work to come and pay their final respects to Sarah. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid 343:1) rules that when someone passes away in a town the whole town should take off from work to assist and ensure that the person gets a fitting burial as soon as possible. However, says the Shulchan Aruch, if there is a Chevra Kadisha in town who takes care of all the arrangements, they represent the other residents who therefore may continue to work.

Levayah

At the actual levayah, when the deceased is escorted to his final resting place, it is a great act of kindness to participate and show one's respect, and whoever sees a levayah passing by foot is obligated to go along a little. There are many detailed laws mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (ibid 343 and 361) and other halachic books, when one is obligated to attend a levayah. The Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chesed 3:5) that at the very minimum, one must make sure that there is a minyon of grown men at the levayah till after the burial, so that kaddish can be recited.

Tremendous benefit to recite kaddish

There is a tremendous benefit for the one who passed away when kaddish is recited in his merit, preferably by a descendant or close relative. Our sages relate how Rabbi Akiva found out about the harsh Heavenly punishment of a corrupt tax collector that had committed many serious crimes, who passed away. Rabbi Akiva was able to converse with this wicked person and took pity on him. Rabbi Akiva asked him whether he had left any children behind. The tax collector answered that he was not sure, for when he passed away his wife had been pregnant for the first time, and he had no idea whether she had given birth to a healthy child. Rabbi Akiva asked him for his and his wife's names and the town where he had lived. Rabbi Akiva decided to undertake the arduous trip to that town to find out if his wife had given birth to a son. When he arrived there and inquired about what had happened to the wife, the townspeople started to curse the tax collector and his wife, and they said that indeed a son had been born, but no one had even bothered to ensure that he be circumcised. Rabbi Akiva found the son who was already of school age and tried to teach him Torah. However, the boy was so far removed from Judaism that he did not succeed. But Rabbi Akiva would not give up, and he fasted for fourty days. He then started again, and this time he slowly managed to teach the boy to bentsh, and to say Shema and daven. The Zohar Chadash adds that the tax collector appeared in a dream to Rabbi Akiva, and told him that when his son read the Haftorah this lightened his punishment. When the boy went to lead the congregation in prayer and said kaddish, the tax collector's judgment was torn up and he was not punished anymore. And when his son started to study Torah, the father merited a place in the Garden of Eden.

Relative says kaddish

It is interesting to note that Rabbi Akiva went through so much trouble to find and teach the son of this wicked person. Rabbi Akiva could have easily hired someone to say kaddish. This teaches us that although it is a benefit to the one who passed away even when someone is hired to say kaddish, it does not come anywhere close to when his son says kaddish.

Sanctify G'd's name

Many people think that kaddish is some kind of prayer for the person who passed away. However, this is not the case. In kaddish, we express our longing and wish that G'd's name shall be sanctified and His sovereign power shall be accepted by the whole world. This will happen when Mashiach comes and the Temple will be rebuilt. When the person who passed away is instrumental in this prayer being said, it is a tremendous merit for him and helps him in the upper world.

May we all merit to see the day of the resurrection of the dead, so that we can be reconnected with our dear ones and glorify G'd's name in total unity.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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