Tonight, Monday evening, my siblings and I will commemorate the fifth yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of my dear father, Mr. Gershon Jacobson, who passed away five years ago on the 20th of Iyar, May 29, 2005.
With that special feeling reserved for people who were forced to watch the earth close up on a loved one, I will go to the synagogue and recite the kaddish prayers, connecting to my father’s zestful and inspiring memory.
And as I say Kaddish, I will have in mind a young friend of mine, Nosson Deitch, who was killed yesterday, on Lag Baomer, in a boat accident in Florida. A lump fills my throat as I write these words, about a beautiful, majestic and sincere soul, whose sudden death at the age of 21 is truly inexplicable and devastating beyond words.
“Yeesgadal veyeeskadash shemey rabbah…”
“Exalted and hallowed be His great Name…”
These are the words which begin the kaddish prayer. The most blatant omission in kaddish is the soul of the deceased. Not even the slightest mention is made about our beloved one. The entire kaddish focuses exclusively on the Divine, exalting the greatness of G-d and His great name. Why?
When my siblings and I finished saying kaddish for my father at the end of 11 months after his passing, my oldest brother Rabbi Simon Jacobson penned a profound article on Kaddish. He proposed the following answer.
Death, as we all know, transcends the human vocabulary. No words can capture or do justice to the pain of death.
Intellectually one may understand that a soul never dies; that death is only the beginning of a new life in a different dimension. But emotionally, there is something about death that is forever inexplicable and could never be integrated. All the explanations in the world and beyond could not eliminate the tears, the grief, and perhaps more than all, the sense of finality.
The first and primary answer to death is that there is no answer. Till Moshiach comes speedily in our days, death can never find a comfortable space in our hearts.
Kaddish knows that nothing can really be said to console us for our losses; no words can justify or minimize the effects of experiencing death. So what do we talk about in the kaddish? We don’t recall the life of the deceased, which has been snatched away. Rather, we talk about the origin of all life, from which birth and death flow equally.
“Yeesgadal veyeeskadash shemey rabbah… Exalted and hallowed be His great Name… Yehey shemey rabbah mevarach lealam ulealmey almahyah… May His great Name be blessed forever and to all eternity…“
Rather than discussing the death of the person we are saying kaddish for, something which defies our sensibilities, we enter into a place which transcends both life and death. We climb the ladder of consciousness into the domain of eternity, which both precedes and follows all of existence, which is present before our birth and remains present after our demise.
The kaddish insists that the mortal, fragile life of an individual human being is intimately interconnected with the eternal source of all life and the cosmic source of all reality.
For us humans living and defined by our dimension of reality, we observe only one leg of the soul’s journey. Yet the kaddish invites us to connect to the immortal soul of the departed, and to the source of all immortality.
What does that do practically for us? I will be honest and say that I have no clue. The void remains and the pain persists. But somehow I too will find some comfort tonight in the words of kaddish, laying claim to the truth that my father died but he is not dead, and that by discovering “His great name,” I may discover the source and secret of my father’s life too.