When the sun sets on Friday, March 9th, and Mincha, the afternoon prayer service is concluded, I will have completed the 11 month period for saying Kaddish in memory of my mother, Sipora Groen. Since her funeral on April 21, 2017 I have regularly attended services, inspired by my love and respect for her and my desire to honor her memory. I did the math, and I share this with you not because I am looking for congratulations or a pat on the back, but to give a clear picture of the impact this has had on my life on a daily basis. With a slight margin of error, the possible prayer services in which I was able to say Kaddish, if you include Friday night as one and Saturday morning as one, comes to a total of 975 services. While not everyone mourns and honors their loved ones in the same manner, for me, making it to every services was paramount, leading to me missing just 8 services over the 11 month period. This was caused by one snow storm, one flu, and a subway stuck between stations for 45 minutes. So the question is, as Kaddish ends, what is the significance, and maybe even more importantly, what comes next?
The belief is that the Kaddish prayer is designed as a means of representing the soul in prayer so that the soul can reach its highest spiritual potential in heaven. That being said, every positive action taken in the name of the person is said to have the same impact. For me personally, this was an 11 month period in which on a daily basis someone else’s needs came before mine. To those thinking that is not such a big deal, it’s important to state that I am a single man, I have no children and I live alone. So the reality is that prior to my mother’s passing I just wasn’t good enough to do something for someone else every single day. This is where Kaddish came in. Fast forward to the present and the belief is that the more righteous the soul the less it needs this help, and after 11 months of Kaddish and a full 12 months of mourning the soul is for all intents and purposes on its own.
There was also another factor in place since my mother’s passing. My Kaddish seemed to keep me connected to her in a way I honestly felt I had no right to expect. I felt her presence in a very real way and felt she had her hand in what was happening in my life. The improvements I felt took place not only in my life but in my character, made it very clear something more powerful was at work here. To be more direct, my mother was looking after me and others she loved and cared for.
But I go back to the real purpose of this 11 month exercise, which is to lift my mother’s soul up in heaven. It is to help her reach a blissful eternity, and no matter how enticing and attractive it may be to get help and support from a powerful and potent soul, this was not what it was about. As a friend of mine told me, if you really want her to get to where she is going you need to let her go. His words resonated so strongly with me that I lost the angst I had over the completion of 11 months of Kaddish. On some level, likely a strong one, my mother will always be with me, but now it is time to let her move on to a great existence beyond the earthly one and enjoy the world she earned with her greatness.
So what comes next for me? In the past 11 months I have returned to more religious observance, fixed old problems, become an active part of my local Jewish community, and improved my life and myself in many ways. I go to services every morning, I learn more than I have for decades, I give more charity than possibly any other time in my life, I have improved my attentiveness to friends and family. I make every effort to not speak ill over others and I work hard to be more patient and kind to everyone I interact with. I am still very far from perfect, having come from far back in the line, but more so than in many other times in my life I am on the right track. Will I stop this now that I am not focused on the daily commitment to Kaddish? The short answer is no. The longer answer is as follows. Within the first few weeks of my mother’s passing I met someone I now call a friend who made the following statement . “Kaddish”, he said, “is not Judaism”. My commitment to improving my observance, to positively impacting the life of others, and a daily commitment to prayer, are all things that can continue after I stop saying Kaddish as long as one thing happens. I keep my commitment in tact and I truly want to continue.
So in the last 11 months of saying Kaddish for my mother something was simultaneously being revealed to me that I either would or would not get. I believe I got it, because I now realize that whether it’s prayers or Sabbath or acts of kindness or my mothers presence, as Kaddish ends, the only thing that really needs to end, is Kaddish.