Recently, I’ve begun to take a new look at my Jewish beliefs. I’ve realized, or perhaps remembered, many things. I admit that I never truly noticed how many times the Kaddish is recited in a typical morning service. Hatzi Kaddish, Kaddish Shalem and of course the Mourners Kaddish all play a role in the service, creating segues from one section to another. I find however that there is more than a simple affirmation of faith or conviction framed within these words. Kaddish was a liturgical partition to be sure, but I found that it shone as much of light upon our aspirations as Jews as did upon the relatively simple task of structuring our worship. In its assertions of God’s grandeur and power, there is a call to find such attributes in our own lives.
I have regrettably had many reasons to chant the Mourners Kaddish in the past several years, this past Thanksgiving holiday providing yet another. As I processed the news of my grandmother’s passing, I struggled to find some positivity in the face of tremendous grief. I had spoken to her just a few weeks before. She was, as usual, concerned with how I was feeling, how my job was going and how the weather was. Of much less concern was her own situation. At least, my grandma didn’t want anyone to worry about her. No, she wanted the pleasure of hearing about how hard we were working and how we were enjoying our lives. Woven into the Mourners Kaddish which I later recited, was the comfort I had from knowing that in my last conversation with my grandmother gave her the joy and peace of mind which she always looked for when talking to me.
As the words of the Kaddish set apart the different sections of the service, its meaning sets us apart as a people. This is not an elevation by way of arrogance or condescension towards others, but of humility. In an era of overwhelming convenience the need to pause and appreciate our existence has been transformed into an exercise in clichéd futility. Commutes grow longer as time seems to evaporate. Food becomes more ‘natural’ yet is consumed in ever more condensed periods. Entertainment can be accessed anywhere, stunting our capacity for anticipation. Humility before the beauty and fragility of our world becomes a task of immeasurable complexity in the face of instant gratification. In the meditation of prayer, there is space in which all of those fleeting miracles come into focus. Our recitation of Kaddish is much more than a supplication; it is a statement of our aspiration to live our lives with care and deliberation.
As the calendar year draws to a close and I continue my journey to reconnect with Judaism, I will bear the enduring qualities of the Kaddish in mind. Personal resolutions can be narrow in focus and easy to falter in. A resolution to observe the wonder and beauty in our world is much more durable. To include a ‘Kaddish’-a moment to apprise the casual wonders which surround us-in our daily lives can serve a similar purpose to a prayer in synagogue. In many prayer books, the Mourners Kaddish is annotated with explanations as to why death and mortality are not mentioned. In the face of the ultimate boundary of our existence, when a sense of loss would be the most appropriate emotion, the Kaddish challenges us to take a step back and recognize the worth our lives still hold. To live with quality as opposed to merely existing in mediocrity is among the lessons I have found in my meditations on Jewish prayer. When we say Kaddish, we commit ourselves to this, recognizing our place as part of the grand scheme of creation.