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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Anita Diamant and the Mystery of Kaddish

by Bradly Baird:

My brothers and sisters who are worn out and crushed by this mourning, let your hearts consider this: This is the path that has existed from the time of creation and will exist forever. Many have drunk from it and many will yet drink. As was the first meal so shall be the last. My brothers and sisters, may the One who comforts comfort you. Blessed is the One who comforts the mourners.

- from A Blessing For Mourners

I've always been interested in the way religions and cultures memorialize and mourn for their dead, particularly the way artists appropriate religious artifacts and employ them for use in literature, painting, sculpture, film and music (to name a few).

One particular religious artifact that I've always been curious about is the Jewish prayer for the dead, the Kaddish. This is a short prayer that is synonymous with mourners in nearly every facet of Judaism, from the Orthodox to the Reformed. I start noticing the Kaddish while exploring the works of American composers Leonard Bernstein and David Diamond, who both composed concert works based on the Mourner's Kaddish (the former a symphony exploring man's search for peace and the latter an eight-minute work for solo cello and orchestra).

I also read about the Kaddish in the books of Chaim Potok, when his famous character Asher Lev participates in the rites at his uncle's death and most movingly in The Gift of Asher Lev,  when Arthur Leiden stands in the bombed-out ruins of Hiroshima and reads the prayer for the victims of a nuclear bomb in The Book of Lights.

But, for myself and many others, the text of the prayer itself is a bit of a mystery; nowhere does it speak of death, mourning, or the soul of man and his place in the next world. Mostly, the prayer offers praise to God. So, how is it that this prayer is a prayer of comfort at death?

Anita Diamant explained it to me through her book, Saying Kaddish. In incredibly eloquent terms, she says that
"The mystery of Kaddish is revealed every time it is spoken aloud with others ... Kaddish addresses the meaning of life and death, immortality, and redemption, the purpose and efficacy of prayer, community, and the ultimate goal of peace ... Kaddish insists that the mourner turn away from death and choose life."
This statement struck a chord with me, because we members of the Mormon faith - while not having an established liturgy used at death - find ourselves pushed in the same direction by our own theology.

However, I leave it up to you to find that meaning for yourself. What do you find in the Mourner's Kaddish? Does the mystery of this prayer reveal itself to you as you read it aloud?
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed.

May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon. Amen.

May His great Name be blessed forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.

He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.
I haven't solved the mystery of the Kaddish for myself, but I do have a little understanding now because I put the prayer to use in a unique way over Memorial Day weekend (which I'll detail in my next post). Thank you Anita for helping me take this small step into a better understanding of Judaism.

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