EMOR (Leviticus, 21:1-24:23) — “Kaddish and Other Overrated Mitzvahs”

Have you ever heard the expression “My Kaddish’l – My Little Kaddish,” referring to one’s oldest son? The intent behind this expression is the assumption that once a person has brought a child into the world, that person may now rest easily with the knowledge that there will be someone to say Kaddish after he is gone.

What is the magic of Kaddish that it draws even the most non-observant Jew into the synagogue? What does it mean? What is its significance?

Kaddish is a prayer, or, more accurately, a proclamation, that appears numerous times in various versions, interspersed throughout the three daily prayers. Kaddish is recited, regardless of whether or not a mourner is present.

The gist of Kaddish is “Yisgadal v’yiskaddash (or, for those who prefer the Sephardic pronunciation, Yitgadal v’yitkaddash) shemei rabbah – may His great Name be magnified and sanctified in the world…”

The origin of this Aramaic declaration is a verse in this week’s Torah Portion: I must be sanctified among the Israelites. (Leviticus,22:32)

The Torah requires us to publicly praise the Name of G-d. (This, by the way, is the reason that it is pointless to say Kaddish at home. Kaddish is a PUBLIC proclamation.) The Congregation is called upon to praise G-d and respond: “Amen. May the Great Name be blessed forever and ever.”

It is customary for a mourner to recite not just the Mourner’s Kaddish that appears 1-4 times in a particular service, but to actually LEAD the service and reciteALLof the versions of Kaddish that are recited throughout the service.


We are given a certain number of years to fulfill our missions on earth. It is the job of each of us to serve G-d and make the world a better place. Once we are called to meet our Maker, the mission, for better or for worse, is over. There is nothing more we can do.

Or is there? Judaism teaches that a person’s good deeds continue long after he is gone. Every time you and I discuss an observation from Rashi’s commentary, Rashi, in a sense, comes alive and continues to teach Torah to the world, centuries after his death.

A person who has died can no longer perform Mitzvahs. However, when that person’s child enters the synagogue and publicly praises G-d’s Name, it is considered almost as if the departed person himself is doing the Mitzvah. We, the surviving, have the ability to do good deeds on behalf of those who no longer can.

Please forgive the slightly irreverent title of this week’s message. To a certain extent, Kaddish IS overrated. Some people assume that Kaddish is recited, and then you’re all set. Kaddish is only the beginning. Many have the custom to study sections of the Talmud in memory of those who have passed away. One will often find, in a Shivah house, a sign-up sheet for friends and relatives to volunteer to collectively study the 525 chapters of the Mishnah within the next 30 days. Charity is given in memory of the departed. In fact, ANY Mitzvah done in memory of someone who has passed away is considered a great tribute to that person.  (More information on arranging Mishnah study in memory of a loved one can be found here.)

In another sense, Kaddish is actually UNDERrated. The Peleh Yo’aitz, one of the classic books of ethics, makes a fascinating suggestion regarding this topic.  He suggests that the mourner should consult with his rabbi to determine if he is WORTHY of saying Kaddish and studying Mishnah for his own father!  Perhaps, proposes the author, the mourner is not sufficiently scholarly and righteous to perform this important mission.  Perhaps he should secure the services of a more learned person to make sure the Mitzvah is done right!!!

(NOTE: To my knowledge, this suggestion of the Peleh Yo’eitz is NOT standard procedure.  The mourner should attend synagogue three times a day when possible.  A proxy is designated if the mourner is unable to say Kaddish, or if there is no mourner.)

The Peleh Yo’eitz goes on to say that the obligation does not end with the year of mourning. He says that one should ALWAYS look for opportunities to “elevate the souls” of departed relatives by learning, praying, giving charity, and being better Jews in every way.

After all, isn’t that what they want us to do?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

[Information on arranging the recital of Kaddish for a loved one can be found here.]

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



“Kaddish and Other Overrated Mitzvahs” (2010)

… What is the magic of Kaddish that it draws even the most non-observant Jew into the synagogue? What does it mean? What is its significance? …

Read more.


“Beauty and the Priest” (2007)

… The Torah goes on to give a list of “blemishes” that disqualify the Kohain from officiating in the Temple Service.  (Mr. Cohen, I hope your lawyer is taking notes!):

“’… a man who is blind or lame or whose nose has no bridge, or who has one limb longer than the other… who has a broken leg or broken arm… abnormally long eyebrows, a membrane on his eye or a blemish in his eye… any man from the offspring of Aaron who has a blemish shall not approach to offer the fire-offerings of G-d…’” (Ibid, verses 18-22)

There you have it — discrimination against people with disabilities!

What’s going on here?  Shouldn’t there be a “Kohain with Disabilities Act”?!!  Why is the Torah discriminating against a Kohain just because he looks a little different?  Is this a beauty contest?!!

This is not a concept that is easy to explain.  I called a colleague of mine and told him, “Give me a clear, Politically Correct, Jewish-outreach-to-the-uninitiated explanation to these rules.  How do I explain the Torah’s apparent prejudice against Kohanim with disabilities?”

My colleague’s response:  “Good luck!”…

Read more.


“The Passion of the Pharisees” (2004) 

… The world is abuzz about “The Passion.”  …

I recently heard a fellow on the radio defending the movie from charges of being anti-Semitic.  “The Jews are NOT being blamed.  The people at fault were a small number of Jews who controlled the Temple.  The common folk had nothing to do with this murder.  It was the fault of the corrupt priests and the Pharisees!”

…I do want to clear up one thing.  My father-in-law was a Priest, and I am a Pharisee.  And neither of us was portrayed fairly in the movie…

Read more.


“When In Rome…?” (2002)

… In Judaism, one does not enter the priesthood by choice …  Among other things, he has limitations on whom he may marry and where he may go.

The Kohain Gadol, or High Priest, has additional rules that go beyond those of a regular priest…there is an authority in the Talmud who maintains that he should have TWO WIVES…

 … After spending two years studying the laws and serving as an apprentice, I appeared before a Rabbinic Tribunal in B’nei Brak to be tested and certified as a “Sofer STA”M,” a Scribe for Torahs, Tefillin, and Mezuzahs…  The rabbis huddled together in a whispered conference. Would I receive my certification? Finally, the Chief Rabbi of the court rendered his decision…

Read more.


“Is There a Middle of the Road?” (2001)

 … How about acting in a way that creates neither good P.R. nor bad?  What if we live our lives quietly and anonymously, without calling attention to ourselves in any way?  Can’t we just do what we have to do without desecrating G-d’s name but not grabbing positive headlines for Him either? …

Read more.


This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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