On Saying Kaddish: A Story

A story illustrates the power of reciting Kaddish for a parent.

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Excerpted with permission from Grief in Our Seasons: A Mourner's Kaddish Companion (Jewish Lights Publishing).

Rabbi Akiva, who lived in the second century CE, once saw a man struggling under a heavy load of wood. Rabbi Akiva stopped the man and said, "Why must you do this difficult work? If you are a slave and this labor is forced upon you, I will redeem you from your master and set you free. And if it is because you are poor and you must earn a living this way, I will make you rich." Frightened, the man responded, "Please let me go and do not detain me, so as not to anger those who are in charge of me."

The man's reply puzzled Rabbi Akiva, who asked, "Who are you and what is this all about?" To this, the man replied, "I am one of those unfortunate souls condemned to the agonies of hell-fire, and every day I am sent to bring my own wood for my own torment." "Is there then no way for you to be relieved of this suffering?" asked Akiva. "Yes," the man answered. "I heard that if my little son, whom I left behind, were to say in public, 'Yitgadal veyitkadash' and the others would answer, 'Yehei Shemei rabba mevorakh,' or if he were to say, 'Barekhu et Adonai hamevorakh,' and the congregation would answer, 'Barukh Adonai hamevorakh l'olam va-ed,' I would be set free from this judgment."

Akiva then asked the man for all the relevant details and promised to locate his child and teach him Torah so that he could stand in front of the congregation and say Yitgadal in praise of God. Akiva found the child and taught him Torah, the Sh'ma, the Amidah, and Grace After Meals and prepared him to stand before the congregation to recite Yitgadal. As soon as the boy did this, the father's soul was delivered from its judgment and permitted its eternal rest. The man then appeared to Akiva in a dream and thanked him: "May it be God's will that you rest in peace, for you made it possible for me to be at peace."

--Adapted from Netiv Binah I, pp. 367-68

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.