Kaddish Speaks to Mourners

The Kaddish responds to three questions: Is there a God? Why do people die? What is the meaning of life?

Print this page Print this page

I once talked to a doctor and asked him about the mortality rate. He said, "It's still 100 percent!" The point is that the world was created according to God's will. Now, if you had created it according to your will, people, especially babies, wouldn't die. But, you didn't create the world. God did.

It's not that God is a bad God. Death happens when microbes get the better of us, or when accidents happen, when immune systems aren't what they ought to be. In this world, which operates according to the rules of physics and motion, which seem to have inherent time clocks, people die. God didn't choose that your father should die rather than somebody else; "somebody else" will die too. Your father died because his liver stopped working, or because he had bacteria that infected it--not because of a bad God. God really had nothing to do with it.

God created the world, which operates according to certain rules. People, even 19-month-old babies, die because they get sick, because the cells go haywire. Now that it's happened, what we have to do is find a way to cure it. Let's call upon the divine powers within us and the universe to help us find a solution. The Kaddish says first that there is a God in the world, and second that God created a world according to Divine will, in which death is the inevitable conclusion of life.

Does Life Have Meaning?

The third problem is: What's it all for? If this is the way it all ends, why beat your head against a wall? Whether it's 89 years, or 56 years, or 19 months, it's all over too rapidly. Now, people have different reactions to this awareness. Some say, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Others say, "Withdraw from life. It will all be over soon anyway." The issue is: If it's all over so soon, why break our necks?

The Kaddish speaks to this. "Vyamlikh malkhutei b'chayeikhon u-v'yomeikhon u-vchayei d'khol beit Yisrael"--"May God establish His kingdom during our lifetime and during the lifetime of the house of Israel." When the prayer says "establish His kingdom," this is theological language for a perfect world, the Messianic era. God's rule is to be perfect and complete. So, the mourner at this moment when he or she is most sensitive to the issues of life and death and to his or her own inevitable demise, stands up and says, "There is a God who declares that it is our obligation as Jews to establish God's rule on this earth in our lifetime."

Jews are very sensitive to words. Words are very precious in Jewish tradition. This is saying that we undertake to solve all the problems in the world in our lifetime. Now, I'm 66 years old. If I live a normal life span, I've got another 11 years or so, maybe 12. But, I've had a heart bypass, so who knows? Even if I make it to 120, is it realistic to expect that all the social problems of the world, all the political problems of the world, all the medical problems of the world, all the psychological problems of the world will be solved--all in the next 20 to 30 years!? It would take that long just to list the problems!

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Bernard Lipnick

Rabbi Bernard Lipnick (1926-2010) served as the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Amoona in St. Louis for more than 40 years.