The Incredible Work Of The Kaddish Prayer – Elevating The Spiritual Worlds Together With The Deceased

The Kaddish, a timeless Jewish prayer of many Kabbalistic secrets and profound significance, holds a revered place within Jewish tradition. Its recitation is laden with meanings that extend beyond the boundaries of mere words, reaching into the depths of Jewish history and the Jewish soul.

As we delve into the essence of Kaddish, we uncover a tapestry of interconnected themes that emphasize its importance both from a revealed (Nigleh) and Kabbalistic (Nistar) point of view.

Let us begin.

Kaddish prayer

Historical Context and Origins of the Kaddish prayer

The origins of the Kaddish can be traced back to the Babylonian Talmudic period (3rd to 5th centuries CE), where it was recited as part of a eulogy for the deceased. Over the centuries, the Kaddish evolved into different forms, each with its unique purpose and context.

However, its most well-known form is the Mourner’s Kaddish, recited by those mourning the loss of a close family member, traditionally during the initial year of mourning and on the yahrzeit (anniversary) of the death.

Contrary to most other prayers, the Kaddish is said in Aramaic. In Sha’ar HaKavanot, the Arizal explains that it’s meant for the Sitra Achra to understand it and be overcome in fear. As he explains, the Sitra Achra cannot understand Hebrew, only foreign languages. Add to this that, according to Rebbe Nachman in Likutey Moharan, Aramaic is also a language that is an intermediary between Hebrew and the other languages, and we have a perfect strike to the Sitra Achra.

There are a few variations of the Kaddish which are as follows:

  1. Shalem” (Full): This is the most well-known form of the Kaddish. It is recited at the conclusion of various sections of the synagogue service, such as the Amidah (the central prayer of Jewish liturgy). The Kaddish Shalem serves as a transitional prayer, marking the shift between different parts of the service. It contains a doxology that praises and sanctifies Hashem’s name.
  2. Yatom” (Mourner’s): This variation is recited by mourners during the mourning period, typically in memory of a deceased close relative. It does not explicitly mention death or the deceased but rather focuses on praising Hashem. It is seen as an opportunity to elevate the soul of the departed through acts of devotion. The Mourner’s Kaddish is recited at various points in the service, including after the recitation of Psalms or other sacred texts.
  3. Half”: Also known as “Chatzi Kaddish,” this is a shorter version of the Full Kaddish. It is recited after a section of the service that is of lesser significance compared to the sections that require the Full Kaddish. The Half Kaddish is used as a transition between less important parts of the service.
  4. “D’Rabbanan” (Rabbi’s Kaddish): This Kaddish is recited after studying a section of Talmud or other rabbinic literature in a group setting. It is a way of honoring the study of Jewish law and tradition and seeking blessings for the learning process.
  5. “Titkabal” (“of Acceptance”): This Kaddish is recited by the congregation after various prayers and supplications, as an expression of hope that their prayers will be accepted and answered by Hashem.
  6. “Festivals” (“deRabanan for Festivals”): This variation is used during Jewish festivals and special occasions. It contains references to the particular themes of the festival being celebrated.

It’s important to note that the Kaddish prayer, in all its variations, emphasizes themes of sanctification, praise, and the coming of Hashem’s Kingdom through Mashiach. The various forms of the Kaddish play a role in the structure of Jewish worship and serve as a way for individuals to connect with our Emunah and honor their loved ones.

Some aspects of the Kaddish

1. A Prayer of Sanctification

The Kaddish is a prayer of sanctification, acknowledging the holiness and sovereignty of Hashem even in the face of loss and mourning. Its opening lines, “Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba” – “May His great Name be exalted and sanctified” – set the tone for a prayer that transcends individual pain to affirm the eternal nature of Hashem’s presence and perfect Judgment.

2. Remembrance and Continuity

At its core, the Kaddish is an act of remembrance. By reciting it, mourners honor the memory of their loved ones and ensure their legacies live on. This act of remembrance reinforces the Jewish belief in the importance of continuity across generations. It is to reassert that he has lived, that his life has significance.”. Rav Yehuda Ptaya, one of the greatest Kabbalists of the last 150 years states that nothing can alleviate the suffering of the dead as much as a son who recites Kaddish for his father.

3. Hope and Redemption

Interestingly, the Kaddish also contains elements of hope and redemption. In the closing lines, we beseech Hashem to bring about ultimate peace and redemption, envisioning a world in which Hashem’s sovereignty is universally recognized.

This is probably one of the parts that scares the Sitra Achra the most. Moreover, this intertwining of mourning and hope underscores the resilience of the Jewish spirit, even in the face of adversity.

4. Community and Unity

The communal aspect of the Kaddish cannot be overstated. It’s said only in the presence of 10 men.

When a mourner stands before the congregation to recite the Kaddish, the entire community responds with the congregation’s “Amen.” This collective response embodies the unity of the Jewish people, providing support and solace to those who are grieving. The Kaddish, in this way, bridges the gap between individual loss and the shared identity of the Jewish community.

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Jewish sources on the importance of the Kaddish

  1. A notable account from the Zohar (2:166a) tells of Rav Safra’s son who, driven by an intense yearning to hear Kaddish, leaped from the rooftop. This act foreshadowed his future greatness, eventually becoming known to all. Apparently, this was his Tikkun.
  2. Kaddish is a form of praise that elevates the Holy One, Blessed be He, in a manner unparalleled by any other. What sets it apart? Its remarkable ability to humble even the most persistent forces of negativity and elevate Hashem’s glory over all else, as illuminated in the Zohar II 129b and III 129b.
  3. Even an individual deeply engrossed in the contemplation of the Ma’asei Merkavah (the sacred chariot) should pause to respond with heartfelt “Amen, and Yehey sh’mey rabba,” as emphasized in Berachos 21b.
  4. The assurance of entering the World to Come is granted to the one who utters “Amen and Yehe sh’mey rabba m’vorach” in a dream, as stated in Berachos 57a.
  5. The world’s foundation rests upon the merit of proclaiming the kedusha in Uva L’Tzion and responding with “Yehey sh’may rabba” after studying aggadah, as illuminated in Sotah 49a.
  6. In the presence of an elder expounding wisdom, and with disciples responding in unison, “Amen, May His great Name be blessed,” even the weight of a century’s worth of decrees against an individual is forgiven by the benevolence of the Holy One, Blessed be He, as portrayed in Koheles Rabba 9:20. In Midrash Shocher Tou (Mishlei 10), the reading transforms: “Even if their verdict was sealed, I pardon and absolve their transgressions.”
  7. Angel Sandelphon adorns crowns upon the Lord of Glory through the recital of Kedusha, Borchu, and the responsive “Amen, and Yehey sh’may rabba” uttered by the children of Israel. From this, Sages deduced that neglecting to respond in this manner diminishes the celestial crown and invites the risk of excommunication, as conveyed in Midrash Konen.
  8. An account from the Zohar Chadash Lev. 49a recounts the profound impact of Kaddish. When a son publicly recited the haftarah, the burden of judgment was lightened, but it was the recitation of Kaddish that completely dissolved the looming verdict.
  9. The Zohar Chadash, Lev. Raya M’heimna p. 20, asserts that responding with heartfelt “Amen, and Yehay sh’mey rabba” with utmost sincerity can even bring forgiveness to one tainted with the blemish of idolatry.
  10. It is recognized in Chareidim, Commandment of Repentance, ch. 7, that the response “Amen, and Yehay sh’may rabba” possesses the power to absolve all of one’s sins.
  11. Sefer Mora Mikdash, 20, cautions against engaging in casual conversation during prayers and Kaddish. Those who disregard this reverence not only incur their rightful punishments but potentially intensify them. When their offspring recite Kaddish on their behalf, their actions are reevaluated, and judgment is revisited (Kedushath Amen, ch. 7).

Aspects of the Kaddish from the perspective of Kabbalah

The Arizal and Rabbi Shalom Sharabi explain that the Kavanot of the Kaddish relate to a specific Partzuf (spiritual system) of its own during the prayer services.

The kaddish accomplishes three main purposes:

  1. Kaddish is like a pillar, from where the lower worlds rise up to the higher worlds.
  2. It grants the worlds with mochin (spiritual intelligence) to the Partzufim.
  3. It destroys the kelipot of each world.

As we know, the seder of Shacharit parallel the 4 spiritual worlds, and there are four of them: Asiyah, Yetzirah, Briyah, and Atzilus. We pass through these four worlds as we go through the four parts of the tefilah.

  1. The korbanot are in the world of Asiyah.
  2. Pesukei d’Zimra are in Olam Yetzirah
  3. The brachos of Kriyas Shma and the Shema are in the world of Briyah
  4. And when we say Shemonah Esrei, we are in the world of Atzilus.

After we say the korbanot, we say kaddish. This kaddish accomplishes the three holy benefits we mentioned:  (1) It elevates the world of Asiyah to Yetzirah. (2) It gives Asiyah advanced spiritual intelligence from the world of Yetzirah. (3) It destroys the kelipot that are in Asiyah.

Then we say the kaddish after pesukei d’zimra, and similar three steps occur. (1) It elevates Yetzirah to Briyah. (2) It gives Yetzirah advanced spiritual intelligence from the world of Briyah. (3) It destroys the kelipot of Yetzirah.

This is the idea in short, but there are many holy details, and it takes time to attain clarity. Someone once asked, “The kaddish is a beautiful tefillah of praise to Hashem, to request that Hashem’s name be renowned to the world. How do the kabalistic ideas coincide with the simple meaning of the words? And how can one possibly think the simple meaning of the words, when he is thinking about the kabalistic kavanot, which are entirely different concepts?”

Actually, the kabalistic ideas and the simple meaning of the Kaddish are one and the same.

Furthermore, we will see that the three steps that we mentioned are all one concept. At least, this is how I understand it:

There are beings and creations in every world, souls and malachim. When we say that Asiyah rises to Yetzirah, this means that the holy beings in Asiyah should have the awareness of Hashem that prevails in Yetzirah. When we say that Yetzirah rises to Briyah, this means that the creations of Yetzirah should have the awareness of Hashem that prevails in the higher world of Briyah.

Also, when we say that Asiyah receives spiritual intelligence from Yetzirah, this also means that the awareness of Hashem that is in Yetzirah should be given over to the beings in Asiyah. 

The third step, the abolishment of the kelipot, is also the same concept. Kelipot represent the concealment of Hashem’s presence. For the world of Asiyah to attain the atmosphere of emunah that is in Yetzirah, it is necessary to remove the kelipot that challenges the awareness.

So, although there are certainly differences between the three steps, they share a thread. They are about bringing awareness of Hashem from the higher world to a lower world. We draw intelligence and we remove the kelipot of the lower world, which enables the lower world to resemble, elevate and be part of the upper world.

This is also the simple meaning of the kaddish, because it is about bringing awareness of Hashem to the world.

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These ideas are reminiscent of the following lesson written in Likutey Moharan (vol.1 177). We say in the kaddish b’alma di bra kirusei, “in the world that He created according to His will.” Likutei Moharan explains that a key word is kirusei, His will.

Rebbe Nachman teaches: “A person…shouldn’t want anything other than what Hashem wants. Whether he will have children or not, or whether he will have money or not, and the same is with all other desires. He shouldn’t want anything other than what Hashem wants.”

Rebbe Nachman considers this concept the kabalistic kavanot of kaddish. It is also essentially the simple idea of kaddish. So, the simple translation of the kaddish with the kabbalah intentions are the same.

They are to attain awareness that the world isn’t run by nature or by chance, but by Hashem’s Divine Providence. And therefore, we should accept Hashem’s will, no matter what it is.

Let’s take from this discussion the following lessons:

1) Cherish the kaddish because it is a great and holy prayer.

2) Try to come on time to the tefilah, because each level of the tefilah elevates and links to the next one, and the kaddish is the pillar that creates the link.

3) When we daven, we should increase our emunah as we go along in the prayer. We go from korbanot to pesukei d’zimra, and then to the brachos of Shema, and then to Shemonah Esrei. This is to go from Asiyah to Yetzirah to Briyah and to Atzilus, constantly rising to a world where there is a greater awareness of Hashem.

So, our emunah and awareness of Hashem should grow together with our progression in the tefilah. At each section, we should increase our emunah, because we have entered a world that has greater emunah.

4) Want what Hashem wants, because everything is for the good.   

Final thoughts

The Kaddish is far more than a simple prayer.

It is a conduit through which the Jewish people navigate the complexities of life, death, memory, and hope. Its power lies not only in its words but in the emotions and intentions that it encapsulates.

Through the Kaddish, Jewish tradition teaches us the importance of honoring our past, finding strength in unity, and embracing hope even in the face of loss.

As we continue to recite the Kaddish, generation after generation, we increase the divine worlds with Mokhin and speed up the coming of Geulah and Mashiach.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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