Kaddish: Friends in Need
I wish to share with you the following article which I have written for the next edition of our congregational newsletter:
There is that old adage that “a friend in need is a friend indeed!” I must admit that when I was a child, I did not understand that statement. In fact I thought that it meant that when one of your friends needed something from you, then they really became your friend; a rather cynical perspective if I do say so myself. It was only when I got older, and a bit more mature, that I grasped the true meaning of the statement; that it wasn’t referring to a friend who is needy but rather to a time when you are needy; that if you really want to know who are your truest friends, then look to see who makes an effort to be there for you in YOUR time of need. Those people are truly both your “friends indeed” and your “friends in deed”!
One of the times in Jewish life when we can prove ourselves to be “friends indeed and in deed” is on Shabbat, particularly during the Kaddish prayer. In setting up the rules of the worship service, the rabbis did something interesting, important, and all too often misunderstood. They required that in order for the Mourner’s Kaddish to be recited during a service, a minyan (quorum of ten adults – men in Orthodox Judaism) was required. If there are less than ten present, then the mourners are denied the opportunity to say Kaddish for their loved ones who are no longer among the live.
All too often this rule has been misunderstood to mean that the mourners are responsible for recruiting enough worshippers to enable themselves to say Kaddish for their loved ones. But in point of fact, this burden was never meant to be placed upon the mourners, for mourners are meant to be comforted, not encumbered. Rather, the rabbis intended that the burden for the making of the Kaddish minyan was meant to be carried by the community. It is the responsibility of the Jewish community, and particularly of the friends of the mourners, to make sure that their friend has a minyan present when it is their time to say Kaddish. It is the responsibility of the members of the Jewish community, and particularly of the friends of the mourner, to be for that mourner “friends indeed and in deed.”
Sadly, that is not always the case. Truth be known, that has become rarely the case. A few weeks ago, on Shabbat, we observed the Yahrzeit of someone who in life was a beloved member of our congregation; someone who we continue to honor beyond death. This person’s family is also equally beloved and respected in our congregation. Before the service began, the turn out of worshippers was extremely light. The Board Representative for that evening was someone who was raised in a more traditional setting. That Board Rep, with great concern, asked me “What happens if we do not get a minyan tonight for So-&-so’s Yahrzeit? How can we say Kaddish?” I have to admit, that the question irritated me and I snapped back an answer: “Whether or not we have a minyan, I intend for us to say Kaddish. I refuse to deny a person the opportunity to say Kaddish for their loved one because the rest of the congregation does not care enough about them to show up in their support.” In the end, it was a moot point for we did have enough of an attendance to make a minyan, but it was close.
My anger was not at the person who asked the question – though that person was the one to receive the blast of my wrath. Rather, it was at the devolution of our Jewish sensitivities to the point that too many Jews no longer give a moment’s thought about their responsibilities to be there in support of fellow Jews, who they claim are their friends, in their time of need. My anger was at the sad state of affairs which has led me, and so many other Reform rabbis, to consciously set aside the rule of the Kaddish minyan out of our compassion for our congregant mourners; a compassion seemingly not shared by their fellow congregants.
In this Scribe – in every Scribe – there is a listing of the coming Shabbat services and also a listing of the Yahrzeits which will be observed over the next few weeks, and which congregants will be remembering them. I implore you to take the few moments it requires to read those names. If you see that someone you care about is going to be observing a Yahrzeit, find it in your heart to set aside that evening to share with them, in loving support. You could even contact them and tell them that you are attending services that night, primarily to be there for them at their time of memorial.
The rabbis, in their great wisdom, intentionally set the rules surrounding Yahrzeits and Kaddish so as provide us all with a magnificent opportunity to demonstrate to those for whom we care that we all aspire to be “friends indeed and in deed.”