Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mitzvos

There are certain Mitzvos, which, by their very nature, obligated people differently according to their levels. These are notable exceptions, the ones that come to my mind offhand being Kedoshim Tihiyu, and Talmud Torah. The amount of Kedusha and the amount of Torah you must learn depends on your level.

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You do a Mitzvah because Hashem said so. While we do get closer to Hashem by doing Mitzvos, and Mitzvos "lift up" the world, and it is fine to have all those things in mind when doing the Mitzvah; the reason you are doing the Mitzvah is none of the above, but rather because a Mitzvah is the will of Hashem.

To illustrate this, consider a hypothetical case where you could (a) get closer to Hashem, or (b) lift up the world, by going against the Ratzon Hashem. Would you do it?

No, you would not.

Then consider a case where you could fulfill the Ratzon Hashem but by doing so you would get further away from Hashem, or bring the world down. Would you do it?

Yes, you would.

The question, rather, is what should be your motivation to listen to Hashem?

The answer is, there are different levels: There is Ahava, the higher level, where you listen to Hashem's will because you love Him. The reason you love Him is because of the wonderful things He does for you, that is, out of gratitude to Him.

The lower level is Yorah - out of fear.

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Kaddish is not "such an important part" of Judaism. It is actually a custom - not one of the 613 Mitzvos, not even a Rabbinic Mitzvah, and surely not one of the 13 Fundamentals of the religion.

Among the non-religious, Kaddish became like the most important part of Judaism, and that is because the non-religious Jews used to have religious parents, and when those religious parents died, the non-religious children figured they'd do something nice and honorable for them religious-wise in their honor, since the parents always believed in the religion anyway. So Kaddish became it.

Of course, where the custom applies, it is considered honoring one's parents to say the Kaddish. That means if you do not have a minyan, or if you are a woman, or a slew of other circumstances as well.

Women do not say Kaddish because a custom, by definition, is followed according to its established methods, and when Kaddish was instituted, it was explicit that women do not say it.

The reasons it was instituted that way could be many: don’t forget - if you read the words of Kaddish, you will find not a single mention of death, deceased relatives, honoring the dead, or anything at all that would motivate someone to say this prayer in honor of or in memory of a deceased relative. In fact, the main part of Kaddish - yehai shemei rabbah - is merely an Aramaic translation of the prayer "boruch shem kevod malchose l'olam vaed", which we all say twice a day anyway, women included, and even without a Minyan.

The kabbalistically-aware sages who instituted this custom did so because as per to Jewish mysticism, this prayer, when recited in a certain way (with a minyan), at a certain time (after the aleinu prayer, and sometimes some other places, during the davening, for the first 11 months after the death of certain - not all - relatives, and on the anniversary of their death thereafter), and by certain people (men), if is of benefit to the soul of the deceased. When said not under the specific designated conditions, it does nothing for the soul, and for all we know can perhaps even be harmful.

There are times and circumstances that the Kaddish is optional; there are times when the Kaddish is mandatory; and there are times when the Kaddish is prohibited. All of this is based on the original, kabbalah-based reasons for the kaddish in the first place.

But as I said, Kaddish is NOT a main part of Judaism at all, and it is not to even the main way to honor deceased parents. The main way to do that is available to males and females both - if the children follow the Torah's path, it is a greater merit and honor for the soul of the deceased than 1,000 times saying Kaddish.

That is what Orthodox Judaism says - if you want to honor and commemorate your parents after they are gone from this world, let your behavior be proper, do Hashem's will, and let your parents be proud of you.

The Kaddish is only a custom.

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