May 29, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 29, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

We read in Parsha Re’eh that one should not make any cuttings in one’s skin for the dead (14:1). Apparently, this was a mourning custom in ancient times. At the same time, we know that when a parent dies we are supposed to cut our lapels and rip our clothing to mourn our loved ones. What is the difference between the cutting of our clothing, which is encouraged, and cutting one’s flesh, which is discouraged?

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains it as follows: The rending of one’s garments is temporary while the cutting of our flesh is permanent. It is appropriate to acknowledge the loss of our relatives by rending our garments because their loss caused a “rip,” so to speak, in our lives. Things are not the same as they once were. We tear what is around us to show the immediate impact of the loss.

Cutting the skin, however, is very different. When we do that we make a permanent mark that never goes away. It sends a mistaken message that we are permanently marked and will never be the same.

Hashem gives all of us our unique talents, attributes and abilities. We are influenced and impacted upon very much by our relatives. A parent’s influence is perhaps the strongest influence of all. When we suffer the loss of a parent it clearly has a significant effect. But the effect should not be permanent. It should not impair our ability to continue to function in life. Even after suffering a loss we still have the same talents, attributes and abilities. We still have the obligation to serve Hashem and continue with our lives using them. We cannot permanently scar ourselves. We need to be able to assimilate the influence of our parents and the experience of their passing away but yet be able to move along. We need to find a way to go on and continue living ourselves.

Rabbi Abner Weiss reminds us that, while the Jewish tradition mainly focuses on the world of the living, one of the cardinal tenets of faith is our belief in the conscious immortality of the soul beyond the grave. Life after death is attested to in the Torah, elaborated on by the rabbinic writings, mentioned in our daily prayers and is one of the 13 principles of faith formulated by the Rambam, Maimonides.

We memorialize the souls of our departed by saying special prayers such as Kaddish, Yizkor and Kel Malei Rachamim. The Beit Yosef, referring to the Talmud (Kiddushin 31a), relates that we can atone for the deceased by reciting these prayers. This is especially true if we pledge money to charity in addition to our prayers. The Gesher HaChaim (31:1) noted that, originally, memorial prayers were only recited on Yom Kippur. That is why the day was called “Yom Hakippurim,” (plural) the days of atonement. Atonement was received both for the living and the dead. Now we recite memorial prayers on Shabbos and select holidays as well. The Kaddish prayer is said at all prayer services.

The source for the custom of saying Kaddish for a parent is a story in the Midrash about Rabbi Akiva. He met the son of a man who was suffering in Gehinnom. Rabbi Akiva taught the son of this man how to recite the Kaddish. Through the Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) that the son accomplished by reciting Kaddish he was able to bring his father out of Gehinnom and into Gan Eden.

The Kaddish prayer became popular and was recited when a relative passed away or when we observed a yahrzeit. In effect, when we recite Kaddish, we are saying that although our faith may be stressed, we promise to maintain the continuity of our tradition and maintain our Jewish traditions.

This week marked the 13th yahrzeit anniversary of my late mother, Liba bas Michael, a”h. She survived the Holocaust and many hardships in life. While the Polish government only allowed Jews to obtain a fourth grade education at the time, she went back to high school in Brooklyn to complete her GED studies. The words of the “Eshet Chayil” song described her especially well. She worked with her hands all of her life. She cooked, sewed and was always being creative. She was a true “balebusta” who made sure the household ran well while making sure that everything was spic and span clean. For many years she would get up before sunrise, prepare whatever needed to be done and then go off to work. She was proud of me, my sister and the grandchildren. She was proud of all the successful family members and we all mattered to her.

By repeating the Kaddish prayer and commemorating the yahrzeits and Yizkor occasions of our loved ones every year, we also remember our promise to reaffirm our faith and maintain our Jewish traditions. We elevate their souls by acting in a righteous manner that reflects well on our upbringing. May Hashem give us the wisdom and courage to learn from all our loved ones, especially our parents. May we be able to assimilate our experiences in life, learning their lessons and not getting “stuck” or permanently marked in an adverse manner by their passing into the olam ha’emet, the true world to come.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles