May The Soul Be Lifted

I’d like to ask that you dedicate the Torah you learn today li’iluy nishmas chana bas rachel.

Where does the idea of “an aliyah for the neshama” come from?

I’ve done some research, and the closest thing I’ve found is in the Medrash Tanchuma.

Rabbi Akiva was once walking, and saw a man with a face
“as black as coal”, carrying a load “heavy enough for ten
men”, and running “swift as a horse.”

Rabbi Akiva asked him why he was doing this.

He responded “I am dead. When I was alive, I was a tax
collector.I exploited the poor and was easy on the rich. I
am punished everyday byhaving to collect wood for a fire
in which I am burned. “

Rabbi Akiva asked if there was anyway to free him from
this punishment.

The man responded “I have heard that if I had a son who
would go before the congregation and call out “Barchu es
HaShem Hamevorach”, and the people would say “Baruch
HaShem Hamevorach leolam va’ed”, and also, if he would
say “yisgadal v’yiskadash shmay raba” and the people
would respond “yehay shmay raba mevorach”, then my
punishment would end.

He continued, “When I died, my wife was pregnant. But
even if it was a son, there would be no one to teach him.”

Rabbi Akiva went to find the son. When he did, he found
that the boy had not even been circumcised. He
circumsiced the boy, and taught him Torah and how to pray.
When he was ready, he led the congregation in prayer,
including saying”barchu” and “yisgadal”. When he did this,
the soul of his father was “instantly freed from punishment.”

I think this medrash provides much insight for mourners, both those that halacha specifies as mourners, and those that don’t fit the halachick description, but are still are mourning the loss of their friend or relative.

The key in the medrash was not that the son simply said the words “yiskadal vyiskadash…”. It was the learning torah and teffilah part. Similarly, the father laments that he didn’t get to “teach his son.” If it was simply a matter of getting the son to say those few words, surely someone in the community (perhaps his mother?) would have urged him to do so.

The proclamation of “yiskadal vyiskadash” is so important because it speaks of elevating and praising God. The traditional reason given for this is because it helps the mourners realize that even though they are going through a difficult time right now, they still have to realize that everything God does to them is for the best.

The practical difference in this explanation, as opposed to the idea that kaddish “lifts the soul closer to God”, is how it affects non-halachik mourners. When a person dies and leaves behind no one obligated to say kaddish, yet because of him people are doing more mitzvos than they would have, this is a zechus for the dead person. Praising God in public is a specific mitzvah one can do, but learning more torah or giving more tzedaka or being more careful about kashrus are comparable, in this case.

I’ve seen it happen where (usually non religous) families argue over who will take the responsibility of saying kaddish. Once one person volunteers, the others no longer feel obligated, because “at least the person has someone saying kaddish for him.”

I’ve also seen it happen where people become disressed when someone dies without anyone to say kaddish.

Both of these situations bother me, because they are forgetting the point of kaddish. It is simply a way to help the MOURNERS deal with death. It’s also not the act of kaddish that is important, it is the lifestyle that goes along with it. Why is it OK if only one son out of 2 or 3 feels enough of a connection to religon to say kaddish? Why doesn’t the fact that none of the sons are shomrei mitzvot? And why isn’t learning torah in zechus of a lost friend or distant relative not stressed more?

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