"Nooo! I can't!' screamed Shloimi as he kicked his feet. R'
Zev looked at the curled up body of the boy and wondered: can
his mind be so made up? Shloimi burst into tears that tore
the last of his heartstrings. He held his son close and felt
tears seeping through his own shut eyelids.
When the crying had subsided somewhat, Shloimi was still
breathing heavily, as if he had just expended a huge effort.
"Abba, I can't any more! I can't say Kaddish in shul
over Ima. They all look at me!" He spoke in a flurry, running
one sentence into another. A sea of pain, waves of grief
flowed from his red eyes. "Can't I do something else for
Ima's neshoma?" he asked for the umpteenth time.
"Kaddish is the greatest thing you can do," his father
answered for the umpteenth time.
"Can't I say Kaddish in shul only with you, so that
you can answer?" The questions repeated themselves, like in a
set ritual, in the same order that R' Zev had learned to
"You need a minyan. That's the whole point," he
answered, stifling a sigh.
"Well, why can't we get Saba, Uncle Menachem, Uncle Shloimi,
Uncle Efraim, Uncle Avrohom together with their sons who are
already bar mitzva. Together with you, I think it makes up a
minyan," he said, ticking the names off his fingers.
"They won't look at me in that way." He thrust his face
forward and made a strange grimace.
But he also knew that the last time everyone got together,
coming from the north and the south, was a year and a half
ago at his cousin Eli's bar mitzva.
"And why can't Tzipi, Gitty or Miri say Kaddish?" he raised
the innocent question again.
"They're girls," R' Zev answered wearily. "The obligation is
upon the boys. They, the ones who learn Torah, received the
great merit of raising the neshomos of those near to
them who have died. When you say Kaddish, Shloimi, the soul
of our Ima, whom we loved so much, rises to greater and
greater heights, all in the merit of your Kaddish!" he
emphasized. "Yours. Not Saba's or the cousins' or even mine.
We can't achieve what you are capable of doing for Ima with
your Kaddish." He struggled to stem the dampness that
threatened to fill his eyes before Shloimi noticed. The child
was too upset to see what was happening behind the lenses of
his father's glasses, and continued to negotiate.
"So I'll learn mishnayos all day. I'll say Tehillim
all day. I'll do chessed and open up new branches of
my gemach for writing supplies in other classes. Just
release me from saying Kaddish."
Again R' Zev suppressed a sigh. This time it filtered out
through his respiratory system and sounded like a wailing,
broken siren. He didn't want to continue the standard
conversation of, "Shloimi, it isn't a matter of `Release me
from saying Kaddish.' It isn't like I can let you out of it."
And to continue listening to him persist, and to answer, urge
him, talk to him heart to heart, to explain, convince,
Shloimi already knew by heart all the relevant
midroshim of Chazal. More than once, he had opened up
the Biurei HaGra with his father and seen the words
the Vilna Gaon had written about the merits of a son's
kaddish for his parents. He had heard countless times
what the Ari Hakadosh says about it. He had read and heard
the story which appears in slightly different versions in the
works Reishis Chochma and Rabbenu Bechaye al
haTorah about three sages, R' Yochonon ben Zakkai, R'
Akiva and R' Dostai, who encountered souls from the World of
Truth who said that only if their sons said Kaddish for them
would they be saved from their harsh verdict. He knew this
well, but his stage fright was stronger than he was.
R' Zev even enlisted the help of the boy's teacher and tried
to get hold of his own Rosh Yeshiva for a long talk to seek
advice about what to do, perhaps have him speak to his nine-
year-old. Nothing helped. There was no escape. He'd accompany
Shloimi to the Rosh Yeshiva soon; perhaps he'd be able to
provide a solution. Who would have believed that this dilemma
would be added to all the other problems and preoccupations
with which he had been dealing and struggling, day in, day
out, each and every hour?
It had happened suddenly. A terrible bus accident and three
days of lying mortally wounded, prayers and tears and a
horrible decree. The sudden bereavement and becoming a
widower seemed to him a towering, terrifying mountain, a deep
ocean to cross, armed with only one pair of hands and no
tangible tools to help him. And on those hands sat four small
children who relied on him with expectant eyes and who saw
him as their one and only captain and lifeline.
He was thrown all at once into the eye of the storm and
hardly managed to maneuver the waves. Everyone crowned him a
strong, brave and fearless man who didn't flinch at any
hardship. He zealously guarded the daily routine, including
his learning schedule in kollel, refusing to break up
the small family, not even for an initial period, "until you
get organized," as his kind and concerned mother-in-law had
suggested. He didn't want the children's routine to be
completely unraveled and they would have to adapt to new
places of learning in a strange and distant city. Alone, with
a bit of help from the family, he began to navigate the
absentee ship. He learned to manage, with a housekeeper three
times a week and one babysitter in the afternoon when he was
at the second seder, and to be both father and mother,
as best he could.
The logistical problems turned out to be marginal compared to
the emotional problems that appeared. Shloimi's refusal to
say Kaddish topped the list of his problems. To tell the
truth, when he thought about it, he was able to relate to it.
He couldn't honestly answer what he, Zevi, at eight years and
ten months, would have done had he, G-d forbid, been forced
to stand up in public and say Kaddish. Every day...
During the shiva, Shloimi was still confused. The
words of Kaddish in the familiar and protective house of his
grandmother and grandfather were said without attention to
his surroundings. It seemed as if the walls were protecting
him, together with the members of the large extended family
of his mother, may she rest in peace. It enclosed him in a
tight ring. The pain, still fresh, the confusion and
distress, transformed the matter into something completely
Afterwards, they had returned home, and the recitation of
Kaddish was moved to the neighborhood shul. Shloimi
couldn't get used to standing up in public and reciting the
Kaddish. Admittedly, he was a little shy by nature and didn't
like to be at the center of things, but the first time he
went up to say Kaddish, he was so imbued with the role of
emissary, knowing how important it was, how precious and
vital, that one couldn't figure out whether or not he was
Everyone, as if hypnotized, stared at him, as if they were
seeing him for the first time in their lives, and not only
that, but the way they looked, his head seemed to have grown
curly horns which everyone was compelled to stare at. There
was not a pair of eyes that did not turn around to glare at
him and to follow each syllable with a riveting look that
"It's only the first time, the beginning. All beginnings are
hard," Abba tried to encourage him. He had more stories, like
the one with the camel and the vegetables which Rachel, wife
of R' Akiva, had placed in the middle of the marketplace to
prove to her husband that people made a fuss at any new sight
until they got used to it and accepted it naturally. But here
the matter was different. Everyone, without exception,
continued to give him looks that penetrated him deeply. There
was always a new congregant or a passing guest who did it
more than anyone else. Shloimi's clear, childish voice would
weaken until, more than once, it became hoarse and died away.
And then he would have to bear even more penetrating
When bein hazmanim came around, the situation grew
worse. The number of people praying at the shul
increased and the number of stares directed at his back
doubled, all in addition to the low whispers that were like
tiny sharp knives stabbing his bruised skin.
Shloimi felt that he couldn't take it any more. Each morning,
he would awaken to his daily nightmare which included
standing in front of a crowd of people that were staring at
him, until he asked to give up saying Kaddish. On Erev
Pesach, he absolutely refused to step forward and recite his
Later, he couldn't fall asleep at night. The image of his
mother's elderly Aunt Bertha appeared before his eyes.
Shortly before the tragedy, they had visited her in her
luxurious room in the lovely old age home where she resided.
Aunt Bertha had sobbed with the tearless cries of the elderly
and had said something to Ima about her Reuven, her
`Kaddishel'. When they left, Shloimi had asked for an
explanation and Ima had told him in short that Aunt Bertha's
only son had, unfortunately, distanced himself from Torah and
mitzvos, and his mother was very upset over it.
"Why did she repeat that phrase, `my Kaddishel', at least a
hundred times?" Shloimi had been unable to understand.
"He is supposed to say Kaddish for her after a hundred and
twenty," Ima had explained. "And this is supposed to bring
peace to her soul when she is in the World of Truth; his
Kaddish will spare her from punishment. It is necessary for
her neshoma, and Aunt Bertha is afraid of being
disappointed. She is afraid of dying..." Ima never called
him `kaddishel' But perhaps, if she were still alive
and old like Aunt Bertha, she would also call him that. He
certainly wouldn't want to disappoint her but that is exactly
what he was doing, now. He had no doubt of that.
"It isn't my fault that I'm not saying Kaddish. It's the
fault of the people looking at me," he justified himself, and
knew what Abba would claim in response. "It's always easy to
place the blame on someone else." So why were they making
this important task so difficult?
[Next week: final part of this true story which is,
unfortunately, still taking place for many orphans...]