Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Tammuz 5763 - July 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Orphan's Kaddish
a true story

by C. Regev

Part 1

"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 expect.

"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, promise...

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 different.

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 embarrassed.

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 frightened Shloimi.

"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 looks.

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 Kaddish.

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...]


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