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Question: The Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to almost all public gatherings; hence, much of Jewish congregational ritual has come to a halt. Is there a way to make up for everything we missed?

M. Goldman

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Answer: Last week, we quoted extensively from Kaddish: Its Origins, Meanings and Laws by the gaon HaRav Dovid Assaf, zt”l. We begin this week with another quote from his work:

“A stubborn and rebellious son – ben sorer u’morer (Deuteronomy 21:18) is stoned to death at the entrance of his father’s house…as though to say (Ketubot 45a), ‘See what he has reared!’ All the more so in the case of a son…who refuses to recite Kaddish altogether, whom the Rabbinical court is not obligated to force.

“Nevertheless, if at all possible, one must certainly try to persuade him. It is written (Leviticus 1:3), ‘…yakriv oto lirtzono lifnei Hashem – he shall offer it willingly before Hashem.’ He shall offer it – this implies coercion. Yet it says (infra 1:4) ‘…v’nirtza lo l’chaper alav – it shall become acceptable for him, to atone for him,’ which implies a voluntary action! How to reconcile these two contradictory statements?

“The Talmud (Kiddushin 50a) explains the concept of ‘voluntary’ coercion, that it is really for the person’s own good: every Jew, deep down, wishes to fulfill the commandments of the Torah; however, he is occasionally prevented from doing so by his evil inclination. Some initial coercion, however, has the effect of bringing his will to the fore.”

The idea that every Jew, deep down, is righteous is evident in the following unusual Talmudic ruling: “[If one approached a woman and said, ‘You are betrothed to me] on condition that I’m righteous,’ the woman is betrothed – even if he is [known to be] surely wicked – because we suspect he had a hirhur teshuvah [i.e., he mentally decided to repent].”

The author continues: “In my book Yalkut Das va’Din, I printed a letter that I received from my friend Rabbi Yaakov Chai Zerihan, z”l, who was the Chief Rabbi and Av Beit Din of the holy city of Tiberias. In short, he agrees with me that a son cannot be forced to recite Kaddish for his father, and differs with Rabbi Tukaccinsky, z”l, on this matter. He reiterates the point made above that in any case the Kaddish of a wicked son [who is forced to recite Kaddish for his father] would do more harm than good.”

It is obvious that both Rabbi Assaf and Rabbi Zerihan are discussing the distressing case of a son who refuses to allow himself to come under the influence of the rabbis. But Kiddushin 50a, which Rabbi Assaf cites, teaches us that there really is no wicked son, only a wayward son, who with some “initial coercion” can be brought back to the straight path.

Indeed, most would view such a son saying Kaddish as a step, even if only a small one, up the ladder for his own neshama as he offers nachat ruach (tranquil satisfaction) to the soul of his parent as well.

We have cases of “anus rachmana patrei” – of heaven absolving a person if he is prevented from fulfilling a mitzvah (in this case, saying Kaddish) due to matters beyond his control, but how will the soul receive the nachat ruach from Kaddish for which it desperately awaits in such circumstances?

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com and Rabbi@igud.us.