Over the generations, our Sages have suggested many ways to help commemorate the memory of our loved ones. One central practice is the recitation of Kaddish. However, when one is unable to recite Kaddish, other potent options are also available.
It is traditional to learn Mishna in honor of the soul. This can be seen in the word Mishna משנה which contains the same letters as נשמה, the soul. Prayer is also powerful; and, of course giving tzedakah as well. Therefore, each day we will be offering this ceremony, which incorporates all three, to stand in place of kaddish--until our daily minyan resumes. Of course, you should still daven three times a day, and are encouraged to join our daily Mincha-Maariv call-in, which will incorporate a Kel Maleh/Memorial prayer for the Yahrtzeits of the day as well as a Dvar Torah.
Open the service with a prayer (listed below) and Tehillim. Each day we will provide a different Mishna with brief commentary and guiding questions. Read the Mishna, in either English or Hebrew… or both, and review the commentary. If it so interests you, answer the guiding questions as well. Then, set aside any amount of money for tzedakah in honor of your loved one.
May these important mitzvot provide an עילוי נשמה, an elevation of the soul, for your loved one and help all of Am Yisrael and the world in these difficult times.
May my prayer, Torah learning, and tzedakah stand in the merit of _______________ b. ________________ (add the Hebrew name and the Hebrew name of their father).
מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד ה' רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר. בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי עַל-מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי. נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי-צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ. גַּם כִּי אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת לֹא-אִירָא רָע כִּי אַתָּה עִמָּדִי. שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי. תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי שֻׁלְחָן נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי. דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה. אַךְ טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּי. וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה' לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים.
A song of David: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not lack. God causes me to lie down in lush pastures, God leads me beside tranquil waters. God restores my soul, and leads me in righteous paths for God’s name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your scepter and staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in full view of my adversaries; You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows. May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord for length of days.
2. Mishna Learning (Review of Chapters of the Fathers 3:20-21)
On weekends, we will review the mishnas from the week. It’s always good to go over the material and arrive at new understandings and interpretations. Learn one mishna or more!
Chapters of the Fathers 3, 20
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, הַכֹּל נָתוּן בְּעֵרָבוֹן, וּמְצוּדָה פְרוּסָה עַל כָּל הַחַיִּים. הַחֲנוּת פְּתוּחָה, וְהַחֶנְוָנִי מֵקִיף, וְהַפִּנְקָס פָּתוּחַ, וְהַיָּד כּוֹתֶבֶת, וְכָל הָרוֹצֶה לִלְווֹת יָבֹא וְיִלְוֶה, וְהַגַּבָּאִים מַחֲזִירִים תָּדִיר בְּכָל יוֹם, וְנִפְרָעִין מִן הָאָדָם מִדַּעְתּוֹ וְשֶׁלֹּא מִדַּעְתּוֹ, וְיֵשׁ לָהֶם עַל מַה שֶּׁיִּסְמֹכוּ, וְהַדִּין דִּין אֱמֶת, וְהַכֹּל מְתֻקָּן לַסְּעוּדָה:
He used to say: everything is given against a pledge, and a net is spread out over all the living; the store is open and the storekeeper allows credit, but the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow; but the collectors go round regularly every day and exact dues from man, either with his consent or without his consent, and they have that on which they [can] rely [in their claims], seeing that the judgment is a righteous judgment, and everything is prepared for the banquet.
This is the last of Rabbi Akiva’s four consecutive sayings. The imagery in this mishna is taken from a store and its storekeeper. In another statement of Rabbi Akiva’s (Mishna Yoma 8:9), Hashem is referred to as a parent: “Rabbi Akiva said: Happy are you, Israel! Who is it before whom you become pure? And who is it that purifies you? Your Father who is in heaven, as it is said: “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean” (Ezekiel 36:25). And it further says: “O hope (mikveh) of Israel, O Lord” (Jeremiah 17:1--just as a mikveh purifies the unclean, so too does he Holy One, blessed be He, purify Israel.”
These two forms of imagery relay an ostensibly different experience of Hashem. One time, when I was in yeshiva, our rabbi encouraged us to express how different our personal experience of Hashem would be if we used feminine language. Instead of Father and King, how would it feel if we referred to Hashem as Mother and Queen? Many of the students in the class said, “If I spoke of Hashem as Mother, I would see Hashem as much nicer and more sensitive.” Each form of imagery relays a different message. It’s worth delving into why and when we choose one over the other.
Hashem as Father does kindnesses for us, oftentimes unconditionally. In Rabbi Akiva’s statement, Hashem, as Father, purifies us on Yom Kippur, out of His kindness. A storekeeper, on the other hand, is much more demanding. Everything we benefit from in the store is only given to us against a pledge, on collateral. And even if we do take items home for our own use, without payment or collateral, it's always on credit. There are no unconditional handouts (at least not in this store!). We have to pay back what we took. And if we don’t? Creditors will make sure we end up returning our debt, whether we consent or not. And they are in the right because “the judgment is a righteous judgment.”
What’s all of this about? Why all of the pressure? And what is this debt the mishna is referring to? I like to read this mishna as relaying the underlying purpose of the skills and blessings we each have and benefit from in our lives. We enter this world and enjoy many pleasures and blessings. This is like going into a store and seeing enticing items on the shelves. But the items are not free. And in an ideal world we should understand that our blessings are also not “free.” We owe a debt when it comes to our benefit from them--to Hashem and to others. We ideally should be using our skills in the service of Hashem and sharing our blessings with others. Hashem is very much interested in this, to the point that we will be “hounded” by Hashem and Hashem’s collectors until we use these skills in Hashem’s service.
I’ll give you an example. You are a very talented musician. You can obviously make a lot of money from this talent. This is fine and even worthwhile. But it’s also important to use this skill with the intention to help and uplift others, even when you are earning a living from playing this music. It’s about channeling our skills to help others.
Based on this explanation, I believe the storekeeper and the father imagery do not really contradict. Hashem, as our beloved Father, loves all of us like children. This is why Hashem, like any good parent, wants us to share with each other. We are granted gifts and presents to enjoy, but like in any family, we must share with our siblings and let them enjoy our skills and talents as well. The purpose of it all is so that we can all enjoy life together, as those do at a banquet, prepared and arranged for everyone’s enjoyment: “and everything is prepared for the banquet.”
Chapters of the Fathers 3, 21
רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה, אֵין דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. אִם אֵין דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, אֵין תּוֹרָה. אִם אֵין חָכְמָה, אֵין יִרְאָה. אִם אֵין יִרְאָה, אֵין חָכְמָה. אִם אֵין בִּינָה, אֵין דַּעַת. אִם אֵין דַּעַת, אֵין בִּינָה. אִם אֵין קֶמַח, אֵין תּוֹרָה. אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה, אֵין קֶמַח.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says: If there is no Torah, there is no worldly occupation, if there is no worldly occupation, there is no Torah. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of God; if there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no knowledge. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.
Whenever I read this Mishna, I am reminded of a statement of a later authority, Rava (4th cent. CE), that discusses what happens when we pass on to the next world. It lists questions we are asked by the heavenly tribune:
Rava said: After departing from this world, when a person is brought to judgment for the life he lived in this world, they say to him:
Did you conduct business faithfully? Did you designate times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation? Did you await salvation? Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom or understand one matter from another? (BTalmud, Shabbat 31a)
All of the traits mentioned in our mishna appear in Rava’s teaching, in one form or another. This points to their ultimate importance, as these are “the” topics addressed during one’s judgement.
Let’s go through the parallels. Our mishna opens mentioning Torah and derech eretz. Above, derech eretz is translated to “worldly occupation.” However, this term also refers to conjugal relations (in the maggid section of the Haggadah we mention prishut derech eretz which translates to separating from conjugal relations). Here we have two questions: “Did you designate times for Torah study?”; “Did you engage in procreation?”
Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding from our mishna correspond to: “Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom or understand one matter from another?” Fear of G-d is connected to: “Did you await salvation?” Believing that there is a purpose and a divine hand who will bring salvation is based on fear of heaven. And the first question, “Did you conduct business faithfully?” is related to the “flour” mentioned at the end of our mishna which refers to earning a livelihood.
In sum, between the two sources, this is what’s important to focus on:
I once gave a sermon on what Modern Orthodoxy can learn from Chabad. There is much to learn, but there is one item on this list that stands out: yearning for salvation.
Modern Orthodoxy is filled with Torah and secular knowledge. People earn a good living and families include many children. This checks off four out of the five boxes, which is commendable. However, when it comes to an active faith and yearning for Mashiach and the redemptive era, there is much to learn from Chabad. This is more of a central focus in Chabad circles.
Rava’s statement reveals how important these values are. Our mishna reminds us that each trait is interdependent on the other. And I am adding that as a nation we must be careful to steer away from denominational politics and come together so that each group can strengthen the other through their stronger values.
In the language of our mishna: if there is no Modern Orthodoxy, there is no Chabad; if there is no Chabad, there is no Modern Orthodoxy. And this can be said for other streams as well. To be sure, I am not speaking existentially: these movements are self-sufficient. I am speaking in terms of each being open to being its best by looking around and taking the good that is accentuated in other groups.
This is my dream for the Jewish world. If we do so, we will live in harmony with each other and enjoy many blessings—in this world and the next.
Set aside tzedakah in memory and in the merit of your loved one.