We were holding kabbalah study group tonight at Beit Malkhut, and I don’t know how it came up. But you know how study groups go — one topic leads to another.
We started with the Kaddish — the Mourner’s Prayer — since all of us had something to mourn, and it was time to explore and see what we could ferret out. I was prepared to be thoroughly annoyed. Which is my initial mode in all these inquiries, especially when they have to do with prayer.
I have a problem with prayers.
What bugs me about them is that the melodies completely draw you in, especially when they slip into a minor key or something equally compelling for which I (who know nothing about music) have no language to describe. So there you are sucked in by the beauty of it — and so it works as ritual, and is very powerful, right?
But then you pick at it. What does this really mean?? The Kaddish is in Aramaic, not Hebrew, but it’s pretty recognizable for the most part.
My rule in study group is, however, not to assume that we know what something means. Instead, we use our Gesenius Lexicon (which does include the Aramaic) and track down every form of every root until we uncover the mysteries imbedded in the text.
I had very low expectations. But that’s what makes it so fun. That’s what makes being a Pessimist so rewarding. With such low expectations, the discoveries become minor awe-inspiring miracles.
In English, the translations are sychophantic, repetitive and well, just plain cloying and annoying. There’s gotta be more to it than that. Why all the glory, glory glory, going on and on about just how terrific our god is? And what’s that got to do with mourning?
Turns out that the Kaddish began to be used for mourning in the 13th century during Crusades and pogroms, as a public affirmation of faith in the face of pogromic annihilation. That is, instead of using the Shma for that purpose. Thus, the Mourner’s Kaddish was a public display of adherence to one’s faith, and that’s why it doesn’t say one damned thing that might comfort someone’s terrible loss.
The words in English are trite, not just repetitive. But looking them up, a vivid picture emerged. Not one of dying and death and loss, but of a joyous celebration. A wedding, if you will.
And god is the bridegroom. He is adorned with a special turban and set upon a special chair (or throne), and lifted into the air with great exaltation. It’s a wedding celebration, joyous, and filled with laughter. Who’s the bride? Well, we are. And our recitation binds our union. Our act of unification. And then there’s the description of his tumescence (translated as ‘might’ and ‘arising’) — it’s pretty heady stuff.
In other words, hidden in the Aramaic is an alternate tale that can be uncovered — showing that exultation, showing what form it takes.
Then I checked out Reb Schneerson.
Reb Schneerson says (in an address on the yahrtzeit of Isaac Luria, the Ari), that our remembrance should be filled with joy and laughter, and not be immersed in the sorrow of the day. Which verifies my own deconstruction of the Kaddish puzzle. For, says Reb Schneerson, for on that day, as we honor the Ari, his revelations open to us, and what should we do, but dance and laugh.
Wow, was he right.
He then goes on to say that when we take in this knowledge from those who have died before us, and as we celebrate their yahrtzeit, the revelations sink right into our very nefesh, deeper and deeper and imbed not just into our mind (sechel) but into our physical being. It burrows into our very brains, and creates more convolutions than previously existed.
It expands our cerebral cortex. It expands our brains.
In one fell swoop he goes from mourning, to kaddish to revelation, to increased brain capacity and power. Just like that.
Does the fact that I’m in shock make him wrong?
I mean, what can I say? He’s the one who’s been proclaimed the mashiach, after all. He’s got his science down pat to back him up. Who am I to say he’s wrong?
Maybe it was all the talk of Crusades and pogroms. Maybe talk of new knowledge. Dunno.
But out came one of my war stories, that I’d not told in quite a long time, and deserves its hearing right now, right here. A great story, really.
But by now it’s late, and my eyes are closing of their own volition, and my head is threatening to crash down upon the keyboard without permission, and I can’t possibly give the tale its due. And it just started raining, and got suddenly cold.
And so, I’ll save it maybe for shabbes, and for the moment say goodnight. And savor the revelations we discovered in the kaddish. And that Reb Schneerson just maybe, maybe might be right.