A number of years ago here in Deal, New Jersey a woman approached Rabbi Diamond to have Kaddish recited on behalf of her father. Rabbi Aboud, who had taken upon himself the sacred task of reciting Kaddish for those who cannot, was given the name to recite for Kaddish. A few weeks later the woman came back to Rabbi Diamond worried, as she had a dream in which her father came to her complaining, “Why is no one reciting Kaddish for me?” Rabbi Diamond asked Rabbi Aboud if the name was entered into his list, to which he replied yes. However, upon closer examination, it turned out that the name was inverted – instead of Shemuel ben Hannah, it was written as Hannah bat Shemuel.  

The importance and reality of reciting Kaddish cannot be overstated. With that in mind, we have outlined many points to understand and appreciate the Kaddish, greatly enhancing its meaning and focus to fulfill our ultimate goal of Kiddush Hashem. 


What is the earliest source of Kaddish?  

We find in the gemara that “one who recites Yehe Sheme Rabba” with all of his might/concentration, can reverse a lifetime decree. Yet we find an earlier source taught in Targum Yerushalmi. When Yaakov Avinu gathered his children around his bed and wanted to share with them the time of the arrival of Mashiach, the prophecy was hidden from him. Yaakov Avinu expressed his concern that just as his grandfather and father had a wayward child, perhaps one of his children – although externally they seemed all devout – internally may be wayward, thereby causing the prophecy of Mashiach to be hidden. They all in unison responded, “Shema (listen) – Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu, Hashem Ehad.” To that, Yaakov answered, “Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuto…” which in Aramaic Targum is stated as “Yehe Shemeh Rabba…”  


Why is Kaddish such an important prayer for the deceased? 

The life mission of a person can be encapsulated as personifying Kiddush Hashem. When a person passes away there is a void in which that person cannot sanctify the Name of Hashem amongst the living. We therefore fill in for that person, in their merit, prayers that are of the utmost declaration of Sanctification of Hashem.  

Additionally, if that person while in this world did not fully achieve Sanctification of the Name of Hashem, and/or perhaps that person’s soul requires a period of purging, the Kaddish directly elevates the soul of that person.  

There is an added significance when Kaddish is recited by the child of the deceased, as the child perpetuates the memory of his parent by coming to sanctify the Name of Hashem, and creates the most powerful Kiddush Hashem of the parent although the parent is deceased. 


When do we say “Al Yisrael” and when “Yehe Shelama”? 

When words of Written Torah of Tanach are recited, such as after the recitation of Tehillim, or after Shir shel yom, Kaddish Yehe Shelama is recited. The extra blessings of Yehe Shelama refer to life, satiation, salvation, comforting, healing, etc. in the merit of the Torah read.  

“Al Yisrael” is recited after the study of Oral Torah, which is taught and transmitted by our Rabbis. For example, after a class on Torah or after the last segment of Shaharit that has teachings of gemara and teachings of Eliyahu Hanavi. The extra blessings relate to sustaining all who study and dedicate their life to Torah and specifically the Rabbis and students of Torah, who transmit the Oral Torah, to merit charm, kindness, and mercy from Hashem. 


Why do we need a minyan to recite Kaddish? 

Parts of our prayer require ten men, whereas other parts one recites while praying even alone. This is determined whether it is of the status of “Kedusha” i.e. “davar shebikdusha” such as Barechu, Nakdishach, Vaya’avor, etc. Reciting Kaddish is a “davar she’bikdusha” as its essence is the public glorification and sanctification of the Name of Hashem. 

When reciting Kaddish, the minyan needs to be present for what precedes the Kaddish that it is being said upon. For example, if the congregation recited Ashre before there was a minyan and then a minyan arrived, at least the last few pesukim should be recited out loud with the minyan present and then the Kaddish can be recited. Or when calling in someone to complete a minyan after a class, at least Ribbi Hanania should be recited with all ten present.  


Why do we keep our feet together? 

The essence of Kaddish is highlighted by “Yehe Shemeh Rabba…” which as stated translates as, “Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto L’olam Va’ed.” This, as we know, is a proclamation ascribed to the angels, as we recite “Baruch Shem…” in an undertone by Shema, and only out loud on Yom Kippur when we are in an angelic state. Therefore, as angels are described as being with “one straight foot” we keep our feet together, as we do during the Amidah. 


Why is Kaddish in Aramaic? 

As stated previously, the essence of the Kaddish “Yehe Sheme Rabba…” is a proclamation ascribed to the angels. So just as when we state “Baruch Shem…” we recite it in an undertone so as not to provoke the angels, when they see mere human beings reciting such a lofty praise. In a similar way we recite Kaddish in Aramaic, which is a language not understood by the angels. 


Do I need to sit or stand during Kaddish? 

The one reciting Kaddish stands, as stated, with their feet together, just like when praying the Amidah. In a similar vein, some say the one saying Kaddish should also face eastward as praise of Hashem is akin to prayer.  

The ones listening do not need to stand for Kaddish if they were already sitting (according to Sefaradim and some Ashkenazim). If they were standing when Kaddish started, they should stand until after reciting “Yehe Sheme Rabbah…” or until the end of the Hatsi Kaddish. Hacham Ovadia, zt’l, writes that one should not jump to sit if it is immediately before a Kaddish, as this shows a level of disrespect for Kaddish. 


When does the one reciting Kaddish bow? 

There are five points in the Kaddish where one should bow. According to some they are when saying the words yitgadal, yehe sheme rabba, yitbarach, berich hu, and at the last amen after da’amiran be’almah. (Thus, one is bowing at the beginning and the end of Kaddish and at the beginning and end of “Yehe Sheme Rabba….”) Others say one should bow at the end of each stanza of the Hatsi Kaddish when the congregation answers amen. 


When do we take three steps back after Kaddish? 

Many have the custom of taking three steps back at the end of every full Kaddish, and then bowing to the left, right, and center when saying “Oseh Shalom…” similar to the end of the Amidah. According to some opinions, only the hazan, when reciting kaddish Titkabal, takes three steps back as this is actually the end of his Amidah, but for a regular Kaddish, the three steps back at the end are not necessary. 


In Conclusion 

Kaddish is a life-changing prayer. We should appreciate every opportunity to answer, recite, and even listen to Kaddish with utmost concentration. 

All spaceship prototypes over the past many decades have always consisted of a main capsule accompanied by auxiliary boosters and fuel storage tanks. This enables the rocket to launch, break through the atmosphere and stratosphere, and then continue on its own to the farthest ends of the galaxy. The initial thrust creating millions of pounds of pressure requires much fuel and energy to be expended. The soul is like the capsule directed to reach the highest heights of Heaven. However, the soul requires auxiliary boosters to lift it. It is through every misvah, and especially the Kaddish that is recited for the soul, that lifts the soul higher and higher to its greatest heights in Heaven.