(Endangered minhog #2)
We know the importance and power of קדיש, and it’s focal point of אמן יהא שמיה רבא מברך וכו, from the words of חז”ל. One frequently cited gemara in this regard tells us אמר ריב”ל כל העונה איש”ר מברך בכל כחו (רש”י – בכל כוונתו) קורעין לו גזר דינו – whoever answers amein yehei shemei rabba with all his strength, which Rashi there explains means with total concentration, has his gezar din (evil decree against him) torn up.
There are campaigns to make people aware of this, and arouse them to the importance of saying איש”ר properly. Sometimes they emphasize kavannah, as per Rashi cited above, while some others also emphasize answering loudly, as per a peshat which Tosefos brings there, after agreeing with Rashi. At the same time, however, another, ancient way, of increasing the focus, power, and meaning of kaddish, has almost disappeared, been ignored, and is in danger of fading away, חס ושלום.
What is this powerful tool of which I write? It is the age-old מנהג אשכנז way, in which saying kaddish is a singular experience!
In that ancient tradition, only one person says kaddish at a time. That enables the congregation to focus on, and tune in to the kaddish, and the kaddish reciter, with utmost clarity and concentration, thereby making the level of בכל כחו – בכל כוונתו much more within reach. This is especially so in the modern world, especially in large urban areas, where ears are under almost constant assault with a toxic cocktail of sounds. Despite all the talk nowadays of people multitasking (the folly of which is discussed here), the fact is that multiple simultaneous stimuli take a significant toll on people’s concentration (as well as מנוחת הנפש, but that is a different discussion). On the other hand, when one hears only a single voice (ideally properly paced and at appropriate volume, in an otherwise quiet Shul), that stands out, and enables increased focus and concentration. Without a cacophonious assault on one’s hearing, one can definitely better focus on the words of kaddish and their meaning.
Furthermore, in this way of doing things, the one reciting kaddish knows that the congregation is focused solely on him, and that energizes him to the power of what he is doing. He is the only one who is, so to speak, controlling the tzibbur at the moment, and this great power, the powerful spiritual tools of kaddish and איש”ר, are in his hands, and under his control. This ideally leads him to greater כוונה (focus).
ברוך השם, there are still some people and communities, including (but not necessarily limited to) the followers of מנהג אשכנז, טעלז, והחזון איש among אשכנזים who have retained this ancient, powerful tradition. There was even a well known Chassidishe Rebbe, R. Yitzchok Isaac of Komarno, who had this minhog as well, and felt very strongly about it. He went as far as to say (שלחן הטהור, או”ח סימן קל”ב) that more than one person saying kaddish at a time is a פגם גדול! And, believe it or not, there are also some Sepharadim that are makpid on it as well. It is the minhog of Sepharadim from Djerba, Tunisia, the ירושלים of that country (most of this paragraph is based on what I heard in a wide-ranging shiur from רבש”ה, which we may get into more later).
We can learn from those masters how to put the power back into our kaddeishim. Those of us who have lost touch with this ancient and simple, yet powerful practice, relatively recently, can explore ways to reincorporate this minhog into our observance, as our forefathers practiced it. If we do so, in the spirit of חדש ימינו כקדם, we can then beseech הקב”ה, to do the same, אכי”ר.
Let us learn from our ancestors a way to help us ramp up the power of the kaddish and איש”ר experiences, so that we can hopefully make them so powerful, that it will be said in heaven,