The Power of Kaddish – Rabbi Akiva

There is a story told in the Talmud.
Rabbi Akiva was walking in a forest. He saw a man, darkened with coal dust, carrying a heavy load of fire wood on his shoulders and running as fast as his legs would carry him. Rabbi Akiva commanded the man to stop.
“Why are you running with such a heavy burden? If you are a slave, I shall free you! If you are poor and must exert yourself to such an inhuman extent, let me give you money and make you rich”

“Please,” the man entreated Rabbi Akiva, “Let me go and continue my work!”

“Are you human or are you from the demons?”

“I am neither a poor man nor a slave. I am a soul that is being punished by collecting huge amounts of fire wood for a giant fire into which I am to be thrown.”

“Tell me, what was your occupation when you lived in this world?”
The man answered, “I was a tax collector. I took bribes from the wealthy, and I had the poor killed. Not only that, I had illicit relations with a betrothed girl on the holiest day of the year, on Yom Kippur.”

Rabbi Akiva inquired, “My son, have you not heard that something from the other worlds that could be done to help you and help with your suffering?”

“Please,” he cried, “Allow me to resume my work. My task masters will be angry with me and punish me further. They say that I have no way of being redeemed. Had I had a son who would stand up in front of others and cause others to praise G-d, then they could release me from this punishment. But I left a wife who was pregnant, I don’t know if she had a son or daughter? And if he were a boy, who would teach him Torah for me?”
“What is your name?”

“My name is Akiva, my wife’s name is Shosmira, and I was from the place called Elduka.”
Rabbi Akiva felt extremely bad because of this soul and he searched from village to village until he came to that very place. He asked in the village, “Where is this Akiva’s house?”

The villagers answered in hatred, “May his bones be ground to dust in Hell!”

“Where is this man’s wife?”

The villagers answered with bitterness, “May her name and memory be blotted out from this world!”

“Where is this man’s child?”

“He is uncircumcised, and no one will circumcise him!”

Rabbi Akiva found & grabbed the man’s son and began to teach him Torah. Rabbi Akiva fasted for forty days and then heard a voice from heaven. “Rabbi Akiva, do you fast for this boy?”

Rabbi Akiva answered, “Yes!”

Teach him to read and write. Teach him to say the grace after meals, teach him to say ‘Shema’ and to pray.” When the boy shall pray in public, causing the people to praise G-d’s name, then the punishment shall be lifted from this man soul.”

When this happened, the soul of the man came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream.. “You have spared my soul from the punishments of Hell.”

(This story is from one of the many legends found in the Talmud. In the Zohar Chadash, it is mentioned that the prayer is the Kaddish.)

What is the power that is demonstrated here? What can cause a evil man to be redeemed from a fitting punishment?
The answer is simple. The redemption is not in the mere saying of Kaddish, but in causing others to praise G-d. Children who live lives of doing good, bring credit to their parents.

Judgment is not only on the deeds that are done, judgment is also on the actions that are caused. If a man leaves a child who increases the respect that others have for G-d, then it is a credit for the parents, even if the parent is evil. This is the secret of the greatness of the Kaddish, that the causing of others to acknowledge the greatness of G-d in public can serve to counter balance the evil that was perpetrated by the parent.

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