Rabbi Zahavy’s response to my letter (“Kaddish, Kedushah and Angels, ” May 24) concerning the efficacy of the Kaddish and the meaning of the Kedushah is both confusing and incomplete. On the one hand, he admits that our prayers – and specifically the Kaddish – do not cause God to act regarding the souls of our departed. Then he immediately contradicts that by writing that God hears and answers his prayers (meaning the Kaddish and/or the El Maleh Rachamim) about the immortality of his parents’ souls. He also completely ignores my question, given that angels have no free will, about why in the Kedushah the Creator of the Universe needs to hear words of praise from beings who have no choice in the matter.
Perhaps Rabbi Zahavy can clarify further.
Dear Rabbi, Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, responds:
My intent in my column is to encourage an open, nondenominational, and non-judgmental discussion of basic Judaic issues. So I am grateful for the Talmudic questions from Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Sutton. Both writers take prayers seriously, and they raise legitimate concerns. I wish I could give Mr. Bernstein a clearer description of how prayer affects God’s decisions. Our great philosophers and theologians agree on the one hand that our prayer does not force God to act. Belief that prayer compels God would be a heresy that equates prayer with magic. Yet our great minds are equally sure that God hears our prayers and takes them into account in determining our fate. Note well that the members of our congregations may have personal beliefs on this matter that are not based on our official theology or philosophy but are to them equally valid and meaningful.
On the second question, the idea that angels sing praises to God is biblical, as for example in Psalm 148. I confess to a lack of further expertise in matters between God and his angels.
Mr. Sutton’s meaningful and personal theological explanations remind me once again that ordained rabbis do not have an exclusive franchise on our theology. Members of the community at large can be a great source of creative insights.
Please continue to write in to Dear Rabbi and agree or disagree. I look forward to reading more of your questions, insights, and challenges.