Reciting Kaddish is one of the most well-known practices that mourners observe as a merit for the ‘neshamah’ (soul) of their departed. Yet, given the obvious fact that there is no mention of death or the departed in Kaddish, we are challenged to understand what the connection is.
Rav Meir Shapiro of Lublin (the ‘creator’ of the Daf Yomi program) offered the following insight: The purpose of a Jew is to sanctify Hashem’s name in this world. The more Jews there are in the world, the greater Holiness of G-d’s name.
We find this illustrated in the Mishnah in Berachos (7:3), which discusses the laws of grace after meals or “bentching”: When three Jewish men bentch together, they join in a zimun and say, “Nevarech she’achalnu mishelo, Let us bless the One from Whom we have eaten.” When ten men bentch together, they say, “Nevarech Elokeinu she’achalnu mishelo, Let us bless our G-d, the One from Whom we have eaten.” And when one hundred men bentch together, they say, “Nevarech Hashem Elokeinu she’achalnu mishelo, Let us bless the Lord, our G-d, the One from Whom we have eaten.” Thus, the more Jews, the more G-d’s Name is magnified and glorified. The more Jews in this world, the more G-dliness in this world. And conversely, when a Jew passes from this world, this causes a corresponding diminishment of G-dliness and sanctification of Hashem’s Name here.
So when a relative of the departed or surrogate stands before the congregation and prays that Hashem’s Name should not be diminished but rather glorified in this world, he thereby offers himself as a substitute to take the place of the departed, to shoulder the responsibility that the departed Jew is no longer able to fulfill — to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim ba’olam (sanctify G-d’s name in this world).
A story is told about the Alter of Slobodka: When the father of his student, Rav Reuven Grozovsky, passed away, Rav Reuven had just gotten married. The new
s came to the Alter, but he decided not to inform Rav Reuven immediately, so as not to diminish his joy. The Alter explained his reasoning for doing so as follows: The reason why one normally has to inform a son about the passing of his father is so the son will say Kaddish for him. In this case, though, there was no need to inform him immediately, because in any case Rav Reuven’s entire life was a kiddush Shem Shamayim (sanctifying his name). All of his deeds were one living, breathing Kaddish.