Dear R Simon,
Following on from last week’s Q&A on the significance of yahrzeit, is there a non-kabbalistically inclined take on this? For example, I recall hearing that kaddish only became associated with mourning in the medieval period. Also the idea that some say kaddish with their own psychological benefit in mind, as opposed to an elevation for the neshamah of the deceased. I think I remember reading a paper on this subject by (Rabbi) Natan Slifkin.
(Fortunately these concerns are not practical for my wife and me at the moment.
Thank you for your question (and for demonstrating that you read Kesher Connections).
In brief, I would say that from a strictly rationalist point of view, the observances of yahrzeit may be regarded as having an emotional and psychological benefit for the son/daughter (or other descendent, or even admirer) of the deceased, as distinct from the “benefit” accruing to the soul in the next world. BTW, the Talmud discusses how various aspects of the process of mourning are primarily for the “honour of the living” or, alternatively, for the “honour of the dead”. The Talmud also notes that in some cases it may be both. It is possible that yahrzeit honours the dead (even if one takes the view that “benefiting” them is not possible) and benefits the living.
Then again, from a psychological perspective, the benefit for the one who recites kaddish is presumably partly dependent on the notion that doing so benefits the soul of the departed parent. Either way, there is wisdom in the collective genius of the Jewish People, as a means of coping with loss and honouring the past.
BTW, the Slifkin article is here, http://www.zootorah.com/RationalistJudaism/What%20Can%20One%20Do%20For%20Someone%20Who%20Has%20Passed%20Away.pdf. It does indeed have implications for yahrzeit.
For lots more insights and a fascinating and intellectual, yet moving (and sometimes heterodox), genre-defying and award-winning book, read Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier.
May we only share good news.
Rabbi Rashi Simon