Sanhedrin 104a: Why didn’t Amon lose his share in Olam Haba? Because of his son Yoshiyahu. If so, Menashe should also have a share due to his father Chizkiyahu! – A son can bring merit to his father, but a father cannot bring merit to his son.
סנהדרין קד ע”א. מפני מה לא מנו את אמון ־ מפני כבודו של יאשיהו. מנשה נמי לא נמני מפני כבודו של חזקיהוִ ־ ברא מזכי אבא. אבא לא מזכי ברא, דכתיב (דברים ל״ב) ואין מידי מציל, אין אברהם מציל את ישמעאל, אין יצחק מציל את עשו.
When Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman was 14 years old and learning in Slobodka, then exiled in Minsk, he displayed amazing hasmadah. When word reached the yeshiva a week after Sukkos that the young man’s father had died, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slobodka, decided to withhold the information from him until Pesach. The Alter was afraid R’ Yaakov Yitzchok’s diligence might slack and he might not fulfil his Rosh Hashanah resolution to complete Shas that winter (according to other versions of the story, it was Seder Nezikin or Seder Kodshim). The Alter ruled that the orphan’s study of Torah was a greater Kiddush Hashem than the reciting of Kaddish on which he was missing out.
The Alter used a similar approach with R’ Reuven Grozovsky, saying, “Why should we tell Reb Reuven that his father died? So that he should say Kaddish? He says Yisgadel V’yiskadesh Shmeih Raba 24 hours a day!”
When Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky told this story about Reb Reuven, he added, “I want this story to remain for generations.”
Source: Making of a Godol p. 165
[The Rema in Yoreh Deah 376 says that the source for saying Kaddish is a story in the Midrash about Rabbi Akiva. The Kol Bo and the Rivash quote it from the Tanchuma and Sifri, but I was unable to locate these sources. The Rabbeinu Bachya quotes it from Maseches Kallah Chapter 2.
רמ”א יו”ד שע”ו ס”ד: ונמצא במדרשות לומר קדיש על אב (כל בו וריב״ש בשם תנחומא וספרי ובחיי בשם מסכת כלה וב״י בשם הזוהר ובא״ז בשם תנא דבי אליהו רבא).
Maseches Kallah 2: Rabbi Akiva went out to a certain place and found a man carrying a load on his shoulder that he was unable to bear, and he was crying and groaning. He asked him, “What happened to you?” He said, “I committed every sin in the world while I was alive, and now there are guards over me and they do not allow me any rest.” Rabbi Akiva said, “Did you leave a son?” He said, “By your life, do not ask me, because I am afraid of the angels who are beating me with fiery lashes and saying, why can’t you get the work done faster?” He said, “I will tell them to leave you alone.” He said, “I left my wife pregnant.” Rabbi Akiva traveled to his city and said, “Where is the son of so-and-so?” They said, “May the memory of his ground bones be erased.” He said, “Why?” They said, “He was a robber who killed and harmed people, and he consorted with a betrothed girl on Yom Kippur.” He went to his house and found his wife pregnant. He waited until she gave birth, and made a bris for the child. When he was old enough, he brought him to shul to say blessings in public. Later Rabbi Akiva returned to that place and the man appeared to him and said, “May your mind find rest, for you have allowed me to rest.”
ר׳ עקיבא נפק לההוא אתרא אשכחיה לההוא גברא דהוי דרי טונא אכתפיה ולא הוה מצי לסגויי ביה והוה צוח ומתאנח א״ל מאי עבידתיך א״ל לא שבקנא איסורא דלא עבידנא בההיא עלמא ועכשיו איכא נטורין עילוון ולא שבקין לי דינוח א״ל רבי עקיבא שבקת ברא א״ל בחייך לא תשלין דדחילנא ממלאכי דמחו לי בפולסי דנורא ואמרין לי אמאי לא תיתי בפריע א״ל אימא ליה דקא ניחותך א״ל שבקית אתתא מעברתא אזל ר׳ עקיבא עאל לההיא מדינתא אמר להו בריה דפלוני היכא אמרו ליה יעקר זכרו דההוא שחיק עצמות א״ל אמאי אמרו ליה ההוא לסטים אכל אינשי ומצער בריתא ולא עוד אלא שבא על נערה המאורסה ביום הכפורים אזל לביתיה אשכח אתתיה מעוברתא נטרה עד דילדה אזל מהליה לכי גדל אוקמי׳ בבי כנישתא לברוכי בקהלא לימים אזל ר׳ עקיבא לההוא אתרא איתחזי ליה א״ל תנוח דעתך שהנחת את דעתי.
The Beis Yosef quotes it from the Zohar:
כתב הכלבו על מה שנמצא בהגדה שפעם אחד פגע רבי פלוני באחד שהיה מקושש עצים וכו’ אמר ליה אין מי שיצילני אם לא שיאמר בני קדיש א’ או יפטיר בנביא על זה פשט המנהג לומר בנו של מת קדיש בתרא כל י”ב חדש וגם להפטיר בנביא ויש שמתפללין כל מוצאי שבת תפלת ערבית לפי שבאותה שעה חוזרין הרשעים לגיהנם ואיפשר שתגן עליהם אותה תפלה והמעשה הזה הוא בזוהר בסוף פרשה אחרי מות.
The Zohar is the Zohar Chadash at the end of Acharei Mos, 60b. There the end of the story is:
“The dead father of the child, who had been punished, came to the sage in a dream and said: Rabbi, may Hashem comfort you as much as you comforted me. When my son said the Haftarah in public, they released me from punishment. When he led the prayers and said Kaddish, they completely tore up my decree. When he became a scholar, they gave me a portion in Gan Eden, and they granted me entrance into the yeshiva of tzaddikim. And when he became an even bigger scholar and they called him Rabbi, they crowned me with the crown that tzaddikim wear, and they gave me from the pleasure of the shine of the Shechinah.”
This Zohar supports the Alter’s contention that learning Torah is more valuable than saying kaddish.
However, there is a second issue here: how could the Alter make Rav Ruderman miss out on sitting shiva in favor of learning? Clearly if Chazal say an aveil should not learn, they are teaching that aveilus is better for the neshamah than learning.
This would depend on whether aveilus is for the dead person, or for the live person. Perhaps it is for the live person’s comfort or emotional health. If so, in this case where the aveil doesn’t know he is an aveil, there would be no problem in missing it.
This question is discussed in Yoreh Deah 344:10. The Rema quotes Rabbeinu Yerucham who says that if a father instructed his children not to sit shiva for him, they must sit shiva anyway. Rabbeinu Yerucham must have understood shiva as being for the sake of the living people. But Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that in the following siman (345:1) the halacha is that we don’t sit shiva for someone who committed suicide. This halacha comes from Aveil Rabasi, where it says that for a suicide we don’t do anything that is for the honor of the dead, but we do things that are for the honor of the living. The Rambam classifies shiva as the honor of the dead, while the Ramban classifies it as the honor of the living. Since we pasken like the Rambam, the Rema should not have paskened like Rabbeinu Yerucham.
The Alter’s choice to deprive Rav Ruderman’s father of shiva would thus make sense only according to the Rema. However, it could be that he held that since other relatives were already sitting shiva, the honor of the dead was fulfilled, and there was no need for Rav Ruderman to sit shiva as well. Alternatively, perhaps he held that for the honor of the dead, it would be enough to sit for a short time several months later (שמועה רחוקה).
In the Gemara we began with, Chazal derive the idea that a righteous father cannot save a bad son from the posuk in Haazinu ואין מידי מציל – “No one can save from My hand.” Seemingly, this doesn’t prove anything because the posuk could just as well have been applied to a son saving a father. Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, in Taama Dikra, gives a simple answer: the more of a tzaddik the father is, on the contrary, the more of the son should be blamed for leaving the path of Torah. But if a bad father has a son who becomes a tzaddik, that shows that the father must not have been so bad, since he tolerated or perhaps encouraged his son to do teshuva. Thus the son saving the father is logical and is not called הצלה, so it doesn’t contradict the posuk ואין מידי מציל. Only the father saving the son would be illogical and could only work through prayer and intervention. On this the Torah says: there is no intervention with My punishment.]