Friday, July 6, 2012

Rav Sternbuch: Father's sins atoned by son's suffering?

Rav Sternbuch (2:447): Question: Is someone whose father died obligated to say during the entire first year “I am the atonement for the deceased?” Answer: Kiddushin (31b), If someone is reporting something he heard from his father he should say “I am the atonement for the deceased.” It seems to me that many people do not conduct themselves according to this gemora. But it seems that this is meant as actual halacha by the gemora and in fact the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:9) rules that way? Thus we need to find the justification for why people don’t say it within the first year of their father’s death. In fact, however, this halacha is puzzling and in particular according to Rashi who says that the son means to say,” All the bad that my father deserved should come on me instead.” Where do we find that there is an obligation to accept the punishment of Gehinom that his father deserves? And an even greater difficulty for this halacha is even if the son accepts the punishments – how does it help his father. Can a son actually save his father by accepting the father’s punishment in Gehinom? We know that the son has the ability to give merit to his father through Torah study and doing good deeds. But how can he get punished instead of his father by saying “I am the atonement for the deceased. It apparently has no effect so why should he be obligated to say it? I saw in the Ri HaZakein that the obligation to say this is only after repeating a halachic matter that was stated in the name of his father. But regarding secular matters he does not have to say, “I am the atonement for the deceased.”... According to this, saying that he will atone for his father’s sins is not an acceptance of punishment that the father deserves. Rather if someone states a halacha that has been stated in his father’s name, there is a possibility he will err in reporting it especially since it is a verbal report. That is why he says “ I am the atonement for the deceased.” In other words all the bad that his father will receive because of what he is saying father’s name – his father should not be punished if it is mistaken. In addition this obligation to say it is only for the first 12 months after death because those are special days of very strict judgment against his father. However after this period is finished and his father has received his punishment there is no longer concern that he will receive additional punishment for the mistakes of his son – there is no longer a need to say it. (While the Rema says this halacha is also relevant for his mothers even though it is not relevant to say halacha over in her name, but it is relevant to relate minhagim or practicies in her name which are not precise.). Therefore this explains why the phrase is said whenever he is reporting a halacha from his father – as is the plain meaning of the poskim.  But also those who refrain from saying “I am an atonment for the deceased” when it is not a report of a halachic matter said in the name of his father are justified. Only zichrono l’bracha is said because it is meaningless in that case to claim to being accepting punishment [since there is no punishment in that case.

Rav Sternbuch (4:272): ...  It would appear that the intent of the statement is that he is obligating himself in fact to do that which will give merit to his father. For example to say kaddish, to learn Mishna, to give charity and to improve his own deeds. Such is a very great thing and it helps to reduce the suffering the father receives in Gehinom and elsewhere. He is also accepting on himself that if he doesn’t actually do things to benefit his father in these ways we mentioned then - he should receive on himself that evil that he could have saved his father from. Therefore when he mentions his father he says, “Behold I will be an atonement for the deceased.” In other words, “I can be concerned for my father’s atonement and if I am not worried at all – then according to Rashi he is punished. However if he acts appropriately for the sake of his father’s soul then it is literally an atonement for this father. According to this explanation, the statement of “I am an atonement for the deceased” is not an acceptance on himself of the punishment his father. Rather it is a motivation to conduct himself properly by announcing that he is obligated to act for his father’s soul and with this he literally fulfills “Behold I am an atonement for the deceased.”  Conversely by refraining from giving his father additional merit he will be punished for not helping his father. See an alternative explanation in volume 2 simon 447.  This this is a direct rebuke to those who are not concerned with showing respect to their parents after they have died. They view it as sufficient to say kaddish or to be the shliach tzibor. In fact they should increase their giving of charity and good deeds as well as increased their Torah study as well as to be extra careful to avoid sin. Such an approach is a great benefit for his parents after their death. In this he fulfills honoring his father after death – according to the halacha.


  1. I wouldn't say no one says it. One might understand it as may my actions be a kappara for any negatives in avi mori's zll"hh "account" but then again I never claim to be HKB"H's accountant. To the extent we do anything good in this world that we might not have done, it's a good thing.
    As to the "requirement" issue, I don't know that there is a requirement (although the issue of kavod av after mita certainly exists within certain parameters), but one might view it as an honor, not a requirement, hopefully also setting an example for one's children.
    Joel Rich

    1. שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות כבוד אב ואם סימן רמ סעיף ט

      חייב לכבדו אפילו אחר מותו. כיצד, היה אומר דבר שמועה מפיו, אומר: כך אמר אבא מארי הריני כפרת משכבו, אם הוא תוך שנים עשר חדש, ואם הוא לאחר שנים עשר חדש, אומר: זכרונו לברכה. הגה: ואין חילוק בין אם לאב בכל זה (מהרי"ל סימן כ"ז /כ"ד/). יש אומרים דאם כותב תוך שנים עשר חודש דבר ומזכיר אביו, א"צ לכתוב הריני כפרת משכבו אלא זכרונו לברכה, דהא כתיבתו מתקיימת לאחר שנים עשר חודש (הג' באלפס פ"ק דקדושין), ויש מחמירים אפילו בכתיבה (בנ"י ושאר מחברים וכ"מ בב"י סוף סי' רמ"ב בשם רשב"ץ ותשובת ן' חביב רס"ד), וכן נוהגין.

  2. R'DE,
    Yes but my thought in saying "requirement" was that I'm not sure one loses the mitzvah of kavod after mita if instead of saying hareini in the first year he says zichrono instead. BTW IIRC the gemara gives the alternatives of Z"L and ZLL"HH - any idea why the S"A picks one over the other?
    Joel Rich


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