Can I pay someone to say Kaddish or study Mishnah for my aunt and uncle or is it only allowed for parents?

By all means; generating merit is not limited to parents. It is not even limited to relatives. Opportunities abound to benefit the soul of basically anyone that the performer or sponsor of the deed desires.

 

A difference that arises between parents and others is a more technical one. The special relationship between parents in children is reflected in the fact that children are viewed as an actual extension of the parents. This phenomenon exists to such an extent that parents can be considered as ‘living on’ through their children. Hence, the parents are perceived — in a certain sense — to have a share in the deeds of their offspring. When the surviving child performs a righteous act, the parents are viewed as participating in this deed. This is how the merits produced by the children are credited to the parents as well, as the deed is attributable to them, also.

 

Although one can perform or generate meritorious acts on behalf of others as well, it would not carry the same element of the unique parent/child relationship. But it still ‘works’. The difference, as stated, is really a technical one. It manifests itself as follows:

 

Since the deeds of the children are considered as the deeds of the parents, the merit is shared automatically. Theoretically, even if the child was not thinking of his parents at the moment he performed the deed, they still are viewed as ‘active participants’. After all, it is their offspring who are continuing in the righteous path. Hence, the merit is ‘automatically’ transferred, regardless of whether or not the children were expressly intending as such.

 

For other relatives or friends, on the other hand, we do not automatically see their ‘hands’ and imprint in the performance of the deed. In this instance, the merit generated from the act would not necessarily be automatically attributed to their souls. To ensure that they do in fact receive the merit, the one performing or sponsoring the deed would merely have to have that relative in mind.

 

In short, a meritorious act performed on behalf of someone else always helps. In the case of relatives or friends, one should expressly intend that the merit of this deed be dedicated for their benefit. For parents, however, this ‘intent’ is not necessary, as they automatically receive a share in this deed.

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