Weekly Letter: Coming to Terms with Loss

This week, as we read in the Haftara ‘Nachamu’ following Tisha B’av, we present a letter from the Rebbe on bereavement and how to accept G-d’s judgment. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

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                                                                                                                      By the Grace of G-d

25th of Elul, 5738

Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Family

Milano, Italy

Greeting and Bessing:

In these days of Selichos and Rachamim, which bring the outgoing year to its end and prepare for the new year, I am addressing these lines to you, hoping they will bring you some comfort.

To begin with, there are many matters and occurrences that are hard for the human mind to understand. Among them also such that even if they can be understood intellectually, they are hard to accept intellectually. Specifically in the case of bereavement.

Nevertheless, every Jew has been instructed by the Creator and Master of the world that the matters connected with avelut/mourning must be limited in time. Though during the proper time it is natural and proper to give vent to one’s pain and sorrow at the sad loss, in keeping with the nature which G-d implanted in man.

However, when the various periods of mourning pass – the first three days of profound pain and tears, the seven days of shiva, shloshim, etc. – then it is not permitted to extend these periods beyond their allotted days. And since this is the instruction of the Creator and Master of the world, it is clear that carrying out these Divine instructions is within the capability of every Jew, for G-d does not expect the impossible of His creatures and provides everyone with the necessary capacity and strength to carry out His instructions as set forth in His Torah, called Toras Emes, because it is true and realistic in all its teachings and imperatives.

It follows also, that those who think that the gradual lessening of mourning, as above, may cause the soul of the departed that is now in the World of Truth to feel slighted, are totally wrong, for the opposite is true. Indeed, excessive mourning by relatives is not good for the soul in the World of Truth, seeing that it is instrumental in this improper conduct on the part of the relatives here on earth; improper – because it is not in keeping with the spirit and letter of  the Torah.

Undoubtedly, there is also a rational explanation for the above. One explanation, as mentioned at length on another occasion is that the soul is, of course, eternal as is universally recognized. It would be contrary to logic and common sense to think that a physical disorder in the body could affect the vitality and existence of the soul, which is a purely spiritual being. The only thing that a sickness or fatal accident can do is to cause a weakening or termination of the bond that holds the body and soul together, whereupon the soul departs from its temporary abode in this world and returns to its original world of pure spirit, in the eternal world.

Needless to say, insofar as the soul is concerned, death is a release from its “imprisonment” in the body. For, so long as it is bound up with the body, it suffers from physical limitations of the body, which necessarily constrain the soul and involve it in physical activities which essentially are alien to its purely spiritual nature. Nevertheless, the departure and ascent of the soul to its Heavenly abode is mourned fro a time by the surviving relatives and friend, because the person is no longer physically  here on earth and can no longer be seen and heard and felt by the physical senses and is therefore sadly missed. However, the soul retains all its faculties and, as explained in our holy sources, reacts to the conduct and feelings of its relatives left behind, sharing in their joys and in their sorrows and benefitting from their good deeds, especially those done on behalf of the soul, and itprays and intercedes in behalf of its relatives here on earth.

In other words, the departure of the soul from the body is a great advantage and ascent for the soul, and the loss is only for the bereaved, and to that extent it is also painful for the soul, of course.

There is yet another point that causes pain to the soul after departing from the body. While the soul is “clothed” in the body, it can actively participate with the body in all matters of Torah and mitzvot and good deeds practiced in the daily life here on earth. But since all this involves physical action and tangible objects, the soul can no longer engage in these activities when it returns to its Heavenly abode, where it can only enjoy the fruits of the Torah and mitzvot and good deeds performed by it in its sojourn on earth. Henceforth, the soul must depend on its relatives and friends to do mitzvot and good deeds also on its behalf, and this is a source of true gratification for the soul, and helps it ascend to even greater heights.

In summary, it is not surprising that the human intellect cannot grasp the ways of G-d and why He should take away good persons who practiced good deeds all their life and helped spread G-dliness on earth through spreading the Torah and mitzvot, which they would have continued to do had they been spared more years. It is not surprising, because a human being is a created thing and limited in all his aspects, and no creature can possibly understand the Creator.

By way of simple illustration: an infant cannot understand the wisdom of a very wise man or scientist, although the scientist was himself and infant at one time, and the present infant could in time become an even greater scientist than the other. If, therefore, this is not surprising even though the difference and distance between the infant and the scientist is only relative, how much less surprising is it where the difference is absolute and quite incomparable, as between a created being and the Creator.

Secondly, knowing that G-d is the Essence of goodness and benevolence and “it is the nature of the Benevolent to do good” etc., which knowledge is one of the very basic tenets of our Faith, as explained at length in the Written Torah and the Oral Torah  – it is certain that all that G-d does is for the good.

Thirdly, it is also certain that the neshama in Olam Ha’emet waits and expects that all the good deeds it had been doing while here on earth, and would have continued doing had G-d given her more years in this world, would be continued in its behalf by all near and dear ones. Certainly it expects that the mourning period will not be extended beyond the prescribed time, since this would be contrary to the teachings of the Torah.

Moreover, when it concerns persons who were brought up and who brought up their children in the way of Torah – which is called Torat Chesed, the Torah of Loving-kindness, whose Golden Rule is V’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha, making it the privilege and duty of every Jew to spread the Torah and mitzvot to the utmost of their capability and to do all things of Torah and mitzvot with joy and gladness of heart, and who themselves personified all these qualities – all that has been said above is underscored with even greater emphasis.

Much more could be said on the subjects mentioned in this letter, but I am sure that the above will suffice, in keeping with the saying “Give instruction to the wise person and he will increase his wisdom even more.” (Proverbs, 9:9).

May G-d bless each and all of you, in the midst of all our people, that henceforth only goodness and benevolence be with you always, and inscribe and seal you all for a good and sweet year, in the good that is revealed and obvious.

With esteem and blessing,

P.S. It is a timely, meaningful and everlasting memorial to the souls of the dear departed that the holy book of Tanya was published these days in Milan and dedicated to them. May Their Souls Be Bound Up In The Bond of Eternal Life.

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The above letter is from Volume IV of The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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