In his letter of condolence to a bereaved, the Rebbe speaks of the proper state of mind despite the pain, the eternity of the soul and its release from the restraints. Interestingly – the Rebbe calls attention to and comments on the date, Gimmel Tammuz – on which the correspondent wrote her letter. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
5th Tammuz, 5743
Blessing and Greeting:
I have just received your letter of 3rd of Tammuz.
To begin with a blessing, may G-d grant that henceforth you and your family should have only goodness and benevolence – in the kind of good that is revealed and evident.
At the same time you must make every effort to regain the proper statet of mind, despite the pain.
You should remember the teaching and instruction of the Torah which is called Toras Chayim, Guide in Life and Toras Emes, the Torah of Truth, meaning that what it teaches is not just to ease the mind, but the actual truth. Thus, the Torah, taking into account human nature and feelings in a case of bereavement and the need to provide an outlet for the natural feelings of sorrow and grief, prescribes a set of regulations and periods of mourning. At the same time the Torah sets limits in terms of the duration of the periods of mourning and the appropriate expression, such as shiva (the first seven days), shloshim (thirty days), etc. If one extends the intensity of mourning which is appropriate for shiva into shloshim, it is not proper, for although shloshim is part of the overall mourning period, it is so in a lesser degree. And since the Torah says that it is not proper to overdo it, it does no good for the neshama of the dear departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshama to see that it is the cause of the conduct that is no in keeping with the instructions of the Torah.
A second point to keep in mind is that a human being cannot possibly understand the ways of G-d. By way of a simple illustration: an infant cannot possibly understand the thinking and ways of a great scholar or scientist – even though both are human beings and the difference between hem is only relative, in terms of age, education and maturity. Moreover, it is quite possible that the infant may someday surpass the scientist, who also started out life as in infant. But the difference between a created human being and the Creator is absolute. Therefore, our Sages declare that a human being must accept everything that happens, both those that are obviously good and those that are incomprehensible, with the same positive attitude that “All that G-d does is for the good,” even though it is beyond human understanding.
Nevertheless, G-d has made it possible for human beings to grasp some aspects and insights about life and afterlife, one of these revealed truths is that the neshama is a part of G-dliness and is immortal. Whent eh time comes for it to return to Heaven, it leaves the body and continues its eternal life in the spiritual World of Truth.
It is also a matter of common sense that whatever the direct cause of death, the separation of the soul from the body (whether a fatal accident or a fatal illness, etc.), it could affect only any of the vital organs of the physical body, but could in no way affect the spiritual soul.
A further point, which is also understandable, is that during the soul’s lifetime on earth in partnership with the body, the soul is necessarily “handicapped” – in certain respects – by the requirements of the body (such as eating and drinking etc.) Even a tzaddik whose entire life is consecrated to Hashem cannot escape the restraints of life in a material and physical environment. Consequently, when the time comes for the soul to return ”home,” it is essentially as release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by the physical body and physical environment. Henceforth the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near Hashem in the fullest measure. That is surely a comforting thought!
It may be asked, If this is a “release” for the soul, why has the Torah prescribed periods of mourning, etc.? But there is really no contradiction. The Torah recognizes the natural feeling of grief that is felt by the loss of a dear one, whose passing leaves a void in the family and the physical presence and contact of the beloved one will be sorely missed. So the Torah has prescribed the proper periods of mourning to give vent to these feelings and to make it easier to regain the proper equilibrium and adjustment. However, to allow oneself to be carried away by these feelings beyond the limits set by the Torah – in addition to it being a disservice to one’s self and all around, as well as to the neshama, as mentioned above – would mean that one is more concerned with one’s feelings than with the feelings of the dear neshama tha has risen to spiritual heights of eternal happiness. Thus, paradoxically, the overextended feeling of grief, which is due to the great love for the departed one, actually causes pain to the loved one, since the neshama continues to take an interest in the dear one left behind, sees what is going on (even better than before), rejoices with them in their joys, etc.
One thing the departed soul can no longer do and that is, the actual fulfillment of the mitzvos, which can be carried out only jointly by the soul and body together in this material world. But this too can at least partly be overcome when those left behind do a few more mitzvos and good deeds – in honor and for the benefit of the dear neshama.
More could be said on the subject, but I trust that the above will suffice to help you discover withn you the strength that G-d has given you, not only to overcome this crises but also to go from strength to strength in your everyday life and activities in full accord with the Torah.
In your case there is an added G-d-given capacity, having been blessed with lovely children, long may they live, with strong feeling of motherly responsibility to raise each and all of them to the life of Torah, Chuppah and Good Deeds, with even greater attention and care than before and in this, as in all good things, there is always room for improvement.
With regard to your eldest daughter, priority should of course be given to her continued Torah education, while any thought of a career or job can still wait.
As for the question, what is to be said when the time of a shidduch comes, on this you would consult with a competent Rav in due course.
Now to conclude with a blessing, may G-d grant you mush Yiddisher nachas from each and all your children, raising them to Torah, Chuppah and Good Deeds in good health and peace of mind and in comfortable circumstances.
P.S. I do not know if you were aware of it when writing your letter on the 3rd of Tammuz. But it is significant that you wrote your letter on the anniversary of the beginning of the Geulo of my father-in-law of saintly memory – and auspicious time for Geulo from all distractions and anxieties, to serve Hashem wholeheartedly and with joy.
The above letter is from 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.