Productive Grieving


By the Grace of G-d
5 Tammuz 5743
Brooklyn, NY

Blessing and Greeting:

I have just received your letter of 3 Tammuz.

To begin with a blessing, may G-d grant that henceforth you and all 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 state 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/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 period 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 [soul] of the dearly departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshama to see that it is the cause for the conduct that is not in keeping with the instructions of the Torah.

A second point to bear 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 them 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 life as an infant. But the difference between a created human being and his 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 truths is that the neshama is part of G-dliness and is immortal. When the 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 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 [holy man], 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 a release for it, as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by a physical body and physical environment. Henceforth the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near to Hashem in the fullest measure. This is surely a comforting thought!

It may be asked: if it 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 near and 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 its 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 own feelings than with the feelings of the dear neshama that has risen to new spiritual heights of eternal happiness. Thus, paradoxically, the overextended feeling of grief, which is due to the great love of 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 mitzvoth, 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 little more mitzvoth and good deeds in honor and for the benefit of the dear neshama.

More could be said on the subject, but I trust the above will suffice to help you discover within you the strength that G-d has given you, not only to overcome this crisis, 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 a strong feeling of motherly responsibility to raise each and all of them to a life of Torah, chuppah [marriage], 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.

Now to conclude with a blessing, may G-d grant you much Yiddishe nachas [Jewish happiness] 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.

With blessing,


P.S. I do not know if you were aware of it when writing your letter on 3 Tammuz. But it is significant that you wrote the letter on the anniversary of the beginning of the geula [redemption] of my father-in-law of saintly memory – an auspicious time for geula from all distractions and anxieties, to serve Hashem wholeheartedly and with joy.


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