Certainly, it is a source of comfort to know that the soul lives on and enjoys a state of freedom and goodness far beyond what can be experienced in the physical state. But what about the bond between the bereaved and the departed loved one? Has not that bond been severed? Even if there is a measure of comfort in knowing that one’s loved one is in a “better place,” how does one deal with the devastating void of a relationship that no longer exists?

Throughout his correspondence with those in mourning, the Rebbe insisted that there remains an ongoing, spiritual connection between the living and the deceased and that this relationship is not merely theoretical, but tangible. It is a dynamic relationship that can be developed and enhanced. In a letter written by the Rebbe to a war widow, he writes:

The ties between two people, and certainly those between a husband and wife or between parents and children, are chiefly of a spiritual, not of a material, nature. That means that a bullet, a grenade, or a disease can affect the body, but not the spirit or the soul. The physical bond between two persons can be broken…but not their spiritual relationship.1

The Rebbe’s teachings in this regard come to life in the following story, related by Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, a chasid from Jerusalem.2

Reb Nachum was once waiting for a private audience with the Rebbe. Among those waiting with him was a man, obviously wealthy, who looked utterly despondent. But when the man emerged from the Rebbe’s room, he looked like a different person; his face radiated vitality and optimism.

Curious about this radical change of mood, Reb Nachum inquired about the man’s identity from the Rebbe’s secretaries and arranged to see him. When the two men met, Reb Nachum asked if the man could share with him what had transpired in the Rebbe’s room.

“Recently,” the man related, “my only son died. At that point, I felt that my life no longer had any purpose. I saw no value in my wealth and status. I went to see the Rebbe in search of consolation and advice. The Rebbe asked me what my feelings would be if my son went overseas and were living in a foreign country from which he could not communicate with me; however, I could be assured that all his needs were being met and that he wasn’t suffering at all. I answered that, although the separation would be difficult to bear, I would be happy for my son.”

The Rebbe had continued: “And although he could not respond, if you could communicate to him and send him packages, would you do so?”

The man answered, “Of course.”

“This is precisely your present situation,” the Rebbe concluded. “With every prayer you recite, you are sending a message to your son. And with every gift you make to charity or institution you fund, you are sending a ‘package’ to him. He cannot respond, but he appreciates your words and your gifts.”

Similarly, when Rabbi Mordechai and Freida Sufrin visited the Rebbe, seeking his comfort after their newborn child had suddenly passed away, the Rebbe said to them: “You should know that while you cannot see your son any longer, he sees you….”

In a compassionate letter written to the grieving teenage daughter of Mrs. Rasha Gansbourg, a young mother who had passed away suddenly on the second day of Sukkot, 1969, the Rebbe explained that through performing good deeds in her mother’s merit, especially those inspired by her mother’s influence, she and her siblings were not only reaching out to their mother in the next world, or “sending her packages,” but were actually enabling her to have a continued presence and impact in the physical world:

The bond between the living and the soul who has ascended endures, for the soul is enduring and eternal and sees and observes what is taking place with those connected with her and close to her. Every good deed they do causes her spiritual pleasure, specifically the accomplishments of those she has educated and raised in the manner that brings about the said good deeds; that is to say, she has a part in the deeds that result from the education she provided her children and those whom she influenced.3

In his letter to the young Ms. Gansbourg, the Rebbe goes on to cite a teaching from Ethics of the Fathers that describes both the advantage and the disadvantage for the soul when it departs from the physical world:

One moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is preferable to the entire World to Come. And one moment of satisfaction in the World to Come is preferable to an entire lifetime in this world.4

Therefore, in addition to celebrating its liberation from the body, the soul simultaneously experiences a sense of mourning, realizing she could have ascended even higher by remaining in this world. In this, the soul is comforted and aided by its loved ones who perform good deeds on its behalf in this world.

Similarly, in his letter to Ariel Sharon the Rebbe writes:

Every positive deed that is directed in accordance with the will of the giver of life, namely G‑d, blessed be He, contributes to the pleasure of the soul [of the departed], to its merit, and to its benefit.5

In a different letter, the Rebbe elaborates on this theme:

The departure of the soul from the body is a great advantage and ascent for the soul…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, 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, 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 the source of true gratification for the soul and helps it ascend to even greater heights.6

At a gathering on August 9, 1982, commemorating his father’s anniversary of passing, the Rebbe elaborated on this point:

When it comes to a yahrzeit (anniversary of passing), [we recall] the soul of the deceased in the World of Truth, who has come to know the greatness of what can only be accomplished in this physical world. Concerning the study of Torah, the verse declares, “It [the Torah] is not in the Heavens.” The Alter Rebbe explains this to mean that any development or resolution of a Torah impasse, or the rendering of a Halachic ruling, can only be accomplished by a physical human being here below.

Likewise, in regards to mitzvot, which cannot be performed in the World to Come, since the idea of a mitzvah is to connect a physical object in this world with the spiritual, turning it into an agent of G‑dliness in our physical world….

From this it is understood that after passing, the soul of the deceased finds itself in a state where it requires the actions of those in this world, who have an opportunity to act as agents for the soul to perform these physical deeds, through their physical limbs and organs…on its behalf, and in its merit….7

In a letter written to Mrs. Fradel Zilberstrom, the mother of a high school teacher who was murdered in a terrorist attack in Kfar Chabad, Israel, in 1956,8 the Rebbe conveyed a similar message:

I was notified today that the cornerstone was laid for the new school to be built in Kfar Chabad (in memory of those who were murdered, may their blood be avenged), and I was pleased to hear that you were present and participated in the event. As a woman of faith, you surely know that the soul is a part of G‑d and therefore endures eternally. Since the purpose of any soul’s descent into a body is for the purpose of elevating this physical world, it emerges that when one connects the departed soul with a physical endeavor, this is the way the soul defies death, so to speak (as it continues to impact the physical world), and this gives the soul immeasurable delight.9

Shortly after the Six-Day War, the Rebbe instructed his followers in Israel to arrange care for the orphans and widows of Israel’s fallen soldiers. He later wrote of the importance of such work, that their fathers are looking down from heaven; they would like to see their families and children being taken care of. The greatest thing for the fallen soldiers is to be certain that their children grow up as good people.10

The good deeds performed by those in mourning can be a source of comfort to the bereaved, filling the void left by death with positive action. But they also provide comfort and pleasure to the departed soul, giving the bereaved family and friends a way to maintain an ongoing, even active, relationship with their loved ones.