The Rebbe taught that the souls of departed loved ones are actually still involved in the lives of those they leave on earth.

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: “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.”1

This continued interest in the lives of the living includes not only an interest in spiritual or religious matters but also in the everyday joys and challenges of life. From a letter of the Rebbe:

The soul itself 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 it prays and intercedes on behalf of its relatives here on earth.2

The Rebbe expresses this idea in another letter, written to a woman who lost one of her sons prematurely after having been informed that her older son had become reclusive from grief:

Since your son’s withdrawn condition is the result of what happened to his brother, explain to him gently that, per our belief, the soul is eternal and remains connected to its family [and that] his sadness and seclusion will not bring his beloved brother pleasure.3

As the following anecdotes illustrate, the Rebbe would often encourage people to take into account the interests and pastimes of those who had passed on.

When Rabbi Moshe Feller, who is today the senior Chabad emissary in Minnesota, was twenty-four years old, his mother passed away. A few years later, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Dovid Raskin to suggest a match between Feller’s father and a widow named Mrs. Gross. The two ended up meeting and decided to get married. Before the wedding, the Rebbe sent Moshe Feller an unsolicited note. Knowing that he may have been bothered by another woman becoming his father’s wife, the Rebbe wrote the following to him (paraphrased): “You should know that by remarrying, your father will bring happiness to your mother, of blessed memory, since he will now have a life companion who can help take care of him, and this is what she would have wanted.”4

In his thoughtful note to the young Rabbi Feller, the Rebbe addressed a painful concern that often plagues children of a deceased parent whose other parent is contemplating marriage to a new spouse.

“Won’t this hurt the soul of my departed parent?” they may wonder. “Won’t Mother or Father feel slighted, or even envious, if their former life’s partner creates a new life with a new spouse?”

The Rebbe’s note to Feller taught, in effect, that once a soul disengages from its physical body and environment, it is freed of all human weaknesses that once colored its perceptions and feelings while on earth. As the soul is no longer governed or affected by the petty and self-centered insecurities which stem from the human condition, it is free to experience unadulterated joy in the well-being of its loved ones below.

Each Sukkot, Rabbi Berel and Esther Raskin would invite the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where they lived, to their sukkah to partake in a lavish kiddush and a holiday get-together. In the year after Esther’s father, Rabbi Yankel Lispker, passed away, she didn’t feel it was appropriate to host this festive and spirited gathering. When the Rebbe heard that there might not be a kiddush at the Raskins that year he said, “On the contrary! Reb Yankel, who is currently in Gan Eden (“Paradise”), will come visit your sukkah, as was his custom while alive, and no one will be there saying l’chaim. Not only should there be a kiddush this year, there should a larger kiddush than usual!”5

The Rebbe himself had occasion to practice this principle when it came to the loss of his own beloved wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka.

Dr. Robert Feldman, who was one of the Rebbetzin’s physicians, enjoyed close relations with her and would often visit with her. Shortly before the Rebbetzin’s passing, Dr. Feldman’s daughter, Sarah, became engaged to her future husband, Levi Shemtov. The Rebbetzin, who had offered Sarah motherly advice while she was dating, was delighted with the news. The couple-to-be planned to visit the Rebbetzin together, but she passed away before the visit could take place.

Right after shivah, the seven-day mourning period for the Rebbetzin, the Rebbe sent for Dr. Feldman. “Tell me, when is the engagement party?” he asked.

That wasn’t a simple question to answer. According to the original plan, the party was scheduled to take place within the first thirty days of the Rebbetzin’s passing, considered by Jewish law to be a period of mourning. However, to push off a happy occasion was no small matter either. Before Dr. Feldman could answer, the Rebbe continued: “It should take place on the day it was originally scheduled for, and it should not be smaller than originally planned. In fact, it should be bigger!”

The Feldmans had been planning a small party in their home. But the Rebbe insisted that the celebration be held in a rented hall, with live music, and the food should be served on china, “and the main thing: much joy!” The Rebbe’s tone then softened, and in a voice filled with emotion he said, “It should be done this way because this is how the Rebbetzin would have wanted it to be…and this is what will make the Rebbetzin happy.”6

The Rebbe’s approach was that, whenever possible, happy occasions of those peripherally connected to a tragedy should not be aborted or pushed off. On the contrary, extra effort should be made to increase the joy, as that is what the deceased would have wanted.