In addition to seeing the time after a loved one’s passing as an occasion to engage in positive action on behalf of the deceased, the Rebbe saw it as a time for a more introspective kind of activity. It is a time when those who are left in this world are more conscious of their own soul and therefore have the capacity to examine anew the spiritual and emotional quality of their lives.

In a letter written to Rabbi Herbert Weiner, noted author of Nine and a Half Mystics, after the rabbi’s mother passed away, the Rebbe writes:

The above provides an insight into what seems to be a somewhat “incongruous” observation by Maimonides,1 namely, that the period of mourning observed by a bereaved family has to do with teshuvah [repentance]…. For this is a fitting time to reflect upon the opportunities that have been given to the soul to “return” to its Source while it is here on earth, housed in its body, and, in this experience of teshuvah, to live a meaningful and happy life to a ripe old age.2

When we reflect on the loss of a loved one and the way his or her soul returned to its Source, we become more open to the needs of our own soul and to developing its relationship with G‑d while there is still time to do so in this world.

The importance of utilizing the unique and passing opportunities afforded us during our physical stay on earth can be seen from the following story.

In 1941, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, instituted a program that provided Jewish children from New York City public schools with an hour of weekly Jewish study.

Every Wednesday afternoon, student volunteers from the Lubavitch yeshivawould interrupt their studies for several hours, travel to New York City’s public schools, bring their charges to local synagogues, and teach them about their traditions, then escort them back to their respective schools.

One studious young man wrote to the Rebbe, asking to be excused from participating in the program, as he felt he was wasting his time.

First, he wrote, he didn’t think that he actually achieved very much. Every week he recited prayers with the children but didn’t believe that the prayer sessions had any lasting effect.

Second, it took three or four hours out of his day to travel to the school assigned to him, pick up the children, teach them, and drop them off, then return to the yeshiva. He felt that his time would be better spent furthering his studies.

The Rebbe replied: “I want you to know that on Wednesday afternoons, all of the souls in Gan Eden, including Moses himself, envy you for the unique opportunity you have each week to say Shema Yisrael and recite a blessing with a Jewish child. Their souls no longer have the opportunity to interact with Jewish children and bring them closer to their Father in Heaven. Do you know what they would give for the privilege that you have?”3

This story brings to life the monumental teaching of the Mishnah,4 which states, that “One hour of good deeds in this world is more desirable than the entire World to Come.” Reflecting on our mortality and that the spiritual opportunities, or mitzvot, we encounter during our lifetime are bound up with physical existence helps to heighten the sense of significance and urgency surrounding these unique opportunities, which, in turn, inspires us to positive action.

As the following anecdote demonstrates, the sensitive time after a death also grants us clarity of perspective, making it an appropriate time to express gratitude for the abundant blessings that grace our lives and for the loving relationships we still have.

The Rebbe was separated from his parents in the 1920s, when he was twenty-six years old, and did not reunite with his mother until 1947. His father had passed away three years earlier. The Rebbe often expressed his anguish at not having had the opportunity to fulfill his obligation of honoring his parents for so many years.

When the Rebbe first met his mother after all their years of separation, they embraced for twenty minutes without uttering a word. After this reunion, he visited her every day, walking to her house in the late afternoon to serve her tea and converse.

Soon after his mother died in 1965, the Rebbe was visited by a teenage girl who wanted to discuss a conflict she was having with her mother. She was angry that her mother would not give her as much allowance money as she felt she needed. The Rebbe replied with sadness: “I just lost my mother this year. Do you know how much money I would give to see her just once more?”5

In this instance, the Rebbe utilized his own sense of personal loss and grief over the loss of his mother to help strengthen the bonds of another family. Reflecting on the transience of life can help us better appreciate and cherish the loving relationships we are blessed to have but often take for granted.