By the Grace of G‑d
14 Teves, 5730
[December 23, 1969]
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Blessings and Greetings!

I received, on time, your letter—though circumstances have delayed my answer—in which you write of the passing of you mother, OBM, and your thoughts and feelings in connection with this.

The truth is that “none amongst us knows anything at all” concerning the ways of G‑d, who created humans, directs them and observes them with a most specific divine providence. But certainly, certainly, He is the very essence of good, and, as the expression goes, “it is in the nature of the good to do good.” If, at times, what G‑d does is at all not understood by the human mind—little wonder: what significance has a limited, measured, finite creature in relation to the infinite and endless, and especially in relation to “the absolutely Infinite and Endless” (beli gevul ve-ein sof ha-amiti)?

Nevertheless, G‑d chose to reveal a fraction of His wisdom to man, to flesh and blood. This He did with His holy Torah, called “The Torah of Light” and “The Torah of Life”—that is to say, it illuminates man’s path in life in such a manner that even his limited faculties may comprehend its light. Thus, also in the case of this occurrence, and similar ones, one can find an understanding—at least a partial one—in accordance with what is explained in our (written and oral) Torah.

Actually, this understanding is to be found in two rulings of Torah law which address our actual conduct in these circumstances. At first glance, they seem to stand in contradiction one to the other, though they appear in the same section of the Code of Jewish Law. The section (Yoreh De’ah 394) begins: “One must not mourn excessively (beyond what our sages have instructed us); one who does so in extreme . . .” Yet at the section’s end it is brought that “one who does not mourn as the sages have guided us is a callous and cruel person.” Now, if in such a case it is natural to mourn, what’s so terrible about one who mourns more? Why the harsh rebuke mentioned in the law? And if to mourn excessively is so terrible, why is it cruel to mourn less?

The explanation lies in the concluding words of our sages (as quoted from Maimonides): “One should fear and worry, search one’s deeds and repent.”

It is self-understood that the soul is eternal. Obviously, an illness of the flesh or blood cannot terminate or diminish the life of the soul—it can only damage the flesh and the blood themselves, and the bond between them and the soul. That is to say, it can bring to the cessation of this bond—death, G‑d forbid. And with the severing of what binds the soul to the flesh, the soul ascends and frees herself of the shackles of the body, of its limitations and restrictions. Through the good deeds she has performed during the period she was upon earth and within the body, she is elevated to a higher, much higher, level than her status prior to her descent into the body. As the our sages expressed it: The descent of the soul is a descent for the sake of an ascent, an ascent above and beyond her prior state.

From this it is understood that anyone close to this soul, anyone to whom she was dear, must appreciate that the soul has ascended, higher even than the level she was at previously; it is only that in our lives, in our world, it is a loss. And just as the closer one is to the soul, all the more precious to them is the soul’s elevation, so it is with the second aspect—the intensity of the pain. For they, all the more so, feel the loss of her departure from the body and from life in this world.

Also, it is a loss in the sense that—it seems—the soul could have ascended even higher by remaining in this world, as our sages taught in Ethics of Our Fathers: “One moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is preferable to the entire world to come.”

Thus, since the occurrence contains these two conflicting facets—on the one hand, the freeing of the soul from the body’s shackles and her ascent to a higher world, the world of truth; on the other, the abovementioned loss—the result is the two rulings. The “Torah of Truth” mandates that one mourn, for the time period set by our sages. At the same time, it is forbidden to mourn excessively (that is, beyond the set mourning period, and also in regards to the intensity of the mourning within these days).

As said, the primary cause for mourning such an occurrence is the loss on the part of the living. This is the object of the mourning period: The living need to understand why it is that they deserved this loss. This is why “one should fear and worry, search one’s deeds and repent.”

Through this, another thing is attained—the endurance of the bond between the living and the soul who has ascended. 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 with the education that brings the said good deeds. That is to say, she has a part in those deeds resulting from the education she provided her children and the ones she influenced.

Since all of the above constitute directives of our Torah, the wisdom and will of G‑d, the fulfillment of these directives is part and parcel of our service of G‑d, of which it is said, “Serve G‑d with joy.” A directive of Torah also serves as the source of strength which provides the abilities to carry it out. Consequently, since the Torah addresses these instructions to each and every individual, it is within the capacity of each individual to carry it out—and, more so, to carry it out in a manner of “Serve G‑d with joy.”

All this applies to the entire family, but even more so, and with yet a greater supply of fortitude—as well as a greater degree of responsibility—in regard to those who are in a position to affect the other family members who will emulate their example. Therefore, the responsibility to implement all of the above falls first and foremost upon the head of the family and the senior child; in this case I am referring to you and your father. The guarantee “If you have toiled, you will find” applies here as well.

In all the above also lies the answer to your question as to how you can lighten the load, etc.—through a behavior consistent with the above verse, with a strong faith in G‑d that you will succeed in this endeavor.

May it be the will of G‑d that you have good tidings concerning all the above, with open and revealed good.

With blessings for success in all your endeavors and good tidings,

[Signature: M. Schneersohn]