The following letter is a response written by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1958 to Mrs. Chana Sharfstein, of Brooklyn, New York, after the passing of her mother.
By the Grace of G-d
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your undated letters, in which you write about your emotional upsets in connection with the passing of your mother, and the questions which are troubling you in this connection, involving also questions in regard to the passing of your father, peace unto them.
I already had occasion to reply at length in a similar case, but I trust that in your case it will not be necessary to write a long letter, knowing your background and upbringing. However, I trust that the following lines may ease your mind.
All religious people, even non-Jews, believe that the Creator of the World is Infinite and Incomprehensible. It is also a fundamental belief that not only did G-d create the world so many thousands of years ago, (and then left it to its own resources; if this were the case, there would be no place for prayer and appeal to G-d’s mercy, etc.)- But, it is our firm belief that G-d is also the continuous Master of the world, Who is constantly watching over it and taking care of everything and every individual. Obviously it is impossible for a human being whose intellect, as his all other powers, is limited to understand the ways of G-d. From time to time things are revealed to the human mind, and he discovers things which had not been known to him earlier. It is, therefore, possible that, as time goes on, a person may learn and discover many things which were unknown to him. But, clearly, G-d’s ways and reasons cannot fully be understood by created beings, for there is an infinite gap between the Creator and the created. Nevertheless, in His infinite kindness, G-d has revealed in the Torah, which He has given us, and which is called Toras Chaim- the Law of Life- in the sense that it is our guide in everyday life, He has revealed in it many things which are important for us to know. One of them is that all that G-d does is for the good of man, whether person concerned understands it or not. Indeed, it is not surprising that he does not understand G-d’s ways, as mentioned above; it would be rather surprising if he did understand the infinite ways and reasons of G-d.
Another fundamental point to remember, which has a direct bearing on your letter, is that all believers in G-d believe also in the survival of the soul. Actuallly, this principle has even been discovered int eh physical world, where science now holds, as an absolute truth, that nothing in the physical world, especially in the case of the soul, which, in no way, can be affected by the death and disintegration of the physical body. It would be silly and illogical to assume that, because a certain organ of the body ceases to function, affecting other physical organs of the body, the spiritual soul would also be affected thereby. The truth is that when the physical body ceases to function, the soul continues its existence, not only as before, but even on a higher level, inasmuch as it is no longer handicapped by the restraints of the physical frame.
Thirdly, the attachment of children to their parents and the general attachment between close relatives during life on this earth, is surely not a physical attachment by the respective physical bodies of the relatives. Essentially, the attachment is a spiritual one, due to the spiritual affinity between those concerned, and the qualities of the soul, including such spiritual things as character, kindness, goodness, etc., all of which are attributes of the soul, and not of the body. Therefore, also, every action on the part of a person in relation to a beloved person, and the desire to benefit that person, is not directed toward pleasing his physical body, his bones and tissue, for it is spiritual pleasure that one is concerned with.
In view of the above, it is clear that even after the physical body has disintegrated and disappeared from view, it is still possible to bring joy and benefit to the soul, which, as noted above, not only survives, but does so on a higher level, and all the things which had previously brought joy and pleasure to one’s parents will continue to do so even after they are physically no longer here. A simple illustration: When a person is called away from the provincial town to the capital, to serve in a higher capacity, and to occupy a position of honor in the royal palace, or royal academy, those dear ones left behind in the province would not regard the departure of their beloved as a tragedy. On the contrary.
I trust that the above will suffice to give you a better insight into the problems which are troubling your mind at this time. No doubt your husband will be able, if it is necessary, to refer you to the Holy books and sources where these questions are more fully discussed.
May G-d grant that you will carry on the conduct of your home with joy and gladness of heart, realizing that it is the housewife upon whom the responsibility of the home atmosphere rests, and if you fulfill your responsibilities with joy, as your parents would want you to so, this is the greatest joy that you can bring to their souls, and this will also bring you and yours additional blessings, both physically and spiritually.
The Rebbe’s signature