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Home » Life Is Beautiful, Tetzaveh, Tragedy

Tetzaveh: The Afterlife

Submitted by on February 10, 2019 – 12:14 amNo Comment | 199 views

Absent
This week we marked the Yahrtzeit of Moses, who passed away on the 7th of Adar, 3488 or 1273 BCE. This was just 33 days before Joshua led the Jews into Israel. We know this because the Jews crossed into Israel on the 13th of Nissan. We also know that G-d instructed Joshua to prepare the people for the crossing, 3 days earlier, on the 10th of Nissan. We further know that this instruction occurred after a 30-day mourning period for Moses. When we subtract 33 days from the 13th of Nissan, we arrive at the 7th of Adar.[1]

This milestone is observed in a startling way. On the Shabbat following Moses’ Yahrtzeit, we read a Torah portion called Tetzaveh. This portion is remarkable in that it is the only portion—from the beginning of the book of Exodus, which describes Moses’ birth, until the last portion of the Torah, which describes Moses’ passing—that omits all mention of Moses’ name.

This omission represents his passing. As Moses’ absence was felt keenly by the people of his generation at this time of year, so do we read a Torah portion in which his name is absent.[2]

Yet Present

The absence of Moses’ name does not mean that he is absent from this portion. In fact, Moses is more present in this portion than he is in many of the portions that do mention his name. This portion is filled with instructions delivered by G-d to Moses. But rather than mentioning his name, Moses appears in the third party. G-d said to him, rather than G-d said to Moses.

This teaches us an important truth that is often overlooked. A passing does not spell the cessation of a person’s existence. A passing is simply a relocation to a different plane. Rather than residing on earth, where a physical body is required, the person relocates to a spiritual place, where a physical body is not needed. The soul therefore undresses from the body, and we lay the body to rest. This is like removing our winter clothes and putting them away before moving to Florida.

The person we loved continues to exist, only on a plane that our physical bodies cannot see. They can see and hear us, but we mourn because we can’t see or hear them. Nevertheless, despite our tears, we are comforted by the knowledge that our loved ones are still present. They are just on a different plane.

Sometimes we can feel their presence. Sometimes we can dream of their presence. But even if we can’t feel or hear them, we know that they are there. This is why Moses is very present and active in this Torah portion even though his name is not visible. After his passing, Moses is not visible to us. But his influence is very much present. He continues to be active among us.

Spirit and Vitality

Let’s delve into this a little deeper. A human soul has five dimensions. For our purposes we will concern ourselves with the lowest two, (a) ruach—spirit, and (b) nefesh—vitality. The spirit represents our personality, emotional makeup, the bonds that we forge, and our overall character. The vitality represents the energy and physical life force of our body. The body is vivified and vitalized by the nefesh, the lowest dimension of the soul. The person within the body comprises the ruach, the spirit of the soul.

The person that we know and love, is the ruach of the soul. The nefesh simply vitalizes the body that we come to identify with the person. But we don’t love the body. We love the person. When the body dies, we lose touch with the nefesh. But our bond with the person, the ruach, was never dependant on the body. It was soul to soul. Ruach to ruach. And it remains so after passing.

It is just that while our loved one was alive, we were able to see their ruach through their eyes and in their facial expressions. We could feel their ruach in their hugs and kisses. After their passing, we lose our physical window into their ruach.

Yet, we gain a new advantage. During their lives, their ruach was confined to their physical body. Thus, they could only express themselves in ways that the body could handle. They could only be in one place at one time and they could only connect so long as the body had the strength to be alert and communicative. Upon their passing, their ruach uncoupled from their body and became available and present, always and everywhere, without limitation. We can connect with them at all hours of the day and night. We can connect with them wherever we are. They can see and hear us in every circumstance and condition. That is the advantage. But we can’t see them. That is the disadvantage.

Care Packages

Though we can’t see them, we take comfort from the knowledge that they can see us. We can send them gifts and they can benefit from them. Let me tell you a story.

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitz, one of the vintage chasidim of Jerusalem, was waiting for a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Among those waiting nearby was a young man, obviously wealthy, but wearing a morose and despondent expression. A short while later, the young man entered the Rebbe’s study, and when he emerged, his expression had changed. His face radiated energy and vitality. Curious about this abrupt shift in mood, Rabbi Rabinovitz inquired about the young man’s identity.

“I am a millionaire,” the young man told Reb Nachum, “but recently, my only son died. At that point, I felt that my life no longer had any purpose. I saw no value to my wealth or my position. “I went to the Rebbe for solace and advice.

The Rebbe asked me what my feelings would be if my son went overseas and was living in a foreign country from which he could not communicate with me, but in which I could be assured that all his needs were being met and he was not suffering at all. I answered that although the separation would be difficult to bear, I would be happy for my son.

‘And although he could not respond, if you could communicate with him and send packages to him,’ the Rebbe continued, ‘would you do so?’ ‘Of course,’ I answered.

‘This is precisely your present situation,’ the Rebbe concluded. ‘With every word of prayer that you recite, you are sending a message to your son. And with every gift that you make to tzedakah, you are sending a package to him. He cannot respond, but he appreciates your words and your gifts.’”[3]

 

[1] Kidushin 38a based on Deuteronomy 34:8, Joshua 1:2, 1:11 and 4:19. In a Jewish leap year, Moses’ Yhartzeit is marked in the first Adar. For a discussion on why this is so, see Likutei Sichos, 16, p. 342, FN 5.

[2] Me’or Enayim on Parshat Tetsaveh. For an alternate explanation see Ba’al Haturim ad loc.

[3] To Know and to Care II, Chapter 14.

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