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The time approached for Yisrael to die, so he called for his son, for Yosef, and said to him, 'Please -- if I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand under my thigh and do kindness and truth with me -- please do not bury me in Egypt'" (Bereishis 47:29).
Rashi brings the explanation of the Midrash that the kindness shown to the dead is "kindness of truth" since one cannot hope for any reward from the deceased and does his act with no ulterior motives.
Although the Sages see to have taught that those who have passed away cannot do any favors with those who are yet alive, the Kabbalists teach that they can indeed. Several years ago, I wrote a story which I heard from Rabbi Velvel Cheshin ztvk"l, one of the great Kabalists of Jerusalem. I would like to repeat it today with the addition of a personal, phenomenal experience.
It is well known that one of the greatest Kabalists was the Holy Arizal, Harav Hatzaddik Yitzchak Ashkenazi ztvk"l of the Holy city of Tzefas. The greatest of his students, who received the tradition of Kabala from him and passed it down to others, was Harav Hatzaddik Chaim Vital ztvk"l. It is said that the G'ra ztvk"l (The Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna) said that of all of the "cubs" of the Ari (the Arizal was known as "The Lion", and his students, his "cubs"), he only relies on the Torah which Reb Chaim Vital passed down, since he is the only one who really understood the great Master properly.
Rav Cheshin related that Reb Chaim himself once explained how it came to be that he surpassed all of his colleagues. We would have imagined that he would credit his diligence in learning or his piety and holiness. But, surprisingly, the reason he gave was simply that he was always very careful to recite the blessings over food with the proper kavanah (devotion)!
Reb Chaim explained, according to the secret mysteries of the Kabala, that there are different types of punishments for sinful souls when they stand before the Heavenly Magistrate. As painful as it is, Gehinom (Hell) is a temporary situation, after which the believing soul departs, having been totally cleansed of all iniquities, to bask in the joy of Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and be rewarded for all of the good deeds she performed while in this world; for even sinners perform many mitzvahs.
But there are many, exceedingly sinful souls, who are not "privileged" to be sentenced to a period of purification in Gehinom. Instead, they are reincarnated in this world. Some are reborn in human bodies again where they are given the opportunity to do better this time; recognizing, of course, the fact that they may, actually, do worse.
Some are reincarnated in animals and other types of wildlife, and must suffer the discomforts those creatures have.
And some are brought back in different types of fruits and vegetables, which also have some sort of living spirit within them. These are dependent upon the free-will of those who consume them. If someone makes a proper blessing on food, the soul living within that item gets its tikkun (rehabilitation) and becomes eligible to return to the world of souls for proper treatment. If, however, that item is eaten without the proper prayer being recited over it, the soul will have to return, once again, in some other food produce or a different form. This could go on for some time, with the poor soul suffering all the while.
Reb Chaim Vital explained that if one makes the blessing with kavanah and is mesaken (fixes) the soul within the food, that soul is so grateful to him that when she stands, once again, before the Heavenly Magistrate, she intercedes for the one who helped her get where she is and pleads that that person should be blessed.
"Since I was always very careful to recite prayers over food with the proper concentration," Reb Chaim concluded, "I have lots of souls praying for my success. And that is why I surpassed my colleagues!"
Some months ago, I wrote about my great Aunt, "Tante," who lived alone and was quite lonely. Towards the end of her life she couldn't take care of herself and was placed in a Nursing Home. A few weeks before she passed away, I visited her there and loaned her 10 cents to make a phone call. After that, we spoke several times by phone and she reminded me again and again that she owes me ten cents and that I should not forget to collect it when I come again. I told her that it was my present to her but she insisted that it was a debt which she must repay. I was impressed with her piety and concern, and I related the story to my parents.
Suddenly, Tante passed away and we attended her funeral on a dreary, rainy day (perhaps the Heavens were crying over the loss of a meticulous, religious woman who had had a very hard life). I had some coins in my shirt pocket, and, as I bent over to get the shovel to fill the grave with sand, apparently 2 nickels fell out and scrambled into the earth in the grave. I had not noticed them fall, and, for all practical purposes, they were lost and no longer belonged to me. My father (may he be well), though, saw what had happened, and he told me, "Look what's right in front of you." To my amazement, the two coins sparkled in front of my eyes. As I bent down to pick them up, we realized that they were two nickels. My father said to me, "There are the ten cents that Tante owed you. You see, she paid you back after all, just as she insisted that she would."
May her memory be a blessing.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network