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Ascension After Death

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 23/6/2019

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Ascension After Death

We are taught ברא כרעיה דאבוה; a son is the leg (extension) of his father.[1] The Pachad Yitzchak[2] wonders why this term is used? Why isn’t a son called the hand of his father?


There is a concept of a הולך and an עומד. A הולך is one who has the power to keep growing spiritually- like us in this world. Contrary to this is an עומד which is stationary. For this reason, a מלאך is called an עומד.[3] The following are some other places we see this concept:

1) In the battle with Yaakov and the מלאך of Esav it says ויגע בכף יריכו in which the hip-socket of Yaakov was dislocated.[4] This can also be taken to mean that Yaakov has the ability over a מלאך to be a הולך. This is where the מלאך of Esav hit, attempting to cause an inability of spiritual growth.

2) Korach said כלם קדשים;[5] all of them are holy. This is in the present tense, meaning we are content with who we are and there is no need for growth. This is contrary to Torah as it says קדשים תהיו-[6] future tense, meaning we always need to be growing.

3) The Parshiyos of נצבים and וילך follow each other. One interpretation of this is that the Jews stopped growing as in אתם נצבים. But not Moshe, as it says וילך משה, since he was a הולך.[7]


When one dies he no longer has the ability to be a הולך and as Chazal expound on במתים חפשי that the dead[8] are free from Torah and Mitzvos.[9] This inability for a deceased to become greater is only in that he himself can’t. However, his son can elevate him. In the aforementioned Gemara, the term ‘leg’ is used because he has the ability to elevate his father even after his father has passed away (and the leg is the limb that makes one into a הולך).[10]


This is hinted to in the words of Rebbi who said at the time of his death לבני אני צריך;[11] he wanted his children to instruct them concerning the arrangement of matters after his death. Another explanation is that when one is dying לבני אני צריך, he needs his children now, because they are now his hope for his future in Gan Eden.


The wordבן  is rooted in בנין as he builds and continues his father’s existence after he passes away.[12] On the Yartzheit[13] of his father, the Ridvaz (1845-1913) came to shul early for Mincha in Tzefas where he lived. He was asked why he was crying since his father lived until the age of 80 in addition to passing away over 50 years prior. He then related the following story: when I was young, my parents hired a מלמד; tutor, to learn with me. My father was in the furnace business when suddenly there was a shortage of cement thereby hurting his livelihood. This caused him not to be able to pay the tutor for three months until the tutor said if I don’t get paid, I can’t work. Suddenly, a wealthy person needed a furnace for his daughter and new son-in-law and offered a big sum of 6 rubles for it. His parents discussed and decided that their own furnace should be dismantled and then sell it for 6 rubles. In this way he would pay the tutor for the three previous and three coming months as it cost a ruble per month. That month, the Ridvaz said my family had no hot food in addition to shivering from the cold Russian winter since they had no heat. All this was so that I would have someone to learn with. The Ridvaz now told his congregation that this morning it was cold and I wasn’t feeling well. I was, therefore, thinking of having a minyan in my house for my father’s Yartzheit. Then I thought to myself how could I- after having a freezing winter because of what my father sacrificed so that I can learn. That is why I cried. 


R’ Shlomo Ganzfried tells us there are many stories in Midrashim that show through the son saying קדיש[14] for his parents they were saved from judgment. This is why we are accustomed to recite קדיש.[15] The Biur Halacha states in regard to reciting קדיש[16] on the Yartzheit of parents that he brings נחת רוח to his parents,[17] protects them and atones for their souls.[18]


A man living in Jerusalem would recite Kadish in Shul during davening for his other who passed away. Returning home one night at three in the morning from a wedding, he fell into bed exhausted. When he turned off the light, he realized that he didn’t daven Maariv yet, missing the Kadish for his mother. He dragged himself out of bed, got dressed and headed to Zichron Moshe, to find a Minayn. That night it was unusually deserted. He then dialed the number of a large taxi company telling them to send six taxis to the shul in Zichron Moshe. The response: “My brother, it’s three in the morning! Do you think I have six taxis? I only have five!” The man told him to send the five taxis. He then called another number telling them to send another five to which he was told אתה משוגע; are you crazy? I only have four! The four were sent. Within twenty minutes, there was a procession of nine cabs parked outside the Shul. One of the drivers asked why he needed nine taxis as there was no wedding or Bar Mitzva going on. The man told all the drivers to turn their meters on and come inside. “We are going to pray together the evening prayer. I will pay each of you just as if you were driving me.” Dusty Yarmulkes emerged from the glove compartments of the taxis. Despite being fluent in Hebrew, the drivers had no idea how to daven: what and when to answer in addition to when they should daven aloud and when in silence. It took them a while. But the Kadish man showed them exactly what to do. They had the most incredible, moving Tefila at 3:30 AM in Yerushalayim followed by the man reciting Kadish for his mother. When they had finished, everyone went out to the taxis where the meters in the cars read about 90 shekels each car. The man pulled out his wallet to give around 800 shekel to the drivers to pay for their time. Ready to pay the first taxi driver in the line, the driver retorted “My brother, do you honestly believe I would take money from you who just gave me such an opportunity to help my fellow Jew say Kadish?” About to pay the second one in line, the driver said, “Do you know how long it is since I prayed? You want me to take money from you?” All nine drivers had identical reactions and not one took money. They embraced and drove off to a new morning in the holy city of Yerushalayim!


Until when is one obligated in honoring his parents? The Zohar[19] says that one is obligated in honoring his parents even after they die! One does this by following the proper way and improving his actions. R’ Alexander Ziskind,[20] author of יסוד ושרש העבודה, commands his children in his Tzavaa that after he dies, to rectify their deeds in the ways of Hashem so that he shouldn’t have tremendous pain and disgrace from them in the higher world.


What about if one has daughters? How can they continue the legacy of their parents? The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch[21] writes that the main thing is to go in the proper path and in this way one brings merit to their[22] parents.[23] This is even greater than saying קדיש.

R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] See Eruvin 70b, Kesubos 92a, Rashi s.v. כבעל חוב

[2] אגרות וכתבים 242

[3] Zecharya 3:7

[4] Breishis 32:26

[5] Bamidbar 16:3. Tangentially, the Chidushai Harim (Korach, s.v. ויקח. Sefas Emes, Korach תרמ"ז and Pinchas, תרמ"א) tells us that Hashem wanted to make Korach a לוי גדול just as there is a Kohen Gadol.   

[6] Vayikra 19:2

[7] In this light, we can translate ...לא אוכל עוד לצאת ולבוא... (Devarim 31:2)- Moshe reached the sublime level in which he wasn’t able to ascend higher in his spiritual growth. Therefore, he was soon to pass away as this is the purpose of life.

[8] We can interpret ודרש אל המתים (Devarim 18:11) that we should learn from the dead. That is to say, to get the right perspective on life and make the most of it. There is a saying, “Only when you think about the fact that you will die, will you truly start living.”

[9] Tehillim 88:6, Shabbos 30a. Indeed, the term נפטר is rooted in פטור as a dead person is exempt from the Mitzvos. This is in contrast to one who is living as חי is sourced in חייב.

[10] In the Bracha said before entering a cemetery, we say מספר כלכם; Hashem can count the number of bodies in the cemetery. In the name of the Ksav Sofer, the question is asked that we can also count the number of bodies there? So, what is this that we are attributing to Hashem? There are those individuals that that accomplish so much in their life that it is the equivalent of what many people achieve in their lifetime. As a result, they are considered more than one person. Only Hashem knows how to count that. In a similar vein there are those who affected many people with what they did in this world the Chessed they did, Sefarim they authored, etc.). Consequently, they have a part in many peoples life. Hashem is the one who knows how to count that! The Chafetz Chaim had a son-in-law who died at a very young age. His daughter asked him why Hashem took her husband as there are so many other people in the world? The Chafetz Chaim answered gently, “It was your husband or a quarter of the world.

[11] Kesubos 103a. Parenthetically, the Sefer הדרת קודש (section of letters, letter 34, in the letter of R’ Shabsi Sheftil Weiss) brings that on the day a מצבה is erected, the נפטר; one who passed away enters Gan Eden and his relatives there say to him Mazel Tov… In Poland they would make a proper Seuda on this day because of having the מצבה erected (אוצר פלאות התורה, Bamidbar, pg 312).  

[12] בת is also associated to building as in חכמות נשים בנתה ביתה; the wise among women, each builds her house (Mishlei 14:1). Additionally, אב and אם each begin with an א whereas בן and בת begin with a ב. This alludes to the idea that one’s children continue the existence of their parents as the ב follows the א in the א-ב.

[13] On a Yartzheit, one should say the praises of the deceased in order to elevate them to a higher level in Gan Eden (Taamai Haminhagim, pg 447). 

[14] The first letters of the opening words of Kadish יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא; May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified, spell the word וישר. This refers to צדיק וישר הוא; Hashem is righteous and fair (Devarim 32:4), as some may doubt this when they lose a loved one.

[15] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:1. Incidentally, there was a woman who saved 11 Jews during the Holocaust by hiding them in her basement and providing them with food and shelter. After liberation when they wanted to repay her for what she had done, they discovered she had died. One of the 11 who were saved then asked if he was allowed to say קדיש for her. R’ Oshry ruled that not only is it permitted but it is a Mitzva to say קדיש with her in mind (p 164-5, Reponsa from the Holocaust).

[16] The מעבר יבק writes that the Kadish one recites on Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh is not to be saved from Gehinom rather to get higher in Gan Eden. (שפת אמת, Maamar 2, chapter 21).

[17] The Ridvaz (printed in שו"ת רדב"ז in Beis Haridvaz) writes in his Tzavaa to be careful that on the day you say קדיש for me, learn a page of Gemara. If you can’t for some reason, be extra careful not to say קדיש because it is no נחת רוח  for my Neshama without a page of Gemara.

[18] Maamar Kadishin by 132. The אלף המגן (on the מטה אפרים, דיני קדיש יתום, 1:1) writes that on a Yartzheit they elevate the deceased to a very high level. They therefore check his son if he is fitting that his parents should be elevated, since they are like one body.

[19] Bechukosai 115b. Also Kidushin 31b- מכבדו בחייו ומכבדו במותו; one should honor his father during his lifetime and after his death. However, as opposed to living parents where honoring them is a Torah commandment, after they pass away the Tiferes Yisrael (Pesachim, chapter 4, Boaz 3) writes that it is a Rabbinic obligation.

[20] יסוד ושרש העבודה, pg 784, סימן 28. R’ Alexander Ziskind also davened for the Neshamos of his parents and on his Rebbi who taught him Torah. He would say before יהיו לרצון in Shemona Esrei- ‘master of the worlds, may it be Your will that You make a לבוש טהור for the Neshama of my father, mother, and Rebbi and You should elevate their Neshama very high in גן עדן’ (יסוד ושרש העבודה, pg 771, סימן 11).

[21] 26:22. See שבות יעקב in ח"ב, 93 and Shaarai Teshuva, Orach Chaim 132:5, s.v. קדיש in regard to a daughter saying קדיש for her father. See also שו"ת חות יאיר, 222, שו"ת תשובה מאהבה, 2:229:10 and the Mateh Efraim, דיני קדיש יתום, 4:8.

[22] Just as ברא מזכי אבא  (Sanhedrin 104a); a son can earn merit for his father, after his father’s death so too a Talmid can earn merit for his Rebbe, as a Talmid is called son and a Rebbe is referred to as a father (Devarim 6:7, Rashi).

[23] The Mishna Brura (621:19) teaches in regard to Tzedaka… it is logical that it always helps if a son gives on behalf of his deceased father as a son could be מזכה (give merit) his father (even if his father wouldn’t give). The Maharsham (שו"ת מהרש"ם 2:29) writes that even without intent a son gives merit (מזכה) to his father- that is in all his Maasim Tovim and Tefilos.

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