Saturday, February 25, 2017

Is it true that Torah teaches that we can elevate the souls of a specific person or group of people who have died?

Received another interesting question to our website today:

Shalom! Could you please clarify the following statement for me and if possible give some Scripture references.

“The Torah teaches that there are several ways that people can continue to elevate the souls of a specific person or group of people who have died. These include performing the following in their memory: reciting the mourner’s prayer called Kaddish, giving charity, repenting, and engaging in Torah study.” Read more at https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/83657/elevating-souls-bible-study/#o4Q0D4iQqgsKJLXq.99

Our response:

Thanks for the question!  Actually, no, we can't clarify or provide scripture! In the quote you provided from the website article, the word "Torah" (as used) includes the writings of the sages captured in the Mishna and Talmud.  Jews consider all the rabbinical writings as part of Torah, not separate from Torah. 

So while the statement says: "The Torah teaches that there are several ways that people can continue to elevate the souls of a specific person or group of people who have died", it is only "true" in the sense that the Mishna records that some rabbi said this or that act elevates a soul.  But if you exclude the Mishna and Talmud, you find no such evidence in the Torah (the 1st 5 books of the Bible), hence no scripture.

Much of the Jewish view on the soul comes from Jewish mysticism known as "Kabbalah".  In the rabbinic study of the Torah (and here I mean the 1st 5 books of the Bible), the rabbis look at 4 ways to interpret a verse, it is known as "PARDES", which is an acronym for Peshat, Remez, Derash, Sod.  Each word is a "type" of interpretation:

Peshat: The literal or "plain" meaning of a verse.

Remez: The meaning that is "hinted" at, or a meaning that is deeper than the literal meaning.

Derash: The "comparative" meaning, that is, derash seeks to penetrate into the inner meaning of the words. It postulates that there are mysterious and hidden meanings in the words of the Torah that are deeper than the superficial appearance of the text.  (Note: This is very simplified. "Derash" is so complex that books have been written to explain the difference between "pehsat" and "derash" interpretation.)

Sod: The "secret" ("mystery"), "hidden" or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.

It is from the "sod" exegesis of scripture where "kabbalah" dwells and is where the rabbinic interpretations of "elevating the soul" comes from.  Most people can't interpret scripture beyond the "peshat" and "remez" understanding, and most people should not really spend time in the "derash" or "sod" exegesis of scripture because without  decades of personal and guided study, the concepts simply cannot be understood.

It would be our recommendation that you file away this article as "interesting", and spend your time in scripture alone and not on the confusing world of the Mishna and Talmud.

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