While most charitable organizations concern themselves with caring for the living, Colel Chabad, established in 1788, making it the oldest continuously operating network of social services in Israel, serves not only the living but also the deceased. Their unique Jerusalem-based program, called Hevra Mishnayot [Talmud study group], devotes itself to elevating the souls of the departed through intense Bible study.
“Jews believe that when a person dies, the body returns to dust, but that the soul is everlasting,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Stemberger, the current leader and teacher of Hevra Mishnayot, to Breaking Israel News. “The more meritorious a person is during his lifetime, the higher his soul will ascend the heavens after his death – as the soul ultimately yearns to be close to its Godly Creator.”
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.
In a small synagogue in Jerusalem, a quorum of dedicated Bible scholars sponsored by Colel Chabad continuously study Talmud to elevate departed Jewish souls. Established in 1900 as a way to honor donors to Colel Chabad who had passed, the group never missed a single day of study since the program began. Through rain or shine, war or peace, this holy activity has been continuous for 117 years.
The renowned 18th century mystic Haim Yosef David Azulai taught that the study of Mishna for a departed is particularly meritorious for a soul. The Mishna is the primary collection of writings based on Jewish law that was transmitted orally from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Studying of Mishna was chosen for the elevation of departed souls because the word is made up of the same Hebrew letters as neshama, “soul”.
Jews customarily learn Mishna every day for the first year after a person dies and also every year on the anniversary of a person’s death. However, because many Jews do not have the knowledge or the time to dedicate to this holy endeavor, they are able to donate towards Hevra Mishnayot and have the Bible learned on behalf of themselves and their loved ones.
Many of the elderly members of the group – some of which have participated in the mission well past the age of 100 – attend the daily learning sessions until they themselves pass away. At that point new scholars step in and assume responsibility for the lofty task of elevating souls.
Rabbi Stemberger has been teaching at Hevra Mishnayot daily for twenty years, only missing a lesson when he has a family wedding to attend. “Every day the group manages to complete one or two chapters of Mishna to merit the deceased, depending on the difficulty of the subject matter,” he told Breaking Israel News.
To donate to the holy work of Colel Chabad, please visit here.