Learning for a Loved One
The power of Mishnah study to raise the level of a departed soul.
When a loved one passes away, we want to do whatever we can to honor their memory, to bring additional merit to their soul.
In Jewish tradition, one way of honoring the deceased is to say Kaddish, the public affirmation of belief in God.
Yet the Sages speak of an even more powerful method for elevating the departed soul: the learning of Mishnah, the Jewish legal code that forms the basis of the Talmud. In fact, the Chidah, the legendary master of Kabbalah, states that the merit of Mishnah study is seven-fold that of reciting Kaddish.
How so? The word Mishnah is comprised of the same letters as Neshama – soul. It is through the Torah that God forged His eternal covenant with the Jewish nation. Thus it is Torah study, particularly Mishnah, which symbolizes the soul's connections to the foundations of Jewish history, and the eternal spiritual bond with God.
Benefiting the Deceased
The Talmud says that on Rosh Hashana, God makes a Din v'Cheshbon – a judgment and an accounting. The Vilna Gaon explains that these are two separate elements: 1) a person is accountable for his actions over the previous year, and 2) God also accounts for the actions that a person influenced others to do.
A deceased person is no longer able to perform actions in this world, and thus is incapable of directly acquiring new merit. But s/he can continue to influence the actions of others.
Thus, in undertaking Mishnah study, the merit may be designated for the benefit of your deceased loved one – parent, grandparent, or friend.
Arranging for Mishnah Study
For many people, however, Mishnah study is too difficult to be properly undertaken. The Mishnah's 63 tractates, broken into 6 Orders covering some 525 chapters and 4200 detailed laws, cover subjects as diverse as torts, business ethics, agricultural laws, marital issues, festivals and virtually every subject under the sun. The Mishnah's breadth is so imposing that it is rarely mastered even by scholars who spend many years steeped in its intensive study.
Beyond this in complexity is the Talmud, the massive compendium explaining the Mishnah. The Talmud consists of 5,422 pages; some are unable to complete reading the Talmud even once in a lifetime.
Mishnah/Talmud study is often done during the first 12 months following a death, with a special emphasis to study all of Mishnah within the initial 30-day mourning period. But it can also be done on the annual yahrtzeit, or at any other time. There is no statute of limitations to one's ability to elevate the soul of the deceased.
It would represent a truly significant source of merit to have Mishnah or Talmud studied in the memory of your loved one – enhancing the sanctity and tranquility of their eternal soul.