Rabbi Ya’akov Edelstein, the Rabbi of Ramat HaSharon, Israel, tells a story he heard from his uncle, Rabbi Benyamin Movshowitz, about an event that happened in his grandfather’s house, the sage Rabbi Noach Movshowitz, rabbi in the city of Malstovka. Rabbi Edelstein wrote down in a letter what he heard. The following is a portion of it:
“In the house of the sage, Rabbi Noach, lived a lonely old man, in his own room, who studied Torah all day long. Eventually the old man died. One day, one of the children opened the door to the old man’s former room and was amazed to see the deceased sitting at his table, studying Talmud in the same place he always had, as if he were alive. The child became terrified and ran away. Another time, another child opened the door and saw the deceased again, just as described above. They told this account to Rabbi Noach, who then went into the room. When he saw the deceased he said to him: ‘I request that you stop coming here, because it scares the children.’ He never came again.”
Another account is told by Rabbi Shabtai Yudelevitz, of Jerusalem, according to what he heard from Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, who heard it from his teacher Rabbi Tzvi Broyde, who heard it from his teacher and father-in-law, Rabbi Simchah Zissel of Kelm, who heard it from his teacher, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who heard it from his teacher Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant, who heard it from his teacher Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin, the original teller of the account:
“One of the outstanding students at the Etz Chayim Yeshivah in Volozhin became ill and required medical treatment. He packed his bags in order to travel to his parents’ home. One of his friends from the yeshiva accompanied him the entire way. When evening came they arrived at a certain town and decided to stay at an inn. In the morning the owner of the inn gave them their bill. The sick boy counted his money and saw that he was about seven cents short of the total. The owner of the inn said that he trusted him to come back another time, to pay the small difference. They continued on their way until they came to the house of the sick boy’s parents. This is where the friend parted from the sick boy with wishes of a speedy recovery.
The sick boy remembered the debt (from the inn) and gave the amount to his friend so that on his way back to the yeshivah, he would pay the innkeeper. The latter promised that he would take care of the debt, and they parted in peace. In the meantime, the boy’s illness worsened, and after a short time, he died. When the sad news arrived at the yeshivah they wept and eulogized him, for he surely would have been one of the great scholars of their generation.
In the Volozhin yeshivah, the sound of Torah study never stopped. There were rotating shifts of students twenty-four hours a day. This custom was in accordance to the teachings of the Head of the Yeshivah, Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin, based on the verse: “If my covenant [i.e. the Torah] is not [maintained] day and night, then I have not set laws of heaven and earth.” That is, if the world were to be devoid of Torah study for even a moment, all of the worlds would be completely destroyed. Thus, even a single individual can uphold all of the worlds by virtue of his pure-hearted Torah study. How can a person’s heart not be set aflame by such a wondrous thing!
One evening, past midnight, Rabbi Chayim was walking through the halls of the yeshiva, observing, assisting and encouraging the students in their studies. Suddenly, to his great shock, he came eye to eye with the boy who had died, walking towards him. Rabbi Chayim did not become flustered, but approached the deceased and offered him his hand. “Shalom – Greetings! How is your judgment going in heaven?” Rabbi Chayim asked. The deceased explained to him that when he had arrived at his heavenly trial, they began to weigh all his sins and merits. It soon became apparent that he was free of sin. His judgment was sealed and he immediately entered the Garden of Eden.
Yet, when he came to the gates of Eden, the Accuser stood there, closing the gate in his face and shouting that he should not be allowed to enter, for he had stolen money. To the shock of the angelic entourage, the Accuser revealed that this young man had left the world with a debt of seven cents to that innkeeper. Although the boy was not directly responsible, because he had entrusted the debt to someone else, it mattered little to the Accuser. He knew only one thing: the owner of the inn was left seven cents short of his bill. Nor did the owner plan to forget this debt, but believed that it would be paid off at some point.
A debate ensued in the heavenly court, and it was decided that though, on the one hand, the boy was not guilty– because he had done all within his power – the owner was still left in a fix. So in an unusual turn of events, the boy was given permission to appear as a human being before his rabbi, and to request that he take care of the debt. All of these words were told directly to Rabbi Chayim.
Rabbi Chayim promised that he would take care of the matter and the boy suddenly disappeared. Rabbi Chayim called his friend asked if he had received the money for paying the debt. His friend was upset to realize that he had forgotten to make this small payment. He traveled again to the inn and paid the debt. The deceased was never seen again, for he had found peace in the upper realms.
Another account is related concerning the great Sage and holy man, Rabbi Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, Rabbi of Jerusalem. This incident took place in Pressburg, Hungary – known today as Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia – during the period when Rabbi Yosef Chayim was teaching at the Ktav Sofer Yeshivah. Here is what happened:
Over a period of many years, it had become the custom of a respectable businesswoman to make occasional, large donations to the yeshivah, on the condition that the yeshivah would ensure that kaddish was being said for poor souls that had no one to pray for them. The yeshivah would appoint a young man to be responsible for saying kaddish for all these souls.
At a certain point, the woman’s husband died. Because they had managed the business together, his death damaged their prosperity to the point that the business eventually had to close. The woman’s economic situation worsened, until eventually, her two daughters had no funds left for their dowries, and did not know where to go for help.
The woman carried her sorrow in silence and bravely accepted her fate. There was only one thing she could not accept – that the kaddish, which she had subsidized for so many years, would now be cancelled due to lack of funding.
With great bitterness, she approached the administrators of the yeshivah and requested that the yeshivah continue the tradition of reciting this kaddish, until the time came when God would restore her ability to pay for the service.
The heads of the yeshivah were very moved by her pure-hearted goodness, and agreed to her request. This filled the widow with joy, and a spark of happiness glimmered in her eyes as she left the yeshiva building. From that moment on, her burdens began to lighten, and even the situation of her two daughters began to feel less heavy. From the moment when the recitation of kaddish was promised to her, she lacked nothing in the world. Regarding her two daughters, she was sure that God, who protects widows and orphans, would have mercy upon them, finding them matches and seeing to their needs.
She had barely stepped onto the street, when an old Jew with a shining face stood across from her, his beard white and glimmering like snow. The woman was startled by the otherworldly light radiating from the stranger’s face. Her surprise increased seventy-fold when he came towards her and inquired about her condition and the condition of her daughters.
The woman sighed sadly as she revealed to the man her bitter fate – her fall from prosperity and her inability to properly marry off her daughters.
“How much money do you think you need for the expenses of your daughters’ weddings?” the old man asked. The woman was astonished at the question and replied: “Why does his honor need to know? What does it matter?” But she hesitantly told him the amount she assumed she would need anyway.
The man pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check for the woman to cash at the local bank. The check was for the exact sum she had mentioned. Before he signed the check, he made one request. “Because this amount is a substantial one,” he said, “it would be best for me to sign it in the presence of two witnesses that will see with their own eyes that it is my personal signature on the check and verify this fact with signatures of their own.”
Excited and confused by what was happening, the woman went up the stairs of the yeshivah and asked two young men to come with her. The old man told them to watch how he signed the check. For extra securities’ sake, he requested that they bring him a piece of paper upon which they too could sign, as evidence that everything was done properly. Afterward, he gave the check to the woman and told her to deposit it in the bank the following morning.
The entire situation seemed strange and inexplicable to the woman. Why was this strange old man, previously unknown to her, suddenly so generous? Why did he show such a big heart, to cover all of the expenses needed to marry off her daughters? Despite her doubts, she was eager to try her luck at the bank the next morning; her heart pounding in her chest as she arrived.
After the bank clerk looked at the check, he gazed up at the woman with utter astonishment. Uncomfortable and more than a little baffled, he looked at the check again several more times. Fumbling a bit, the clerk then requested that the woman remain at the counter while he went into the office of the manager and owner of the bank. Then something very dramatic happened.
When the manager saw the check, he fainted and fell from his chair!
There was chaos in the bank. The other clerks who had heard about the incident quickly took the woman into a side room under watch of a security guard, so that she would not try to escape. Everyone assumed that a case of forgery was at hand.
After the manager of the bank had collected himself, he asked to see the woman who had presented the check to deposit. When she entered, he asked with astonishment how she had received the check.
“I received it yesterday from a respectable Jew with a kind face,” she said, apologizing. “And there are even two witnesses from the yeshivah who can attest to this. They saw him write the check.” said the woman. “Could you identify this man if I showed you a picture of him?” asked the manager. “Of course I could identify him,” she said. “And I have no doubt that the two young men could identify him as well.”
The manager asked that he be brought the portrait of his deceased father. When the picture was placed before the woman, she pointed at it without hesitation, indicating that this was the man who had given her the check.
The manager ordered that the check be processed and let the woman go. After she left, the manager explained to the workers the nature of the strange mystery that had just transpired.
The man who had given the check to the woman was none other than his father who had died ten years earlier. The night before, the father had appeared to the son in a dream and said these words to him: “Know that ever since you left the path [of Judaism], married a non-Jewish woman, and stopped saying kaddish for me, my soul has not known a moment’s rest. Not until this anonymous woman came and requested that kaddish be said for souls that had no one to pray for them. From the kaddish that was said in the yeshivah – by the demand and commitment of that woman – my soul finally found peace and comfort. The woman will appear tomorrow at your bank with a check that I gave to her to cover the expenses of her marrying off her two daughters.” When I woke up this morning I was still stunned by the dream. I told it to my wife and she laughed the whole matter off. Then the woman with the check came to prove that the dream really was true after all.
Rabbi Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld concludes:
Who were those two young men from the yeshivah? I was the younger one and my friend Rabbi Yehudah Greenwald was the other. The bank manager soon returned to a traditional Jewish life, and his wife converted and became a proper Jew, and they merited building a fine Jewish home.
In a remarkably similar incident, the American psychiatrist and near-death expert, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, tells how a certain Mrs. Schwartz – whom she tended to before she died – appeared to her after the funeral, looking exactly as she had during her life. Dr. Kubler-Ross was about to quit her job in hospice care when Mrs. Schwartz appeared to her. She wanted to thank Kubler-Ross for all of the good she had done on her behalf, as well as encourage her to continue her important work with the dying. Kubler-Ross was overwhelmed, certain that she was seeing things. To be sure, she requested that the person addressing her sign her name on a piece of paper. The signature and the handwriting were later verified by family members as belonging to Mrs. Schwartz. Kubler-Ross stated that this was one of the strangest and most incredible experiences of her life.