There can be no question that anyone who has lived as a good person in this world will be happy in the Afterlife. And no one who has been worthy of having friends in this world could possibly be without friends in the Next World.
And if the dear departed person leaves family or friends in this world, he or she is doubly fortunate. Even though he has passed on, his friends and family here in this world can still do a great deal for him.
The renowned Rabbi Akiva (first and second centuries C.E.) was once walking in a cemetery, when he encountered a hideous-looking man. Rabbi Akiva was startled by his appearance, and asked him to stop his work so he could talk to him. The man stopped for a moment to talk with Rabbi Akiva, and he told him, “I am a dead person. Because of the unspeakable sins I did when I was alive, I have been condemned to terrible punishment, and that is why I look like this.”
“Is there no way you can be redeemed?” asked Rabbi Akiva.
“If someone would say Kaddish for me, or lead the congregation in prayer and praise Hashem, then I would be rescued from this situation,” answered the dead man.
“Do you have a son?”
“I don’t know. When I died, my wife was expecting a child, but I have not merited being told whether it was a boy or a girl, or even whether or not the child lived.”
Rabbi Akiva immediately went to the man’s hometown and searched for his wife and son. Whenever Rabbi Akiva mentioned the man’s name to anyone in that area, they responded, “May he be cursed for all the evil he did when he was alive.”
Eventually, though, Rabbi Akiva found the son. Unfortunately, the son was unlearned and a troublesome child. Rabbi Akiva spoke gently to him, and convinced him to study Torah with him. He taught the child to say Kaddish for his father.
The night after the child said Kaddish for the first time, the departed father came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream, and blessed and thanked him for having saved him from further anguish.
The son later grew up to become a great Rabbi, by the name of Rabbi Nachum HaPekuli, and because of his Torah study his father merited a great reward in the Next World.
This story tells us that there is a great deal we can do, because the connections are never lost. Whatever relationship anyone has with you is not severed when he dies. And whatever we do in this world on behalf of the departed in the Next World, affects the departed deeply.
Of course, some connections are closer than others. A son has the greatest ability to bring merit to his parents, as does a daughter. This is particularly true if the departed parent taught the son or daughter to keep the Torah’s Mitzvos. But even if the parent was not observant, and never instructed the children to be observant, their children’s performance of Mitzvos automatically reflects on the parents, and thus brings them merit.
Some of the things that can have a positive effect on the souls of the departed are: the study of Torah and giving charity, particularly if done expressly in their name.
I don’t know why, but lighting a candle in their name, even at home, is also beneficial to them.
But the truth is that any Mitzvah the living do on behalf of the departed, especially when done by the offspring of the departed, elevates the souls of the departed in Heaven. And of course, it also has a beneficial effect on the souls of the people who do the Mitzvah, and to some degree, to all Jews everywhere and to the entire world.
There are several Mitzvos that are especially assigned for the purpose of honoring and elevating the souls of the departed. One of them involves praising Hashem and asking Him to bring the Messianic Era and the Resurrection of Souls so that the whole world knows the greatness of Hashem’s Name. This is the saying of Kaddish.
Another customary method is that of studying Mishnayos (an essential part of Torah Study) for the departed. The Hebrew word “Mishnah,” which refers to a paragraph of Mishnayos, has the same letters as the word “nishamah,” soul. Therefore, we study Mishnah to elevate the soul.
It is customary that a woman study the first five chapters of Pirkai Avos, the Ethics of Our Fathers, which is a tractate of Mishnah.
The Custom – when possible – is to study the entire Six Orders of the Mishnah in time to make a commemoration thirty days after the person has passed away. This is called the “Shloshim,” which means “thirty.” Not everyone can do that alone, so in most cases they are divided among numerous people, each person taking one (or more) Tractate(s). Some Tractates are rather large, and so they are divided between several people.
A sign is usually hung up at the house where the mourners are staying so that the people who come to comfort the mourners can choose a Tractate they feel comfortable studying. They will study, perhaps, a few mishnayos every day, finishing the entire Tractate before the Shloshim.
People who accept upon themselves this task should be informed of the exact date of the Shloshim, so that they know to finish their studies of Mishnayos before then. They should expressly study it in honor of the departed, and mention the name of the departed and his/her mother’s name. They should say, before and after studying,“For the elevation of the soul of Avrohom ben Sarah,” or “Rachel bat Sarah” (substituting the actual names, of course).
If possible, one of the sons should study the first tractate (Berachos) of the Talmud, and another son should study the last Tractate (Uktzin).
In any case, on the night of the “Shloshim” — that is, on the thirtieth day after the passing — the departed’s family and their close friends gather for a meal. During the meal, whoever studied Uktzin should finish out loud the final Mishnah of the Tractate, and all the sons should then say Kaddish together. There are a few prayers they should say first, if possible. Those are printed in many copies of Mishnayos.
If the sons cannot do this, or if there are no sons, you should hire someone to say Kaddish and to study Mishnayos for the soul of the departed. The purpose of hiring such a person is because then two Mitzvos are accomplished for the honor of the departed: the study of Torah, and offering livelihood to someone who studies Torah, which is a very great form of charity. Below is a link to an someone who can help with this.
It is also customary to study one Tractate of Talmud for the yartzeit, the yearly anniversary of the day the departed passed away. It is best to do this every year, finishing on the day of the yartzeit. Again, not everyone can do this. See below for a link.
Probably the most important and beneficial method of bringing reward to the departed is to search your own life for ways to improve it. When you improve yourself, you elevate your soul in this world and the soul of the departed in the Next World. This is particularly true when someone’s parent has passed away, but it is true for all souls.
I want to say a word in passing about daughters and wives of a dearly departed, since this is often a misunderstood subject. While women don’t say Kaddish, there are many things that they can do. Certainly, they should give charity in the name of the deceased, and light the yartzeit candle. They should pray, say additional psalms, learn Mishnah from Pirkei Avos, and above all, say Yizkor (the Remembrance Prayer) on Holidays. They should also try to arrange for a gathering and small meal for friends and/or family of the departed. If this is not possible, they should pay for a meal for yeshivah students, or for poor people. Acts of kindness, such as helping someone (in a non-monetary fashion), are also of the greatest excellence.
Donations in the name of the deceased are very beneficial to the soul of the departed. If in some way this helps people, a great deal of merit goes to the departed, as well as to you for being the agent that did it in this world. The donations can be any of many different types. You can support a scholar, or even just partly support him. You can donate money so that students can have Books of Torah, Talmud, etc. This way, all their Torah study adds reward to the soul of the departed and to you, which elevates both his soul and yours to higher levels whenever they study Torah from those Books. Or you can donate to a senior citizens’ home, which enhances their lifestyle and takes pain away from them, which, again, brings reward to you and the departed in whose name you are doing this.
There are many types of charity, and many ways to increase holiness in this world. As long as any soul is part of doing such holy work, everyone will benefit.
For those interested in hiring a Torah Scholar to say Kaddish or to study Torah for a loved one,