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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash | 5770

Ein Ayah: What the Dead Know

Gemara: [Rabbi Yonatan, in a previous gemara, had said that the dead do not know what happens in the world.] Rabbi Yonatan retracted his former statement, as we know from the fact that Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmeni said the following in his name: How do we know that the deceased speak with each other? It is from the pasuk: “Hashem said to him [Moshe]: this is the land that I swore to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to say (leimor)” (Devarim 34:4). Why does it say leimor (which Chazal interpret as being commanded to tell someone else)? Hashem was thereby communicating to Moshe that he should tell the forefathers that the oath that Hashem had taken [regarding inheritance of the Land] was already fulfilled vis a vis their offspring. Now, were you to believe that the deceased do not know, what would come out of telling them? On the other hand, if they do know, why would it be necessary to tell them? The reason [for Moshe to tell them] is so that they could be appreciative to Moshe. 


Ein Ayah: The basis of the dispute whether the dead know what is going on in this world depends on the following question. Does that which remains of the person after death include the powers that are utensils for physical senses or only the purity of the intellectual spirit, which has nothing to do with the sensory elements of humanity? That is why the gemara discusses the deceased speaking with each other, as speech is something intellectual that attaches itself to physical things. In other words, according to that opinion, the vehicles for grasping the sensory remain. The specific application is also telling, as the forefathers were being told about the inheritance of the Land, which is a physical attainment.

A previous gemara had deflected a similar proof by saying that the deceased might have been told by another person who had died. However, that answer would not work here according Rabbi Yonatan’s previous statement that the deceased are totally unaware. It also raises here the possibility that if a dead person does not know, it will not help to inform him. The idea is as follows.

It is possible that a certain relationship to the physical exists, which would enable the deceased to know about that which is close to him. It is also possible that someone who had died recently would maintain, within his spirit, things and memories of the physical. It still could be, though, that the connection to the physical is not from the characteristics of the permanent spirit, and therefore these memories fade.

According to this approach, spirits that are separated from the body could certainly not recognize the value of a physical land, so that it would not be significant for Moshe to inform them [that Bnei Yisrael began to take hold of the Land] or to appreciate Moshe for his part in that acquisition. Therefore, from the fact that Hashem commanded Moshe to tell the forefathers, we see that holy, independent spirits have full conceptions regarding elements of the physical world. This approach would posit that all of the powers that grasp matters remain intact.


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