I had a distant, elderly relative from my father’s side who I met once as a child and then once again as a young adult. The last time I remember thinking about her was when my father told me she passed away which was many years ago. Recently, I had two sequential joyous occasions in my own family, including a birth. Right after that, I had a dream, which didn’t seem like an ordinary dream at all, where this Vivienne appeared out of the darkness, her face illuminated by light, and she asked me, “What’s new with the family?” In the dream, I had the distinct feeling that she was trying to establish contact with me in order to maintain a connection with what happens in my own family. And when I awoke, I had this special type of tingling feeling as if I had really been visited from another world.
Now this whole episode is very strange to me for several reasons: For one, I had little contact whatsoever with this relative and don’t remember even thinking about her at all over the years. Two, she and her husband never had any children – and here she appeared to me precisely on occasions regarding my own children. Three, because I’m aware of there being significance in Judaism regarding the day of a person’s passing, I did some research and found that she passed away in December of 2002, but the “visitation” took place recently in January which is not the month in which she passed away.Can you help me make sense of all this?
Judaism fully accepts the idea that the deceased, particularly relatives, can visit a person in a dream. The visitation occurs during sleep for two reasons: the conscious mind is quieted from the external stimuli of daily activity and the soul is loosened from the body enabling it to interact more freely with the non-physical, spiritual world. The mind/soul combination is therefore in a better “state” and “place” to interact with the souls of the departed, whose communication takes place through the venue of a dream. Since Vivienne was not part of your conscious mind, it’s more likely this was a real visitation and not something you merely dreamed of because you were thinking about it.
What’s more, I think you’ll be tingled to know the following: The significance you’re aware of regarding a Jewish person’s date of passing (in Yiddish this is called “yahrzeit” – literally “year’s time”; in Hebrew, “Yom haPetira” – “day of passing over”) applies specifically to the Hebrew date and not the date of the Gregorian calendar and the two calendars do not coincide. What’s interesting is that I checked the Jewish calendar and found that December of 2002 corresponded to the Hebrew month Tevet, which this year (2010) occurred in January. That means she in fact did appear in the month of her yahrzeit, Tevet, and if you know the day in December of her death, you might actually find that your dream was on or near the yahrzeit itself!
The way to make sense of this is by understanding why departed souls seek this communication in the first place. According to Jewish sources it can be to benefit the living by revealing something to, or inspiring the person in some way. This usually happens by a very close and loving, or righteous relative. It can also be in order for the departed soul to receive some benefit from the living. This is often by a relative who’s lacking in the spiritual world, even if the relationship during life wasn’t particularly close. Of course, it can also be a combination of the two, namely for the mutual benefit of both the departed and the living.
It seems to me that Vivienne appeared to you primarily to beseech you to help her. Having died childless, she has no continuation in this world. This is not just a matter of genealogy. According to Judaism, a departed soul is directly and significantly benefited by the lives and deeds of its descendants in this world. Even though a departed soul can no longer improve its status in the spiritual realm, acts performed on its behalf by living relatives confer on the soul great progress and pleasure. This is so much so that the Talmud refers to these descendants as the departed soul’s legs that continue to do its footwork in this world.
So, at the risk of sounding eerie and giving you the heebie-jeebies, I think Vivienne is looking to you and your family as a way of maintaining a connection in this world in order to benefit and elevate her status in the next.
What can you do to help her?
First, she may have had no one saying Kaddish for her. If this is something you can do for her at the appropriate times it would be of tremendous spiritual benefit for her. If you can’t do it yourself you can make arrangements for someone else to recite Kaddish for her. Second, consider donating charity to a worthy Jewish cause or contributing some item or service on her behalf and in her memory. The former might include donating a sum of money to help support Torah study or needy Torah families; the latter might include contributing books, religious items or electricity etc. to a shul or helping to maintain some community service like the mikveh or Shabbat hospitality. Last, you can “include” her more in your family by sharing good memories of her with your children from time to time, recalling her at family gatherings and joyous occasions, and by observing her yahrzeit in the traditional way by lighting a memorial candle, giving charity, and praying for her benefit.
This is referred to as “chesed shel emet” – true giving – since you’re benefiting the departed with no expectation of receiving in return. But then again, Vivienne may be in a position to help you in ways you’re not even aware of…