During this past Yom Tov, I spent some time with my son who lives out of town. One of the first things he asked caught me off guard, but also brought me joy. He wanted to know if I had gone to the cemetery. I immediately understood what he was asking – and I said yes. I did go and had personally invited my parents to his upcoming wedding.
I was pleased that he asked, because honoring parents does not end with their passing. Nor does their connection with you end. Since my parents’ passing in recent years, we have conversed many times, albeit in the pre-dawn hours, in dreams.
Therefore, I was not surprised when that very night, my father, Chaim ben Aharon Yosef HaCohen, came to me in a dream. Usually, I am a spectator, watching the dream as if it were a movie. This time, I saw myself on the phone and my father was on the other end. At the beginning of the dream, I watched myself dialing my parents’ number – one that they had for over 35 years. I saw my father pick up the receiver. I remember seeing myself look surprised and exclaiming, “Daddy, you’re back – why didn’t anyone tell me that you were back from Israel?”
My father just smiled. Suddenly, I realized – how could this be? He has passed away. I woke up with a start. I then understood that he wanted me to know that he had accepted the invitation to his grandson’s wedding.
Half awake, I remember being deeply touched by this scenario. In his life, my father, a Holocaust survivor who had lost 10 siblings and over 50 of their children, was quiet, passive and subdued. He preferred that my mother take care of personal business. In Olam Habah, the Real World, he has become confident and in charge, and has appeared to me that way in his other dream-visits to me.
In my family, visits from those who have passed on are taken very seriously. One of my earliest memories is being told how my mother’s father, Shimon Bredin, a”h, had saved my mother’s life in Auschwitz, even though he had already been long murdered. He and his wife had been selected for death by the Nazi monster doctor, Yosef Mengele, whom the inmates called the Angel of Death. They were gassed since they were middle-aged and deemed unfit for slave labor.
My mother, a starving teenager, was planning to go to the camp kitchen and try to find some work in an attempt to get more food for her and her sickly sisters. On the night before she planned to approach the kitchen staff, her father came to her in a dream and warned her not to go. She listened to his warning and didn’t go. In doing so, she saved her life since the Nazi commander on a whim had ordered all the kitchen help to be gassed and replaced with new inmates.
As I grew up, I would often share this story with my friends, who in turn would confide in me that their family had similar stories. I remember the story of a friend’s brother who, as an infant, was suffocating when his head was caught in his crib bars. His mother was warned by her mother in a dream to go and check on the baby.
It is easy to be skeptical about these stories – how can the dead reach out to us? Some may think it is wishful thinking to believe in encounters from beyond. But the answer may be in the prayer we say first thing as we get up – Modeh Ani, where we thank G-d for being merciful and returning our souls. The implication is that the soul had departed – that we were temporarily in another world.
I imagine that while we may be on the Other Side, our departed must travel quite a distance down to our level as they are on such a high madraiga (level) in Olam Haba that we would not be able to reach them. That is likely why we don’t dream about them every night.
They reach out to us only during special occasions. Like accepting a wedding invitation and letting their daughter know that they will be there to share in her joy and to shep nachas as she escorts her son to his future.
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