The Righteous Intercede for us During Their Lifetime and After Their Death
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, “Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will rise up and stray after the gods of the foreigners of the land” (Deuteronomy 31:16).
It must be understood why, instead of encouraging Moses before his death (by consoling him over the fact that he is departing from this world and leaving the people of Israel alone in their destiny after being so devoted to him), the Holy One, blessed be He, does the exact opposite. He informs Moses of the grim news that after his death, this people will rise up and allow themselves to be led astray by other gods!
The explanation seems to be that when the Tzaddik leaves this material world and tastes of the Garden of Eden, at that moment he severs all connections with the material world. Since Moses was the defender of Israel (Shemot Rabba 43:1), during his lifetime the Holy One, blessed be He, told him that after his death, this people would rise up to allow themselves to be led astray by other gods, and that this would risk provoking His wrath. He told Moses this so that even after he passed away, he would continue to worry over the community of Israel and to defend it in order to save it from Divine wrath. This is why there is not one generation that does not contain a little of Moses’ spirit in it (Zohar III:216b), as he always intercedes for the Children of Israel as he did during his lifetime, and redemption will come because of his merit.
We note, in fact, that when Moses ascended to Heaven to receive the Torah, he was not at all aware that the Children of Israel were about to make the golden calf. This is because the Holy One, blessed be He, told him about it, as it is written, “Go, descend – for your people that you brought up from the land of Egypt has become corrupt. They have strayed quickly from the way that I have commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf” (Exodus 32:7-8). It is obvious that if he had known about it beforehand, he would have descended from Heaven to prevent them from doing so.
We see in this a proof that when the righteous ascend to Heaven, they are totally separated from this world and know absolutely nothing of what happens here. When we light candles for the elevation of their souls, we awaken the merit of the righteous, as is stated in Makor Haim of the Tzaddik Rabbi Haim Pinto. In his work, he cites the introduction of Rabbi Haim Ben Attar’s book, wherein the latter states that the soul of a Tzaddik is awakened by the lighting of a candle lit for its elevation. The Tzaddik’s soul also takes into consideration the request of the person who lit the candle and intercedes in Heaven on his behalf.
We may also add that in studying the Torah of that Tzaddik, we connect it to his body. Moreover, his lips begin to move in the grave (Yebamot 97a). The Tzaddik derives pleasure from the fact that his Torah is being evoked, because this entails the creation of angels, awakening the Tzaddik who studied it in this world. All this gives the Tzaddik great satisfaction.
This is why it is written, “Remember the Torah of Moses My servant” (Malachi 3:22). The entire Torah carries the name of the one who stated it, meaning Moses, in such a way that the lips of Moses never stop moving in the grave.
Now Moses was unique in his generation, and there has never arisen another prophet of his stature, as it is written, “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses” (Deuteronomy 34:10), and even more so after he tasted of the Garden of Eden. Therefore, so that he not forget the Children of Israel, but rather that he continue to intercede for them, the Holy One, blessed be He, told him to keep in mind that his people, whom he so loved, had given themselves over to idolatry and had provoked His wrath, a wrath that Moses was to turn back even after his death.
In Parsha Haazinu, it is written, “The L-RD spoke to Moses on that very day, saying” (Deuteronomy 32:48). Rashi explains that the expression “that very day” is mentioned in three places: Concerning Noah, concerning Egypt, and here concerning the death of Moses. The Children of Israel said, “We will not let him go, this man who brought us out of Egypt, who split the sea for us, who made the manna come down for us, who got us quail, who gave us wells, and who gave us the Torah – we will not abandon him.” The Holy One, blessed be He, said, “I will bring him into Heaven in the midst of the day.” We see from this that the Children of Israel suffered because of the thought that Moses was going to leave this world, to the point that they were ready to affront G-d’s wrath, to fight against the Angel of Death, and to give their life for Moses. This is what made the Holy One, blessed be He, say “on that very day,” meaning that their prayer and their battle would be of no use, for Moses’ time to leave this world had already come.
When the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses “on that very day,” He wanted to tell him how much the Children of Israel loved him, to the point of being prepared to be killed by the Angel of Death in order that he remain alive. G-d did this in order to show Moses the greatness of their love for him, something that would encourage him to continue to intercede for them after his death.