Off the Pulpit

From Beyond the Grave

The poet Langston Hughes asked that a particular Duke Ellington song be played at his funeral: Do Nothing Until You Hear From Me.

Is such a thing possible? The idea of hearing messages from beyond the grave has tantalized human beings for as long as can remember. The Jewish tradition certainly believes that this life is not all. The possibility that there is some sort of murky bridge to the beyond is raised repeatedly in Jewish texts.

In one famous episode in a medieval source, Rabbi Akiba meets a man who was cruel in his life and whose son does not know or wish to say the kaddish for him. Through Rabbi Akiba’s efforts, the son comes to say kaddish and grants the man’s tortured soul some peace. Many times in the Talmud the Rabbis meet Elijah the prophet in the marketplace, and he is able to give them information on the doings up in heaven.

I have heard from many people over the years that they have been visited by relatives who passed away, sometimes in dreams, sometimes in visions. Although I have never had such an experience, I am aware that my own perceptions and understanding are limited, and it is not my job to insist to others that their experiences are unreal. Perhaps the membrane between here and there is thinner than we assume.