7

There is a practice among Chabad chasidim to ask questions via the "Igrot Kodesh" (a collection of published correspondence from the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe).

The procedure involves writing a letter and placing it in a random volume and page of Igrot Kodesh, and then reading the response.

Is there any problem with doing this? Halachically or otherwise. Please source.

I had asked a Chabad person once whether this is praying to the Rebbe (which would certainly be forbidden) and he replied something like that it is "asking for a beracha".

3

The Zohar III 71a (quoted in Maanah Lashon, the traditional text recited at a Tzaddik's Kever) writes:

אמר רבי ייסא בשעתא דאצטריך עלמא למטרא אמאי אזלינן לגביהון דמיתייא והא כתיב דורש אל המתים ואסיר. אמר ליה עד כען לא חמיתא גדפא דצפרא דעדן. ודורש אל המתים אל המתים דייקא. דאינון חייבי עלמא דאינון מעמין עכו"ם דאשתכחו תדיר מתים. אבל ישראל דאינון זכאי קשוט שלמה קרא עלייהו ושבח אני את המתים שכבר מתו בזמנא אחרא ולא השתא. שכבר מתו. והשתא אינון חיין. ועוד דשאר עמין כד אתאן למתיהון אתיין בחרשין לאתערא עלייהו זינין בישין. וכד ישראל אתאן למתיהון אתיין בכמה תשובה לקמי קב"ה. בתבירו דלבא. בתעניתא לקבליה וכלא בגין דנשמתין קדישין יבעון רחמי לקמי קב"ה עלייהו וקב"ה חייס על עלמא בגיניהון. וע"ד תנינן צדיקא אע"ג דאתפטר מהאי עלמא לא אסתלק ולא אתאביד מכלהו עלמין דהא בכלהו עלמין אשתכח יתיר מחייוי. דבחייוי אשתכח בהאי עלמא בלחודוי ולבתר אשתכח בתלת עלמין וזמין לגבייהו דכתיב עלמות אהבוך אל תקרי עלמות אלא עולמות זכאה חולקהון.

"R. Yeissa asked: 'Why, when rain is needed for the world, do we go [and pray] at [the resting place of] the dead? For the Torah forbids [us to] "inquire of the dead."'

"He replied: 'You have not yet seen the wing of the Bird of Eden.'. The 'dead' to whom the verse refers are those who may certainly be termed dead, i.e., the sinners* of the heathen who are forever dead. But of Israel who are truly righteous, Solomon says: "And I praise the dead, for they are already dead"; i.e., they have died in the past, but now they are living.

"'Furthermore, when other peoples visit their dead, they come with magic to arouse evil spirits upon themselves. When, by contrast, the Jews visit their dead, they come in profuse repentance before the Holy One, blessed be He, with a contrite heart and with fasting. This is all with the intent that the holy Neshamos entreat the Holy One, blessed be He, for mercy on their behalf — and then, for their sake, He has compassion on the world.

"'In regard to this, we have learnt: A righteous man even when he departs from this world, does not [truly] rise above or vanish from any world. For he is to be found in all worlds more than in his lifetime. In his lifetime, he is found only in this [material] world, but afterwards, he is found in three worlds, and accessible therein. This is alluded to by the verse, "Young maidens (עלמות) love you." Do not read עלמות , "young maidens," but rather עולמות , "worlds." Happy is their lot.'"

(Translation from Chabad.org)

*Note, that the Gemara in Brachos (18b) says (similarly):

והא כתיב (קהלת ט, ה) והמתים אינם יודעים מאומה אמר ליה אם קרית לא שנית אם שנית לא שלשת אם שלשת לא פירשו לך (קהלת ט, ה) כי החיים יודעים שימותו אלו צדיקים שבמיתתן נקראו חיים שנאמר (שמואל ב כג, כ) ובניהו בן יהוידע בן איש חי רב פעלים מקבצאל הוא הכה את שני אריאל מואב והוא ירד והכה את הארי בתוך הבור ביום השלג בן איש חי אטו כולי עלמא בני מתי נינהו אלא בן איש חי שאפי' במיתתו קרוי חי רב פעלים מקבצאל שריבה וקבץ פועלים לתורה והוא הכה את שני אריאל מואב שלא הניח כמותו לא במקדש ראשון ולא במקדש שני והוא ירד והכה את הארי בתוך הבור ביום השלג איכא דאמרי דתבר גזיזי דברדא ונחת וטבל איכא דאמרי דתנא סיפרא דבי רב ביומא דסיתוא. והמתים אינם יודעים מאומה אלו רשעים שבחייהן קרויין מתים שנאמר (יחזקאל כא, ל) ואתה חלל רשע נשיא ישראל ואי בעית אימא מהכא (דברים יז, ו) על פי שנים עדים או (על פי) שלשה עדים יומת המת חי הוא אלא המת מעיקרא:

Rabbi Yonatan said to him: Do the dead know so much? Isn’t it stated: “And the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)? Rabbi Ḥiyya said to him: If you read the verse, you did not read it a second time, and if you read it a second time, you did not read it a third time, and if you read it a third time, they did not explain it to you properly. The meaning of the verse: “For the living know that they will die, and the dead know nothing and have no more reward, for their memory has been forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5): For the living know that they will die, these are the righteous, who even in their death are called living. An allusion to this is as it is stated: “And Benayahu, son of Yehoyada, son of a valiant man of Kabze’el, who had done mighty deeds, he smote the two altar-hearths of Moab; he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow” (II Samuel 23:20). He was referred to in the verse as son of a living man. The Gemara wonders: Is that to say, the fact that the Bible referred to him with that appellation, that all others are children of the dead? Rather, the verse should be explained as follows: The son of a living man who lives forever, who even in death is referred to as living. Man of Kabze’el who had done mighty deeds, as he accumulated and gathered many workers for the sake of the Torah. Who killed the two lion-hearted men [Ariel] of Moab, as after his death he left no one his equal, in either the First Temple or the Second Temple periods, as the Temple is called Ariel (see Isaiah 29:1), and the two Ariel refers to the two Temples. In contrast to the righteous, who are referred to as living even after their death, the verse states explicitly: “The dead know nothing.” These are the wicked, who even during their lives are called dead, as the prophet Ezekiel said in reference to a king of Israel who was alive: “And you are a slain, wicked prince of Israel” (Ezekiel 21:30). And if you wish, say instead that the proof is from here: “At the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses the dead shall be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6). This is puzzling. As long as the accused has not been sentenced to death, he is alive. Rather, this person who is wicked is considered dead from the outset.

Also (a bit later in the Sugya)

ת"ש דזעירי הוה מפקיד זוזי גבי אושפזיכתיה עד דאתי ואזיל לבי רב שכיבה אזל בתרה לחצר מות אמר לה זוזי היכא אמרה ליה זיל שקלינהו מתותי בצנורא דדשא בדוך פלן ואימא לה לאימא תשדר לי מסרקאי וגובתאי דכוחלא בהדי פלניתא דאתיא למחר אלמא ידעי

With regard to the deceased’s knowledge of what transpires, come and hear a proof, as it is told: Ze’iri would deposit his dinars with his innkeeper. While he was going and coming to and from the school of Rav, she died, and he did not know where she had put the money. So he went after her to her grave in the cemetery and said to her: Where are the dinars? She replied: Go and get them from beneath the hinge of the door in such and such a place, and tell my mother that she should send me my comb and a tube of eyeshadow with such and such a woman who will die and come here tomorrow. Apparently, the dead know what transpires in this world.

ת"ש דאבוה דשמואל הוו קא מפקדי גביה זוזי דיתמי כי נח נפשיה לא הוה שמואל גביה הוו קא קרו ליה בר אכיל זוזי דיתמי אזל אבתריה לחצר מות ... אדהכי והכי אתא אבוה חזייה דהוה קא בכי ואחיך אמר ליה מאי טעמא קא בכית אמר ליה דלעגל קא אתית מאי טעמא אחיכת דחשיבת בהאי עלמא טובא אמר ליה אי חשיבנא נעיילוה ללוי ועיילוהו ללוי אמר ליה זוזי דיתמי היכא אמר ליה זיל שקלינהו באמתא דרחיא עילאי ותתאי דידן ומיצעי דיתמי The Gemara cites another proof: Come and hear, as it is told: They would deposit the money of orphans with Shmuel’s father for safekeeping. When Shmuel’s father died, Shmuel was not with him, and did not learn from him the location of the money. Since he did not return it, Shmuel was called: Son of him who consumes the money of orphans. Shmuel went after his father to the cemetery and said to the dead: ... Meanwhile, Shmuel’s father came and Shmuel saw that he was crying and laughing. Shmuel said to his father: Why are you crying? His father replied: Because you will come here soon. Shmuel continued and asked: Why are you laughing? His father replied: Because you are extremely important in this world. Shmuel said to him: If I am important, then let them grant Levi entry to the yeshiva. And so it was that they granted Levi entry to the yeshiva. Shmuel said to his father: Where is the orphans’ money? He said to him: Go and retrieve it from the millhouse, where you will find the uppermost and the lowermost money is ours, and the money in the middle belongs to the orphans. Shmuel said to him: Why did you do that? He replied: If thieves stole, they would steal from our money on top, which the thief would see first. If the earth swallowed up any of it, it would swallow from our money, on the bottom. Apparently, the dead, in this case Shmuel’s father, know when others will die.

The Minchas Elazar wrote that these Gemaras are practical Halacha.

  • While these instances quoted by you shows very great ammoroim were able to communicate with the dead in extenuating circumstances, this by no means gives permission to mediocre people to randomly pick up an Iggeres hakodesh stick a question inside and then say that is the correct answer to the question which can make life changes to a vulnerable person, rather consult a gadol THAT IS ALIVE IN OUR TIME As it says in Devarim 17,9 וּבָאתָ֗ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם וְאֶ֨ל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֔ט אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם וְדָרַשְׁתָּ֙ וְהִגִּ֣ידוּ לְךָ֔ אֵ֖ת דְּבַ֥ר הַמִּשְׁפָּֽט׃ – user15464 Oct 2 '17 at 15:04
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The Torah forbids various superstitious and idolatrous activities including "doresh el hametim":

וְחֹבֵר, חָבֶר; וְשֹׁאֵל אוֹב וְיִדְּעֹנִי, וְדֹרֵשׁ אֶל-הַמֵּתִים

or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a consulter of the dead. (Deut. 18:11)

R. Yuval Cherlow is inclined towards forbidding the practice on these grounds:

מי שאינו חלק מחסידי חב"ד אינו מכיר כלל במושג הזה. אין אנו דורשים אל המתים, גם בשל העובדה שהתורה אסרה זאת, גם בשל העובדה שאין לנו שום סיבה לחשוב כי שימת דבר מה בתוך ספר הוא שנותן לנו אפשרות לקבל תשובות מלמעלה

Somebody who is not a member of Habad does not recognise such a practice at all. We do not perform [such acts of] doresh el hametim. Both because the Torah has forbidden it, and also because we have no reason to think that putting something in a book will give us the ability to receive messages from on high.

[He does preface his statement by noting that: חסידי חב"ד מאמינים באגרות הקודש – זו זכותם, that is that Habad people are entitled to believe in it. He doesn't seem to be saying that they can practice it, since they too are enjoined with the aforementioned verses. Perhaps he means that the belief itself isn't forbidden.]

This could also be inferred from Rambam's definition of this prohibition in Hilkhot Avodah Zarah (11:14):

איזה הוא דורש אל המתים... כדי שיבוא המת בחלום, ויודיעו מה ישאל עליו.. כללו של דבר: כל העושה מעשה כדי שיבוא המת ויודיעו--לוקה, שנאמר "לא יימצא בך . . . ודורש אל המתים"

What is doresh el hametim...In order that the dead person come in a dream and convey information regarding his question...The general rule is: Anyone who performs an act in order that a dead person come to him and inform him [of something], is whipped, as it says: 'It should not be found amongst you...nor one who consults the dead.'

There is perhaps room to debate whether he would include a case where the spirit of the dead coneys the information indirectly though a book, rather than through other media such as dreams.

  • 1
    Because people don't put letters in Igros Kodesh to get the Rebbe's ghost to come and give them answers. – Shmuel Brin Mar 23 '17 at 6:37
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    @ShmuelBrin Rambam doesn't say that you need ghosts to come to give you the answer (in all likelihood he first even believe that such a thing existed). Rather, he holds that any act which is meant to elicit information being transmitted from a dead person is included. R. Cherlow also seems seems like a valuable source. – mevaqesh Mar 23 '17 at 6:40
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    So does Rav Aviner – Shmuel Brin Mar 23 '17 at 6:47
  • @ShmuelBrin He doesn't mention the Rambam or different interpretations thereof. However he is certainly entitled to his opinion as well. If you post an answer based on his opinion I wouldn't downvote it. – mevaqesh Mar 23 '17 at 6:50
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    כדי שיבוא המת בחלום, ויודיעו מה ישאל עליו. – Shmuel Brin Mar 23 '17 at 7:08

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