The Mishna is the first codification of Jewish Law. The Mishnayos (pl. of Mishna) were authored by the Tanaim, the sages who lived approximately between 40 BCE and 200 CE, and written by Rabbi Judah the Prince (Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi) around the end of the Second Century. The Mishna contains six sedarim, or orders:
The most valuable deed one can perform in memory of a loved one is studying Torah. The sefer Menucha U’Kedusha, written by a disciple of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin (the primary disciple of the Vilna Gaon), says that the merit of Torah study is greater than that of Kaddish or prayer. In fact, there is a well-known story that when Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman zt”l, the founder of Ner Israel in Baltimore, lost his father, he was a young yeshiva student in Slabodka. The Alter, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, said to delay sending the telegram to the young Yaakov Ruderman so that he should not have to forgo Torah study due to travelling and shiva. When asked who would recite Kaddish, he responded that the Torah study would provide a greater merit than that of Kaddish.
The most beneficial type of study for the memory of the deceased is that of Mishnayos. Both Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1761-1838) and Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum (1760-1832) wrote that upon their demise, their families should study Mishnayos for the entire first year and subsequent years on the yahrtzeit.
The Hebrew word Mishna (משנה) is comprised of the same letters as the word Neshama (נשמה), or soul. As such, the learning of Mishnayos is the primary source of solace and respite for the soul that has departed from this world. The word Mishna also contains the first letters of the following phrase: העלית מן שאול נפשי (you have brought my soul up from misery). The sages relate that Asher (the tribal leader, son of Jacob) stands at the gates of Gehenom and anyone who has learned Mishnayos, or who has had Mishnayos learned in their merit, is saved by him.
While of course it is preferable for the child to actually study the Mishnayos in memory of the deceased, if that proves to be impossible, either due to scholastic inability or time constraints, it is meritorious to hire Torah scholars to study the mishnayos on one’s behalf. In Jewish law, when someone hires someone else to study on his behalf, the “employer” receives the merit of Torah study, even though he has not studied himself. In the case of mishnayos for a loved one, it becomes as if the relative himself studied on behalf of his loved one. In addition, the family member is performing the mitzvah of Tzedakah, giving charity, and specifically supporting Torah scholars, which is another primary merit for the loved one’s memory.
-Rabbi A. Gaffen
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