When a Jewish person passes away, his/her soul leaves the body and goes to a higher world – a better place. Every Jew is as full of mitzvot (good deeds) as a pomegranate is full of seeds. Every Jew has a specific, unique task to fulfil. When a Jew passes away, we can take comfort from the fact that he/she may well have fulfilled his/her unique task. In Pirkei Avot, we are enjoined to “Know what is above you.” A non-literal reading of the Hebrew is “Know that what is Above is from you.” In other words, every mitzvah that a Jew performs has tremendous spiritual consequences and creates a defending angel to speak up for that person in the Heavenly Court.
Saying Kaddish in memory of a loved one elevates the soul of the departed person. So, too, do mitzvot performed in memory of the departed person. There is a custom to learn mishnayot (“mishnahs”) in memory of departed ones, because the word “mishnah” has the same letters as the word “neshama”, which is the Hebrew word for “soul”. It is also praiseworthy to perform mitzvot in memory of departed ones. These might include mitzvot which were precious to the departed person, such as lighting Shabbat candles or making Kiddush on Friday night, or mitzvot which the departed person taught you to cherish. Every mitzvah performed in memory of a departed person, no matter how small, helps to elevate that person’s soul.
Rabbi Jeremy Conway, Minister of Queenshill Synagogue