Question: You commit to learn one masechta of Mishnayos in memory of a recently departed person. May you also sign up to learn the same masechta in memory of another recently departed person? In other words, your learning will be in memory of both people. Does this work?
Short Answer: There is a three-way machlokes between contemporary Acharonim whether this works l’chatchilah, b’diavad, or not at all. Rav Hershel Schachter shlita and Rav Mordechai Willig shlita both rule that it is much better to learn separately for each individual.
I. Learning Mishnayos
The sefer Maalas HaMishnah (chapter 11) gathers many sources for the custom of learning Mishnayos in memory of the departed. For example, the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 376:13) writes that it is a “tikun gadol” for the neshamah of the departed to learn Mishnayos for the first year after the death. Indeed, the Yosef Daas writes that it is even greater than davening before the amud in memory of the departed.
Similarly, the Nit’ei Gavriel (Aveilus 2:64:1) writes that “Mishnah” and “neshamah” have the same letters, symbolizing that learning Mishnayos helps the neshamah of the departed. He adds that the Chida writes that the specific seder of Mishnayos that is learned is a tikun for the aveiros discussed in that seder, such that learning Seder Z’ra’im fixes aveiros related to brachos, etc.
The Maalas HaMishnah also cites the Kuntras HaYechieli who notes that Asher’s pasuk in the Birchos Yaakov – “MeiAsher sh’meinah lachmo” – hints at the importance of learning Mishnayos for the departed. “Sh’meinah” has the same letters as Mishnah, and thus learning Mishnayos is the “lachmo” (representing Torah) that will prevent the departed from Gehinom (the rest of the pasuk, “yitein maadanei melech”). A similar idea is expressed by the Pri Sadeh (cited in Maalas HaMishnah), that “Mishnah” is an acronym (when mixed-up) for “he’eleisa min sh’ol nafshi,” that Hashem will save us from the depths of Gehinom.
The Nit’ei Gavriel (ibid) lists many g’dolim who wrote in their tzava’ah (will) that their children should specifically learn Mishnayos, both during the first year after the death, and on the yahrzeit. The Maalas HaMishnah adds that the Steipler himself did not fast on his parents’ yahrzeits, but instead learned extra Mishnayos.
Finally, the sefer Mido Bad (Rav Moshe Dov Fischer, p. 77) suggests that the reason why we specifically learn Mishnayos for the neshamah of the departed is because Mishnayos were the first Torah She’b’al Peh that was written down only because it was an “eis laasos” – a dire time when Torah would have otherwise been lost. This shows Hashem that the only reason why the departed did aveiros is because he lived in these dire times when he was faced with many hardships and challenges that prevented him from keeping all the Torah properly.
II. Learning For Two People
The above begs the question, whether one learning of Mishnayos can, at the same time, help two departed people?
Rav Alexander Knopfler shlita asked this question to many g’dolim, and their responses are published in the Kuntras MiRei’ach Nicho’ach (5773). However, his question was where the learner is getting paid by the two families to learn the entire Mishnayos and are unaware that the learner is also learning at the same time for an additional person.
The previous Yoka Rav (Rav Chaim Yeshaya Kenig zt”l) answered that while, at first glance, one would think that it is permitted, because “ner l’echad, ner l’mei’ah” (a light shines the same whether there is one reader or a hundred readers), nevertheless it is forbidden, as it is stealing from each family that is paying you to learn for their departed family member. He cites Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh Dei’ah 253) [that we cited in an earlier article – Kaddish #5] who ruled that one person may be paid to say Kaddish for multiple people, as long as the reciter says at least one Kaddish daily for each person. In other words, if he is saying Kaddish for three people, he says at least three Kaddishim per day.
The Mishnas Yosef answered similarly. He cites the Doveiv Meisharim (2:15) who rules that one Kaddish does not work for two people, since it must have kavanah for a specific person. The Mishnas Yosef extends this need for specific kavanah to learning Mishnayos as well.
The Mishnas Yosef then cites the Be’er Moshe (4:97) who brings a proof that one Kaddish can memorialize two people from the Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 376:4) who writes that when no mourner is present in shul, one person should recite Kaddish for “all the deceased Jews.” The Mishnas Yosef explains that the Rama does not contradict the idea that you need kavanah for a specific individual, as the Rama is talking about an extreme case where the departed souls are obviously “mochel” their uniqueness, as the other choice is no Kaddish at this minyan.
Rav Moshe Menachem Zilber answered that there is a distinction between learning for free and learning for money. Where the person learns for both departed individuals for free, he suggests that this is fine, as “ner l’echad, ner l’mei’ah.” But where the learner is paid for the learning, he must inform the families before he accepts both commitments.
Similarly, the Riv’vos Ephraim (8:128) writes that ideally one should only learn in memory of one departed person, but b’diavad, learning for more than one departed person works, as well.
However, the Tzitz Eliezer (7:49) rules that even l’chatchilah, one may learn the same masechta of Mishnayos in memory of multiple people, as long as each family did not tell you that you must only learn for their family member. Indeed, he concludes that the clear minhag in Budapest was that people learned the same masechta of Mishnayos in memory of multiple people.
III. Practically Speaking
Rabbi Michael Taubes, in a shiur on YU Torah, relates that he once asked this question to Rav Hershel Schachter shlita. Rav Schachter responded that he didn’t think it was proper, as you are making two separate commitments.
Rav Mordechai Willig shlita told this author that the Kitzur Divrei Sofrim (55:246-47) only allows Kaddish to be recited for more than one person where the reciter is saying Kaddish for his parent first, and then adds on another individual. It should not be recited, however, for two people who are not his parents. Rav Willig notes that with Mishnayos it is even more important to learn separately for each individual where they are not your parents.
Next Week’s Topic: When davening by himself at home on Friday night, must a husband say VaYechulu (after Sh’moneh Esrei in Maariv) together with his wife?