Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

In this week’s parashah, the Torah relates (Bereishis 24:1): “Now, Avraham was old, advanced in years, and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.” The Hebrew expression for “advanced in years,” ba bayamim, means literally “had come to days.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 59:6) remarks that Avraham had come to the days of which Shlomo HaMelech speaks in the following verse (Koheles 12:1): “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the bad days come, and the years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no desire for them.’” In a previous post, we presented one of the Maggid’s commentaries on this teaching; here, we present another.
The days leading up to death are sometimes referred to as bad, and sometimes as good. In the verse from Koheles quoted above, they are referred to as bad. But elsewhere in Koheles, they are referred to as good (verse 7:1): “A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of birth.” And, regarding the Torah’s report that Hashem “saw all that He had done, and, behold, it was very good,” the Midrash teaches that death is included in what Hashem called “very good” (Bereishis Rabbah 9:5). How can death be both bad and good?
The Maggid explains as follows. Death has two effects: It causes a person to leave this world, and it enables a person to enter the world to come. These two effects are reflected in the different Hebrew terms for death. The term maves refers to leaving this world, while the terms geviyah and asifah refer to entering the world to come. A wicked person’s death is described using the term maves, for the only effect that occurs when a wicked person dies is that he leaves this world. His existence comes to a total end; he does not enter another realm of life. A righteous person’s death, on the other hand, is described using the terms geviyah and asifah, for the primary effect of his death is to bring him into the world to come.
Now, when a person sets out to attain something he desires, we say he is “going” to seek it, and when he actually attains it, we say he has “come upon it.” By contrast, when a person encounters something that he was not seeking and did not want, we say that “it came upon him.” The wicked, who are entranced by worldly pleasures, do not want death. Rather, death pursues them. Thus, in describing how Hashem views a wicked man, Dovid HaMelech declares (Tehillim 37:13): “The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day has come.” Similarly, when Dovid spoke of his wish that Hashem vanquish the wicked, he exclaimed (Tehillim 55:16): “May He incite death against them” – that is, cause death to pursue them. The righteous, on the other hand, look forward to death. They constantly await the day when they will leave this world and be able to behold more clearly the light of Hashem, the Living King. Hence, a righteous man’s death is described as “coming to days” – reaching a desired goal. Avraham’s death was described in these terms. Dovid HaMelech’s death was described in the same way (Melachim Alef 1:1, the opening verse of this week’s haftarah).
In a similar vein, it is written (Iyov 14:14): “If a man dies (yamus), will he live [anymore]? [But] I hope all the days of my life, until the time of my passing comes.” If a person’s death is in the form of maves, rather than geviyah or asifah, then he has no more life ahead of him. Iyov’s words can be read as making this point, and then speaking of those who are not in this category – to the man who looks forward, all the days of his physical life, to eternal spiritual life in the world to come.
In his last speech before his death, Dovid HaMelech declares (Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:15): “For our days on earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope [of avoiding death].” The Midrash, discussing this verse in the context of Yaakov’s death, remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 96:2): “There is no one who hopes he will not die.” Although this remark seems to be just a minor rephrasing, there is in fact a deep message behind it. The simple meaning of the verse is that man desires to avoid death, but there is no hope of doing so. But, in fact, it is not true that all of mankind desires to avoid death. On the contrary, as we explained, the righteous look forward to death, for they view the world to come as their desired destination. Our Sages are saying that, among those who are true men, there is no one who wishes he will not die; all true men speak of death with expectant serenity.
Shlomo declares: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the bad days come, and the years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no desire for them.’” Shlomo is telling us to focus so intently on drawing close to Hashem that we regard death not as a “bad day” that is coming toward us, but rather as a golden day that we yearn to reach.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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