01 Jun The Spector of Death
Last week, I reported to you that I started giving a series of lectures (on TorahAnytime.com and KolHaloshon) from the amazing sefer Orchos Chaim l’HaRosh. I’d like to share with you this week another one of his profound teachings.
In Segment Number 53, he advises: Do not allow yourself to forget the possibility of sudden death, and remember that afterwards you will have to face a final accounting. It is obvious why the Rosh would want us to bear this in mind, for one of the Yeitzer Hara’s (Evil Inclination) greatest weapons is to get us to procrastinate. He never tells us that spending time with our parents and helping them out isn’t important. About that he just says, “Now’s not the time… The kids are small and finances are tough… You’ll get around to it later.” He doesn’t say learning Torah is much overrated. He just whispers, “You’ll do it when you retire.” Nor does he advise that charity isn’t for you. Rather, he just sagely cautions you, “Things are tight now and it’s not the right time.” But the Rosh reminds us, Don’t put things off. Remember, there are car accidents, muggings, falls, and a host of other mishaps that we regularly hear about that make us realize that we never know when the lights will be turned out. Therefore we shouldn’t put off, even for a day, the important pursuits of life.
There is, however, a pressing question about this advice. Hashem wants us to have simchas hachaim, He wants us to be joyous and have a zest for life. If we’re walking around all the time thinking that we might, G-d forbid, have a sudden blowout, how can we enjoy life? Indeed, the Prophet tells us, worry breaks half of the constitution of a man. (I have pointed out in the past that the word for worry in Hebrew is dagah, which contains all of the beginning letters of the alef bes, namely alef, gimmel, daled, and hei, except for the letter beis. This is to indicate that if you are missing the beis of bitachon, trust in Hashem, only then will you worry.) So, it would seem that worry is not a good thing. To further complicate matters, the posuk says, “Ashrei adom mefacheid tomid – Fortunate is the person who is always fearful.” So which is it, worry or not to worry? The answer is that there are two types of worry: constructive worry and destructive worry. Constructive worry is when a person is concerned about choking while eating and therefore doesn’t talk while eating. If one worries about car accidents, and he therefore wears a seatbelt and doesn’t drive like a maniac. If you worry about skin cancers, and you use sunscreen and avoid staying in the sun for twelve hour stretches. Destructive worry is not traveling in a car because you’re worried about accidents, being afraid to eat because you once saw someone choke, and declining to enjoy the sunshine on a beautiful day. The Rosh is talking about constructive worry.
Let me elaborate further. On Erev Yom Kippur we say Vidui, confession, by Mincha. The Gemora asks, Why do we say this confession if it’s not yet Yom Kippur since it is Yom Kippur that brings forgiveness. The Gemora answers that we say Vidui because we might choke during the Seudas Mafsekas, the last meal before Yom Kippur, and then we would have missed the opportunity to confess. I believe the intent of this Gemora is: Confess at Mincha so that in case you were supposed to die by this last meal, you won’t. So too the Rosh advises us to think about sudden death and stock up on mitzvos to ensure that you won’t die! This puts a positive spin to the entire discipline that the Rosh recommends.
May it be the will of Hashem that we not just cruise through life but that we pile on the mitzvos and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.