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THE ETERNAL TZADDIK

Yehoyada, father of B’nayahu and Head of the Sanhedrin was utterly righteous, and tzaddikim, even in their death are called alive.. * If the soul were to fall from its height, no longer maintaining its state of yearning to cleave to G-dliness, it is called death. The advise is to study and contemplate the teachings of Chassidus… * Source materials compiled by Rabbi Shloma Majeski. Translations are in bold. Underlining is the emphasis of the compiler.

Arranged and translated by Boruch Merkur

Whereas it is a widely accepted notion that souls are eternal, and that this applies universally, to all souls equally, the idea that this is somehow more prominent in certain souls is introduced in the Gemara Brachos 18a regarding the eternal life of the righteous: Tzaddikim [even] in their death are called alive.”

This is the opinion of Rebbi Chiya, which he voices in a conversation with Rebbi Yonasan:

Rebbi Chiya and Rebbi Yonasan were walking in the cemetery. Rebbi Yonasan’s tzitzis [of his outer garment] were dangling over the graves. Rebbi Chiya said to Rebbi Yonasan: Raise your garment so as not to bring the dead to say: Tomorrow they will [die and] join us, but now they disgrace us [showing how the living do Mitzvos but the dead cannot]?!

It is clear from Rebbi Chiya’s statement that he maintains that the dead are aware of events that take place in the physical world, perceiving when they are being slighted or dishonored. Rebbi Yonasan, however, argues that that is not so, bringing Scriptural proof, as follows.

Rebbi Yonasan responds: Do the dead really know as much? Is it not written, “For the living know that they shall die, but the dead don’t know anything” (Koheles 9:5)!

Rebbe Chiya was by no means impressed:

Rebbi Chiya tells him: If you have studied this verse that you have quoted, you have surely not reviewed it properly; if you have indeed reviewed it, you have not gone over it a third time [to enable you to properly understand it]; if you have studied it a third time, you have still not interpreted it properly. For this is the true meaning of the verse: “For the living know that they shall die” – this refers to tzaddikim, who [even] in their death are called alive. [They “know that they shall die” in the sense that they are very aware of their mortality and take to heart the need to act righteously in this world in order to face judgment in the World to Come. Here Rebbi Chiya pauses to bring a source for the interpretation of the first part of the verse, prior to continuing with the latter part of the verse, which addresses his point of contention with Rebbi Yonasan.] Thus, it is written, “And B’nayahu ben Yehoyada was the son of a living man [ben ish chai – though it is actually read as “ben ish chayil – son of a man of valor”] […]” Here the verse states that B’nayahu was “the son of a living man.” Yet, are the rest of the world sons of the dead? Rather, here “son of a living man” means that even in his death he is called living. [That is, Yehoyada, father of B’nayahu and Head of the Sanhedrin (Maharsha) was utterly righteous (Radak), and tzaddikim, [even] in their death are called alive.] […]

Now Rebbi Chiya returns to interpret the latter half of the verse, countering Rebbi Yonasan’s interpretation.

“But the dead don’t know anything” – this refers to the wicked, who [even] in their lives are called dead. [That is, they “don’t know anything” in the sense that they disregard their own mortality and act as they please without any concern for facing judgment when they die.] Thus, it is stated (Yechezkel 21:30): “And you are a wicked corpse, O prince of Yisroel” [says Yechezkel to King Tzidkiyahu (who was, in fact, alive), indicating that the wicked even in their lives are called dead].

(Tzidkiyahu himself was actually righteous, but the people of his generation were wicked (see Erchin 17a). The prophet Yechezkel refers to Tzidkiyahu as “wicked” insofar as he had the means and authority to set the people of his generation straight through rebuke, but he failed to do so (Prashas Drachim 22).)

Another possible source [for the wicked being called dead even when they are alive]: “By the word of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the dead be put to death” (D’varim 17:6). But the accused is still alive when he is being tried! However, since the witnesses testify that he is wicked, he is considered dead from the onset, proving that the wicked are called dead even when they are alive.

Having provided an alternate interpretation of the verse, “the dead don’t know anything,” Rebbi Chiya stands by his statement that the dead are aware of their being disgraced by living people.

DEATH: A PERSON 
IN FREE FALL

Parenthetically, on the topic of “the wicked, [even] in their lives are called dead,” the Rebbe writes in a letter of 5705 (Likkutei Sichos Vol. 10, pg. 211, Hosafos):

In general, the following statement expresses the concept of death: one who falls from his level is called dead (as stated in Likkutei Torah, maamer beginning with the words “Zos Chukas” […] )

Now, a person is comprised of 1) a G-dly Soul, 2) an Intellectual Soul, 3) an Animal Soul, and 4) a body. (These four levels, in reverse order, correspond to the four kingdoms: mineral, plant, animal, and human.)

1) The first level of the person, his G-dly soul, is “a veritable portion of G-d Above.” If the soul were to fall from its height, no longer maintaining its state of yearning to cleave to G-dliness, it is called death. The advise for countering this descent is to study and contemplate the teachings of Chassidus, as well as guiding one’s conduct according to its ways.

2) The purpose of the Intellectual Soul is to instill the proper conduct in the character traits of the Animal Soul, by means of reason and intelligence. To be sure, in a child – both in terms of age and in terms of mental development – emotional qualities prevail and his mind is undeveloped [whereas an adult is expected to fashion his character according to the dictates of reason]. If the Intellectual Soul chases after the objects of its desire, like an animal, even if they happen to be permissible things – that is a fall from its natural height and it is called death. The purpose of chinuch, of education, is to set the person, his natural inclinations, upon the correct path of conduct. 

3) The Animal Soul must be, of its own accord, at least at the level of domesticated or even wild animals, which do not deviate from their nature. But if the Animal Soul were to do a forbidden act or commit a sin, transgressing the will of the Creator, that is a fall from its natural level and it is called death – “the wicked [even] in their lives are called dead.” The Animal Soul is thus in free fall until the person is rebuked or until he is inspired by a friend and aroused to do t’shuva, to strengthen his fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos, and he returns to “the encampment of the Jewish people.

4) The body is the vehicle of the soul [where the soul finds expression in the world]. Should the connection between them be severed, that is a fall from its natural state – death in the literal sense. It is the duty of all those who are involved with the body of the deceased, the chevra kadisha, to organize everything so that it will be prepared for T’chiyas HaMeisim – the Resurrection of the Dead, speedily in our days.

May G-d grant us the merit that speedily in our very days we experience the fulfillment of the promise,  “He vitalizes us through the two days; on the third day He raises us up, that we may live in His presence” (Hosheia 6:2) body and soul together.

 

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