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A Lively Death or a Lively Life?

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 23/5/2020

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Fascinating Insights—The Sefer (in English)

A Lively Death or a Lively Life?

The Gemara[1] reports that there wasn’t one זונה R’ Elazar Ben Durdia wasn’t together with. Once, he heard of a זונה that was overseas who took a purse of coins for her fee. He took a purse of coins and crossed seven rivers to be with her. This זונה told him that his Teshuva wouldn’t be received. In the end, he sat between two ranges of mountains and foothills, placed his head between his knees and burst forth in crying until his soul departed. A heavenly voice (בת קול) proclaimed R’ Elazar Ben Durdia is מזומן לחיי העולם הבא, readied for the life of the World to Come. Rebbi cried and said there is one who acquires עולם הבא through many years and there is another who acquires it in a single moment (like R’ Elazar Ben Durdia)— יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת. Many are bothered why Rebbi cried?


We have heard stories of people that sacrificed their life for Hashem although they didn’t live as a religious Jew.[2] Although this is great, it is even greater to live on a daily basis with Hashem. The Sefas Emes[3] comments that being Moser Nefesh in one moment is great. However, that is through חפזון ומהירות, haste. On the other hand, one who lives like that throughout his life is even greater. It is greater to be Moser Nefesh every day of your life by living with Hashem than to be Moser Nefesh just at the end of your life. In other words, it is greater to live על קידוש ה' than to die על קידוש ה'. So, of the two ways to acquire עולם הבא—in many years or in one moment—many years is better. This is why Rebbi cried, because Hashem prefers those who acquire the next world בכמה שנים, through many years.


Avraham and Yitzchak each played a distinct role in the Akeida. Yitzchak was ready to die על קידוש ה' but Avraham taught that it’s possible to live על קידוש ה'. If Avraham would have slaughtered Yitzchak, Avraham would remain alive and all his life he would need to live with the idea that he gave up his son. How would the world view such a person?


One can die על קידוש ה' only once but one who lives על קידוש ה' can do it many more times. Although one can psyche himself up so that he would be able to do something extraordinary, it is still greater to live on a steady basis that wouldn’t be as great. To maintain and have a continuous life of קידוש ה' is where greatness lies. It is a higher level to live with Hashem daily.


R’ Yosef Karo (1488-1575) asked the Maggid[4] he would learn with for the merit to die על קידוש ה'. Although the Maggid promised him such a death, it was never fulfilled. R’ Sternbuch[5] explains the reason why he didn’t die על קידוש ה' is because it is greater to live על קידוש ה' than to die על קידוש ה'. R’ Yosef Karo lived על קידוש ה' as he authored the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law which we live by today. This is in addition to other great works including the Kesef Mishna and the Beis Yosef.


An assimilated Jew once came to R’ Yehoshua of Belz and asked for a Bracha to die as a Jew. The Rebbe said even non-Jews desire that as we see with Bilaam—תמת נפשי מות ישרים....[6] The purpose is to live as a Jew. 


When the Gemara says יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת, it says מזומן לחיי העולם הבא. Elsewhere, we find the term בן עולם הבא as in כל השונה הלכות...בן עולם הבא, whoever learns Halachos is assured that he is destined for the World to Come.[7] The one who acquires it in a single moment is not a בן עולם הבא, rather he is a מזומן לחיי העולם הבא, meaning it is like one who is invited[8] to come in but he is a stranger, on the outside. On the other hand, a בן עולם הבא is like a child in a house who is not an outsider but on the inside.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Avoda Zara 17a.

[2] In a letter to R’ Yitzchak Zilberstein, R’ Menashe Klein (Mishna Halachos 16:121) writes regarding a מומר, apostate that was killed because he was a Jew if that is included in Kiddush Hashem. He brings the Chassam Sofer who writes that it is permitted to be Mechalel Shabbos for one who is a משומד (a Jew who converted to another religion) to save him since even such a person, when he is in a time of trouble, has thoughts of Teshuva (מהרהר בתשובה). He also brings the words of the Iggeres Harambam that says that one who merits to be killed על קידוש ה', even if he has sins like Yeravam Ben Nevat and his colleagues, he has Olam Haba. R’ Menashe Klein writes concerning the Scud missiles that were fired in order to kill Jews in Eretz Yisrael because they were Jewish (To those who fired the missiles, there was no difference to them if it fell on someone who was Torah observant or not.) that even if they don’t flee although they are able to, and are killed, this is included in being killed על קידוש ה'—even if the one killed was someone like Yeravam Ben Nevat. He goes to Olam Haba. During the Holocaust, more than six million Kedoshim were killed. Even though not all of them went to give themselves over (as many were far from religious), but this is included in being killed על קידוש ה' since they were killed because they were Jewish. For this reason, they are called Kedoshim. Those who die through the wicked and the like are all Kedoshim.

[3] Emor, תרמ"ג, s.v. במצות ונקדשתי.

[4] This was the Maggid (Malach) of the Sefer Maggid Masharim. Maggid Masharim is a mystical diary in which R’ Yosef Karo during a period of fifty years recorded the nocturnal visits of an angelic being.

[5] Sefer Taam V’Daas.

[6] Bamidbar 23:10. The Chofetz Chaim (על התורה, Balak 23:10) commented that Bilaam didn’t want to live like a Jew rather die like one because a genuine Jewish life is not one that is a path full of roses as it also has thorns and the like. There is that which is permitted to a Jew and that which is forbidden such as certain foods among other things. However, regarding death, a Jew knows it is just a temporary existence to an eternal one. He believes that the soul remains and there is reward and punishment. So, death doesn’t bring with it such fear.

[7] Megila 28b. 

[8] This is what מזומן means, as in זימון, invitation. 

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