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Attaining Immortality

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Holidays » Lag B'Omer | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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What is the Jewish perspective on death? What is the proper way to commemorate a person’s passing?

Today it is fashionable to pay homage to the deceased by “celebrating their lives,” instead of focusing on mourning. Is this a correct approach?

The Omer period seems to offer conflicting messages on this subject. On one hand, the Omer features restrictions on revelry and festivities, a sign of mourning for the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples who lacked proper respect for each other. On the other hand, we shelve all vestiges of mourning for one day, Lag b'Omer. The primary reason? Because we joyously celebrate the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai!

Why the double standard?

Every person consists of a body and soul. The body eventually fades and returns to dust, while the immortal soul lives on for eternity. But with whom is the “person” identified? Does the person die together with the body, or does he share the soul’s immortality? This depends on the person’s lifelong “affiliation”. The person whose life was affiliated with the soul, whose focus was spirituality and love of G-d, doesn’t die. He merely moves on to a different dimension where, unencumbered by physical needs and distractions, he is free to continue his pursuit of spirituality.

The person whose life was affiliated with the soul, whose focus was spirituality and love of G-d, doesn’t die. He merely moves on to a different dimension where, unencumbered by physical needs and distractions, he is free to continue his pursuit of spirituality
Conversely, for the person who prioritized the desires and aspirations of the body, the departure of the soul brings “life” to a crashing halt—his life’s focus is now forever gone.

On a deeper level, Torah and mitzvahs, too, consist of a body and soul.

The “revealed” side of Torah – largely comprised of the Talmud and Jewish law, the “do’s” and “don’ts” – is the body of G-d’s wisdom. The esoteric teachings of the Torah, the teachings of the Kabbalah, are the soul of Torah.

It is possible to be completely immersed in the brilliant minutiae of Talmudic logic, or to be meticulous in the observance of every nuance of the mitzvahs, but to be as spiritually lifeless as a soulless body. The teachings of kabbalah introduce the soul into Torah and mitzvahs, explaining the profound spiritual meaning of every Mitzvah in its supernal source, as well as the “spiritualization” of character which that mitzvah is intended to achieve in the heart and mind of its observer.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Love thy Neighbor
Life Cycle » Death » Mourning
Philosophy » Soul
Life Cycle » Death » Afterlife
Jewish Identity » Love thy Neighbor
Chassidism » Chassidic Concepts
Philosophy » Afterlife

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Matzah
(pl. Matzot). Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
Omer
Starting from the second day of Passover, we count forty-nine days. The fiftieth day is the holiday of Shavuot. This is called the “Counting of the Omer” because on the second day of Passover the barley “Omer” offering was offered in the Holy Temple, and we count forty-nine days from this offering. [Literally, "Omer" is a certain weight measure; the required amount of barley for this sacrifice.]
Four Species
There is a Biblical command to take "Four Species" on the autumn holiday of Sukkot. These species are: palm branch, citron, myrtle and willow. It is customary to shake these species to all directions.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
yahrtzeit
The (Jewish calendar) anniversary of a person's death.