Should We Think About Death?

Tuesday, 4 January, 2022 - 6:42 pm


Question of the Week

The question I'd like to ask you has to do with preparing to die.  Many of my friends who are in their 70's are making arrangements for their Jewish burials so that the burden won't fall on their children.  Is this appropriate?  Or are we to simply leave our final requests in writing for our family when we are no longer in this world?  

You know the story of the charming husband who bought his wife a burial plot for her birthday. The next year he didn't buy her anything. When she asked why, he responded, "I bought you a gift last year and you didn't use it."
It's a horrible joke. But even bad jokes have some truth to them. The sages advised us to purchase a burial plot even while we are still alive and well. And it is commonly said that doing so will actually bless you with a long life. So this guy's wife should not need to use his kind gift for many years to come.
Although this blessing is not written in any classical Jewish source, it is possible to explain it psychologically. The fear of dying, like the fear of anything, saps our energy. Buying a burial plot may help normalize death, and thus allow us not to be preoccupied with it.
Another suggested explanation: It is ordained in heaven how much income each person makes in a year. This includes the burial society. A certain amount of money will come in each year from burials. Unfortunately, they make a living from people dying. That means a certain number of funerals have to happen each year. Each one of us has a year that it will be our turn to support the burial society. But if you pay for your funeral costs in advance, then the burial society can receive the money that is coming to them, and you can live on in good health for many more years.
Death is an unpleasant topic. Our emphasis should always be on life, not its opposite. But on occasion, a gentle reminder of our mortality can motivate us to use our time wisely. May we all live for many years, and may those years be filled with meaningful days.
Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss
Shu"t Chasam Sofer Y"D 330
Shu"t Yismach Yisrael (R' Shimon Yehoshua Hariri) Siman 53
Orchos Rabeinu Hekehilas Yaakov (Steipler Gaon) 4 p108
Shu"t Kochvey Yitzchak 1:22 in name of R' Yechezkel of Shinov
Toras Menachem 3 p188 (the Rebbe)
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