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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dark Thoughts

Dear Shifra,

What do you and your readers think about a person that dies the very day after Yom Kippur?


Dear AHM -
When I was a kid I learned that we say "viduy" (the confession of our sins) before eating our pre-fast meal in case a person should choke and die while eating and not make it to the day of atonement. Since then I've always chewed very slowly and carefully at the seduah hamafseket.

I'm not a judgemental person and I would feel very strange trying to guess at the reason for the time and place of anyone's death. Still, if one had to choose the day one was going to be laid to rest the day after Yom Kippur might not be a bad choice. Hopefully the person used the month of Elul to patch things up with friends and family and get his affairs in order. A peaceful day spent fasting and praying and thinking of Godly things, while surrounded by family, friends and community might be a preferable last day on Earth to one spent making sales calls at the office or cleaning out the garage.

When I was a little girl I used to sit with my father in Shul (yes, another tale of Shifra's father - I guess I'm waxing nostalgic lately) and he used to translate some of the tefilos for me so that I would understand them. He may have introduced me to "Unesaneh Tokef," a poem read on Yom Kippur, a bit young (should a four year old really be subject to tales of strangulation and death by fire? Maybe not) - but it did teach me that no one knows how and when they will die.

While constantly thinking of death may make a person feel depressed and hopeless it can be a positive thing to occasionally remember that we do have a limited time in this world.
As it says in Perki Avot: "The day is short and the work is plentiful."

Questions, comments, wire transfers?
Send them along to Shifraq@gmail.com


At 10:03 AM, Blogger DTC said...

This is a tough one.

On one hand, we can say how beautiful it is that someone was zoche to "yatza nishmaso b'e'chad" (as we say in Eileh Ezkera on YK) that a person finished his/her tachlis in life and departed from us in such a high and pure spiritual state.
OTOH, as a Rebbe of mine once said, "I actually walked out of shul on YK mussaf because how could I say "BeSefer Chayim" while Daddy is lying in the fridge" (his father had passed away on erev YK).

Now matter how you slice it, it's an emotional mess for the survivors, and there's really not much that we can say to ease that.

"Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of being hanged in the morning, except that the thing that the mind tends to focus upon is the fact that he's going to be hanged in the morning." (Terry Pratchett)

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Eliyahu said...

wire transfers? well, how about a $3.60 starbucks card for after YK? you could get wired on the caffeine.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Air Time said...

One year a guy in my shul died on Rosh HaShana morning. I think I was about 8 or 9. It was early in the davening, and not too many people were there yet.

When he had the heart attack, davening was moved to the back of the building, to the social hall. We davened there for a while, while EMTs worked on the man. Then the rabbi came to the social hall and asked all the Kohanim to leave the building.

Eventually they took him out and brought him to the hospital, but he was already dead. We went back into the shul to finish davening,

Even thinking about it now feels creepy.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

After Yom Kippur you are supposedly purged of sin and have this clean slate, so maybe it's a good time to meet your maker.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my husband is on hatzalah and over the years he has seen many moztaei yom kipuur deaths. My great-grandfather was a chazzan and died right after yom kippur (way before my time). I think it is beautiful. It is not easier on the family, but at least they can have some peace of mind that he had a clean slate.

a few years ago my husband was on a call where someone died in the living room just an hour or two into yom kippur and the person is then muktzeh so they had to leave him there until after yom kippur ended. That was terrible.

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"person is then muktzeh"

Does that apply to Shabbos as well?

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Jack Steiner said...

When people die during Elul I always feel a little unsettled. I can't help but wonder, why couldn't they make it past one more new year.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born on Yom Kippur. Does that have any meaning?

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Elie said...

I remember a couple of years ago a member of our shul lost a parent on Erev Rosh Hashanah. The Rabbi spoke about it that night and said something to the effect of, perhaps it was decreed last Rosh Hashanah that his time to go was during that year, but it was delayed until the last possible moment. Though it was surely a though meant to comfort the family, I was uneasy with it, for how do we then explain those who die early in the year?

Ultimately there is no way to comprehend death and punishment, which is visited on the apparently deserving and undeserving alike. Any attempt to rationalize or explain it or usually does more harm than good. All we can do is keep our faith that there is some kind of meaning to it all that we will never be able to understand.

If I had to choose what day to go? The 5th night of Chanukah, my Hebrew birthday, preferably in the year 5842 - 120 years after my birth!

At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The assistant of the afternoon program at my daughter's kindergarten died this morning....the decision was made not to tell the children until after Yom Kippur...then they will have a psychologist there for them.

All I can think of is Yom Kippur...

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Lab Rab said...

The most recent Talner Rebbe, R.Dr. Isadore Twersky, died Motzaei Yom Kippur after a long bout with cancer. R. Twersky (as I knew him) or Professor Twersky (as academics, including my uncle who earned his Ph.D. under him knew him) was the religious and political leader of Boston Jewry after the passing of the Rav.

When he died, the principal of Maimonides, also his most devoted student, said: I am just grateful that God gave him one last Yom Kippur so that he could ascend to Gan Eden in purity.

The Mishna in Avot exhorts us: Repent one day before your death; but how many of us actually do this?

Today, R. Meir Twersky and the Talner Chassidim observe the Hilula of the Talner rebbe the night after YK. It is a beautiful way to transition out of the Yomim Noraim.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wire Transfers? lol!

At 12:44 AM, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

A good number of my extended family from previous generations have passed away in Elul, which has always freaked me out on the one hand, but was also somewhat uplifting in an odd way, as if they were spared judgement for the previous year. On the other hand, the aseret yemei teshuva were not available to them. Could see it both ways. Same with someone who dies the day after Yom Kippur. Who is to say?

At 10:00 AM, Blogger flatbushrenegade said...

I know of someone this year who died on the day after RSHS"H (at least that's when they discovered his body). At first I thought to myself how sad for the gemarah tells us that "Reshaim Gemurim"-complete reshoim- are written and sealed on RHS"H L'misa. However, I found solace in the fact that Gedalyah Ben Achikom (of whom our sages have stated that his death teaches us that the death of a "TZADDIK" is equal to the destruction of the bais hamikdash, so he was obviously a Tzaddik) also died on this day. So obviously death immediately following Rhs"h cannot be proof that one was neccessarily unworthy.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger rabbi without a cause said...

Of course, you realize that dying the day after Yom Kippur means Shiva is cut off by Succos.

I know a family who lost a close relative under those circumstances. They chose to view it as a tovah from the niftar, making sure they wouldn't have to go through a whole shivah.

At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Gemara is quite explicit about one who dies after Yom Kippur: "Meis... b'motza'ei Yom HaKippurim siman yafeh lo." If someone dies after Yom Kippur, it is a good sign for him. (K'suvos 103b) Rashi explains: "[The person has died with] his sins forgiven, and this bodes well for him."


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