In his younger years, Rabbi Avigdor Miller tried to attend as many community simchas as he could. As he got older, however, he began to decline the invitations.
‘I’m studying for a faher (exam),’ he would say.
‘But what faher could you possibly be taking at your age?’ they would ask him.
‘In the not-too-distant future,’ Rabbi Miller would respond, ‘I will be called back to my Creator and stand before a panel of angels in Heaven. They will want to determine where to send me in the Next World. Your place in Heaven is determined by how much Torah you learned during your lifetime. I am now intensely reviewing for my ultimate faher!’
If a man violated a young girl and she subsequently died prior to the court’s judgment against him, what is the law?
Mar bar Rav Ashi asked the question as follows: Does death cause maturity or does death not cause maturity?
Rashi explains: If a young girl matures into adulthood prior to the trial, her father would no longer be entitled to the fine, as she would keep it herself. Do we say that likewise if she died, it is as if she matured and left her father’s domain (and therefore her children receive the compensation)?
For some people, like Rabbi Miller, death causes maturity. Realizing that his time left on earth was limited, he set his mind to making sure that his spiritual house was in order. Ethics of the Fathers enjoins us, “This world is like a hallway. Prepare yourself in the hallway in order to enter the palace.” Seeing the palace up ahead should remind a person to ready oneself for the final banquet!
Sadly, for most people, death does not cause maturity. On the contrary, most take the attitude of ‘eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.’ They have ‘bucket lists’ full of naarishkeit (foolishness) including all the exotic destinations they need to travel to, all the pastimes they need to try, the golf scores they need to achieve and so on. That’s an immature attitude to death.
Indeed, many people do experience spiritual awakenings when they are faced with the death of a loved one. They realize that life is short and that we must be here for a higher purpose. Many a mourner has had their Judaism reignited while saying kaddish and attending daily minyan. They are the mature few. Tragically, however, most people just want to get the shivah over and done with, and get on with their lives. ‘Can’t we just celebrate their life and avoid talking about death?’ we hear all too often.
It’s time to be mature about death. It’s time to realize that our time on earth is short; but long enough to adequately prepare yourself for the final banquet. May you merit partaking of the great Heavenly feast because you dealt with death in a mature manner, and never sought to avoid the big questions in life!