A famous Jewish comedian once quipped that he wouldn’t want to join any club that would have him as a member.
The great Jewish sage, Rav Yisroel Meir Kagan, ztz”l, better known as the Chofetz Chaim, spoke about such a club, too. But he was serious.
The Chofetz Chaim said that we view those who die as belonging to some kind of secret club, a tragic fellowship that we could never belong to.
This belief takes many forms. It pops up when we think that tragedies only happen to “other people.” Once, it appeared when a speaker addressed a crowded auditorium, asking, “Who here is going to die?” and just a handful of people raised their hands.
The fact is, all of us belong to this club; it is a human condition known as “Mortality.” We belong, whether we prepare for it or not, whether we want to think about it or not.
And why should we think about it? It’s grim. Morbid. Bad enough that it will come in its time, why should we waste life thinking about death?
Why? Because it’s hardly a waste.
There are important practical advantages to spending time productively thinking about death. We can write a will. And not just a will that apportions our estate; there are many types of wills. A living will helps us ensure that if we have a medical emergency and cannot speak for ourselves, the right people will be legally empowered to speak for us. An ethical will allows us to communicate our values to the generations that will come after us, and — as importantly — helps us define and articulate those values to ourselves.
Acknowledging death allows us to speak openly to our elderly parents about their wishes, enabling us to honor them till their last moments, and beyond.
Our sages tell us that growing weaker as we age is actually a chesed, a kindness of Hashem. Awareness of our mortality helps us focus on what matters. Thinking about death can actually enhance life.
So don’t squander this chesed — use it. Use it to make thoughtful decisions in this world, use it to prepare yourself for the World to Come.
Join us at NASCK, the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, as we discuss a wide variety of issues around death and dying in the Jewish tradition.
Subscribe to our blog, Comfortable Conversations about Uncomfortable Topics, and share your thoughts, your questions, and your experiences.
And welcome to the club.