DIVREI TORAH

ACHAREI MOS: IT’S ENOUGH THAT I DIED – SHOULD YOU DIE TOO?

OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: ACHAREI MOS: IT’S ENOUGH THAT I DIED – WHY SHOULD YOU ALSO DIE?

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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Our Torah addresses life.

Our Torah also addresses death.

Because of that, our Torah affords mourners a halachic mourning process.

Mourners escort the deceased to the burial and assist in the burial process.

Mourners allocate time - shiva, shloshim, yizkor, yahrzeits - and much effort towards mourning the deceased.

Yes, our Torah addresses death by mandating some mourning.

Mandating some mourning, though, doesn’t equal mandating – or even allowing - excessive mourning.

Indeed, our Torah bans excessive mourning.

This ban displays itself in many areas.

Mourners may not "make a bald spot on the head…nor scratch the flesh”[i] as a sign of mourning.[1]

Why not? Because such painful - and, sometimes, permanently-scarring spots and scratches – were just too excessive.[2]

Tattoos are banned for the same reason.

Like bald spots and scratches, tattoos – which were used by Canaanites to create permanent “death marks” – were banned because they were excessive.”[3]

The reason for the Torah’s ban against excessive mourning may emerge from an analysis of the following story:

“And Miriam died…and there was no water for the community…and the people quarrelled with Moshe…why did you bring the congregation …to this wilderness to die….and Moshe and Aharon came, because of the community…and fell in front of Hashem…and Hashem told Moshe…speak to the rock...and it will provide water to the people.”[4]

This story talks about a terrible crisis that erupted when the people’s water supply evaporated.[5]

This crisis, though, doesn’t prompt Moshe and Aharon to search for a solution. Yes, Moshe and Aharon eventually “came …and fell in front of Hashem.” They only "came," though, "because of the community,” i.e., only when the community pressured Moshe and Aharon to approach Hashem.

Why didn’t Moshe and Aharon proactively search out a water supply when the crisis started?

According to the following - surprisingly harsh - Midrash, it was because they were enveloped in mourning: “Hashem told Moshe and Aharon, because you are mourners, the people should die of thirst?”[6]

Yes, excessive mourning hampered Moshe and Aharon.

And if excessive mourning hampered Moshe and Aharon, then it will certainly hamper us.

All of this, of course, explains why the Torah tells us not to mourn excessively.

How, though, do follow that command?

How do we control overwhelming feelings of mourning and how do move past the agony of loss?

Here, too, the previously quoted Midrash is instructive.

In that Midrash, we don’t see Hashem addressing Moshe and Aharon’s grief. We, rather, as per the following, see Hashem commanding them to constructively address their responsibilities to the living: “Because you are mourners, the people should die of thirst…take your staff and provide water for the community ….?”[7]

Once people are constructively engaged, their mourning will dissipate. Why will that happen? Because being engaged in constructive activity focuses people away from mourning and back towards positive living.

It’s the classic aphorism: “a man is formed according to his actions.”[8]

If our “actions” are mourning-centered then our mindset will be about mourning. But if our actions are about addressing life responsibilities, then we will develop a positive, life-engaging mindset.

Like Moshe and Aharon, we all face life’s vicissitudes.

And like Moshe and Aharon, our responsibilities can refocus us when we are brought down by those vicissitudes.

And we all have such responsibilities.

We have responsibilities to Hashem. If Hashem gave us life then Hashem wants us to develop that life.

We have responsibilities to the families, the friends and the communities that all rise and fall with us.

Most poignantly, we have a responsibility to the deceased.

What if we could have one last conversation with the deceased? Wouldn’t he say the following: "Isn’t it enough that I died? You - thank God - are alive. Don’t waste your life mourning for me. Instead, live twice as productively now. Live for you. And live for me."

Let us live again.

If we can’t find the power by living for ourselves, then let us find that power by living for the people we lost.

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be scholar in residence at the Hudson Valley Resort for Shavuos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000

[1] Vayikra 21:5

[2] Sifra ad loc.

[3] Sforno ad loc.

[4] Bamidbar 20:1-7

[5] Indicating that the water was supplied in Miriam’s merit (Ta’anis 9a).

[6] Yalkut Shimoni, Chukas

[7] Yalkut Shimoni, Chukas 20

[8] Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvos 16, 40, 264

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