Quality of Life
by Rabbi Yitzchak Hirshfeld
“Three books are opened on Rosh Hashana, the absolutely righteous are written and sealed immediately to life; the absolutely wicked are written and sealed immediately to death; those who fluctuate between those two poles hang in the balance until Yom Kippur.” (Rosh Hashanah 16b). These words of Rav Kruspedai apparently contradict both experience and common sense. Some righteous don’t live out the year, and some evil doers enjoy comfort and prosperity for years and years. (See Tosafot d.h.”V’nechtamin”)
What is “life”? We think we know what it is. It can be measured physically, even halachically – breathing, brain function, pulse.
From the words of Rav Kruspedai thunders forth a fundamental truth. “The righteous in ‘death’ are called ‘living’; and the wicked in their ‘life’ are called ‘dead’.” (Berachot 18)
Animals live in one dimension – their “liveness” is truly a function of brain, breath, and pulse alone. And, unfortunately, many people live in that same one dimension. But when the Torah proclaims, “And ye who cleave to Hashem, all of you are “alive” today”; (Devarim 4:4) the Torah has another dimension of life in mind.
To be alive in this new sense means for the soul to be connected to the Divine source of eternal life. One can be as alive and healthy as an Olympic superstar, and be dead, dead, dead. And one can be as physically weak as the Chazan Ish z”l who could barely drag his exhausted body to bed after a day of intense learning, and be bursting with endless spiritual bounty.
But how are the intensity and quality of this connection determined? Who decides? Can we just hook ourselves up, plug ourselves in?
This is Rosh Hashana – The Day of Judgement, according to Rav Kruspedai. Hashem maintains control. He decides how much life of connectedness we will enjoy. For the righteous – a full measure; the wicked are shut out – and then.. there’s the rest of us (hopefully).
How does He decide? What are His criteria?
Our Rabbis have taught (Siftei Chaim et al.) – The decision rests on our commitment to furthering His goals for creation. And desire. If the first, lower type of life fades away into the background of our consciousness as we crave a life of connection, of dveikut, then Hashem responds in kind. We then merit the gift of eternal life, as the boundaries between this world and the world to come too fade away – even to the background of our consciousness.
Remember us to Life, King Who desires life
And inscribe us in the book of life
For your sake, King of Life