Midrash Tanchuma Vayelech: A Torah definition of the living dead

The Midrash picks up on a strange phrase in the Torah’s discussion of capital punishment. The verse literally says that 2 or 3 witnesses are needed in order to “put to death the one who is dead.”(Deuteronomy 17:6)  

How can someone have the status of being dead when they are alive? The Midrash spells out four deeds that define a person who is so wicked in his lifetime that he is considered to be (spiritually) dead. How would you fill in the blanks? I believe you will find the answers of the Midrash Tanchuma quite unexpected:

Someone who “sees the sun shining but does not proclaim (in the morning prayer), that God is the ‘Creator of light.. Someone who sees the sun set and does not proclaim (in the evening prayer) that God is the one who ‘makes evenings,’ And someone who “eats and drinks without a blessing.”

It seems like the minimum required level of God-awareness for a Jew is  basic, universal, gratitude to God for sustaining life. 

The Midrash continues and describes what the righteous do in this regard:    

They bless God for everything they eat, drink, see and hear.” It’s a surround sound, around the clock, awareness of God.” 

One can control much of what you see and hear but why do the righteous bless God for “everything” they see and hear.  Perhaps this is related to a fascinating idea found in Chassidic literature that everything we see and hear throughout our day has been orchestrated by God to send us a message. (Attributed to the great 18th century Chassidic Master – the Baal Shem Tov https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3073/jewish/36-Aphorisms-of-the-Baal-Shem-Tov.htm)  

We should each ask, where do I fit on the spectrum of God awareness

The Midrash presents a sliding scale in the everyday awareness of God. It starts with sunrise, sunset (even Tevia of Fiddler on the Roof can achieve that) food and drink. At the other end of the spectrum is being aware of God’s gifts and messages throughout our day. 

Ironically, one can live their life to the fullest according to the Western ideal while being among the living dead according to the Torah.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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