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Who will mourn us?

The Talmud spotlights the importance of eulogy, but as a single person, I wonder who will grieve for me after I am gone. (Daf Yomi Shabbos 153)
Headstone in a Jewish cemetery with Star of David and memory stones.  (iStock)
Headstone in a Jewish cemetery with Star of David and memory stones. (iStock)

This is the path, walk on it, when you turn to the right or to the left.”

The path the Daf Yomi follows today is one that considers who will mourn for us when we are dead and what the sincerity of our eulogy says about the life we lived. The journey includes a lengthy analysis of permissible methods for carrying a purse of money if one is traveling on Shabbat and a parable featuring a wealthy man and hungry people who were invited to a feast without a specified time. The continued discussion from the last few days on life and death is what resonated with me today.

We are told that the soul of the righteous descend back and forth between the world-to-come and the world-here-and-now for twelve months before they settle beneath what Rabbi Abbahu said is the “Throne of Glory.” A story is related of an oracle who uses her powers to raise the dead from the grave. (Did anyone else think of Melisandre from the Game of Thrones when they came upon this passage?) In actuality, we are told that there is no witchcraft involved and the dead float back and forth between domains until they finally rest in their bodies around the time we unveil their tombstones and mark their graves with stones.

As a single person, I have always wondered who will grieve for me after I am gone, and especially if I live a long life and everyone else I know has died. Rav Yehuda ponders this when he repeats Rav’s words: “From a person’s eulogy it is apparent whether or not he has a share in the World-to-Come. If the listeners are pained and brought to tears during the eulogy, it is clear that the person was righteous.”  The voice of the Gemara says that those who have a place in the World-to-Come can be identified by the quality of their eulogies. If the eulogy leaves people yawning rather than swept up in the emotion of loss, the deceased may not have lived a righteous life.

We are told that the following verse indicates that the righteous can be identified by those who sought direction and wisdom from them: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying: This is the path, walk on it, when you turn to the right or to the left.”  If one established a path for others to follow, “he must have a share in the World-to-Come.” We are told to do things during the course of one’s life that will be remembered by mourners when they stand beside your grave.

And finally, we are reminded that we may not die at an old age and our lives can be cut short at any moment. Rabbi Eliezer said to “repent one day before your death.” He was challenged by his students who inquired how one could possibly know when that day will come. The learned Rabbi says that “one should repent today lest he die tomorrow” and as a result, one should live in a constant state of repentance.

A cancer fright two years ago and the encroaching coronavirus in my home city of New York has left me pondering how long I am destined to be on this earth, and what the next life (if any) will be like. I worry about who will take care of my cats if the breast cancer comes back or I lose my ability to breathe from a viral infection. Who will stand by my grave and will I leave a path behind for anyone to follow? Will my soul leave my body and travel back and forth between worlds for some period of time or will I simply be gone? Regardless, living one’s life like today is the last day on earth is difficult when so many activities are restricted as a result of the coronavirus. It feels like time is marching forward when there is more life behind than ahead and every month of lock-up is an adventure lost.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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