A Life-giving Response to Death

Dear Friends,
As we discussed in this series, the human being was created in the Divine image with the ability to emulate on a human level the Divine compassion. And the Talmud reminds us that compassion is to be a distinguishing characteristic of Israel, the people of the covenant that descend from Avraham, who was known for his compassion (Beitzah 32b).
Regarding the quality of compassion, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
“Compassion is the feeling of empathy which the pain of one being of itself awakens in another.” (Horeb 17)
The tragic and awesome developments in Japan can therefore evoke in us compassion for the suffering of the Japanese people. And the following recent tragic event in the Land of Zion can therefore evoke in us compassion for the suffering of our own people: 
Over twenty thousand people turned out at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem on Sunday for the funeral of five members of the Fogel family that were murdered late Friday night in a brutal attack in their home in the religious village of Itamar. The victims are the father, Udi, age 37; the mother, Ruth, age 36; their son, Yoav, age 10; their son, Elad, age 4; and their baby daughter, Hadas, age 3 months. Each of them was stabbed to death by the Palestinian Arab terrorist that entered their home.
This brutal murder reminded me of another brutal murder which took place about eleven years ago on Kibbutz Metzer, a secular kibbutz in the northern region of the State of Israel. Right after that tragic event, I wrote the following information about the victims in an introduction to a Hazon letter: 

“Revital Ohayon, 34, was reading her sons Matan, five, and Noam, four, a bedtime story on Sunday night, when a Fatah terrorist burst into their home on Kibbutz Metzer. She jumped in front of the children’s bed to protect them, but he killed her and then the children. He then went outside and came across Tirza Damari, 42, of Moshav Elyachin. He shot and killed her as well. He also killed kibbutz secretary Yitzhak Dori, 44, who had heard the shots and rushed to the scene.”  
That Hazon letter was dedicated to the memory of those who were murdered on Kibbutz Metzer. According to our tradition, we respond to death through the study of Torah, as the spiritual enlightenment of Torah – the Divine Teaching – increases life. In this spirit, King Solomon wrote concerning the words of Torah: “For they are life to the one who finds them” (Proverbs 4:22). In addition, King Solomon wrote the following description of the Torah:
“She is a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18).  
“A tree of life” – In its poetic commentary on this statement, a midrash cites the following teaching in the name of Rabbi Yudan:
Why is the Torah compared to the Tree of Life? Just as the Tree of Life is spread over the Garden of Eden, so too, the Torah is spread over all of life and brings one under the Tree of Life. (Yalkut Shimoni on Proverbs, 934)
The Torah helps us to regain access to the “Tree of Life” in the Garden through returning to our original mission: to “serve and protect” the Garden (Genesis 2:15). How does the Torah help us to return to our original mission? There is an ancient teaching which reveals that the two-part human mission to “serve and protect” the Garden is a prototype of all the mitzvos of the Torah – mitzvos which relate to every area of life. The mission to “serve” the Garden is a prototype of the mitzvos which call upon us to engage in actions which nurture and elevate life, while the mission to “guard” the Garden is a prototype of the mitzvos which prohibit actions which damage and degrade life. (Tikunei Zohar 55)
 As the above midrash stated: Just as the Tree of Life is spread over the Garden of Eden, so too, the Torah is spread over all of life and brings one under the Tree of Life.

I discovered a hopeful message regarding our future access to the Tree of Life in the following Divine promise regarding the life of our people during the future age of spiritual enlightenment through the Torah:
“The days of My people will be like the days of the Tree” (Isaiah 65:22).
I asked myself: “Which tree is this Divine promise referring to? I checked the commentary of Rashi, and he cites the following interpretation of Targum Yonasan: the Tree of Life. Is this an allusion to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden – the Tree which is associated with eternal Life? If so, then is Hashem promising us that in the future age of spiritual enlightenment, we will regain eternal life on earth? In my search for an answer, I discovered the following teaching which the Zohar (Genesis 38a) cites in the name of Rabbi Elazar:
In the future, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will fix the world and set a new spirit within human beings so that they will have eternal length of days, as it is written: “The days of My people will be like the days of the Tree” (Isaiah 65:22), and “He will eliminate death forever; and the Master of All, Hashem God, will erase tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).
Based on the above prophecy of Isaiah regarding the end of death and the erasing of all tears, the Midrash Rabbah states the following teaching of Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi:
There will be no death in the future that is to come – neither for Israel, nor for the nations of the world, as it states that Hashem will erase tears from “all” faces. (Genesis Rabbah 26:2 – the version cited in Sefer Chassidim 368, and in the commentary of Rabbi Joseph Kara on Isaiah 25:8)
In the messianic age, “Torah will go forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:3), and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem” (Isaiah 11:9). This will lead to the culmination of human history when Israel, followed by other nations, will regain eternal life through the spiritual enlightenment of the Torah, which is described as “a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18).
 Life and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen   (See below)
A Related Teaching:
In the following prophetic message, King David writes:
“For this is God, our God, forever and ever; He will guide us beyond death.” ((Psalm 48:15)
“He will guide us beyond death” – This is the translation of Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar 17. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch gives a similar translation. 

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