There are two parshios in the Torah entitled with the word ‘chaim’ and both talk about death: Chayei Sorah – about the passing of Sorah Imeinu, and Vayechi, which discusses the passing of Yaakov Avinu. It seems odd that the very chapters that discuss death are called ‘life.’ The great darshan, Rav Avidgor Amiel, zt”l, explains that this is because of the Gemora in Brachos which teaches us that, “Tzadikim, afilu b’misason kruyin chaim – The righteous, even in death, are considered alive.” This is because their legacy, perpetuated through their children, their Torah, and the beauty of their ways, impacts upon the world even after they physically depart from it.
But there is another reason why these Torah portions speaking of death are called ‘life.’ It is a foundation of Torah philosophy that the main life really begins only after death. This world of ours is only a corridor, a vestibule, where we make our preparations and build our futures for the eternal life in Olam HaBa. Thus, in death these tzadikim first come alive for their more meaningful existence.
It is further interesting to note that the one parsha of the Torah which is has the word ‘death’ refers to the tragic passing of two of the righteous sons of Aharon; Nadav and Avihu. One might wonder why, over here, the chapter is called ‘Achrei Mos – After Their Passing.’ The answer lies in the secret of the two parshios that follow the parsha Achrei Mos, namely Kedoshim and Emor. Read together, they form the statement, “Achrei mos kedoshim emor – After the passing we say holiness.” This can be interpreted to mean that when the righteous leave the world, they then bask in the Holiness of Hashem, for the Gemora teaches us the eternal reward consists of, “Tzadikim yoshvim v’atzroseihem b’rosheihem v’nehenim m’ziv haShechina – The righteous sit with crowns upon their heads and enjoy the splendor of the Divine Presence.” Thus, after death, we see tzadikim enjoying G-d’s Holiness.
Rav Avidgor Miller, zt”l, zy”a, explains that this is the meaning of the third bracha in Shemone Esrei, “Baruch Atah Hashem… HaKeil HaKodosh – Blessed are You G-d… the Almighty, Who is Holy.” At first glance this seems to be a very odd blessing. In all the other brachos in Shemone Esrei we thank Hashem for what He has already given to us or what He will give us in the future. What exactly are we thanking Hashem for over here? That He is a Holy G-d? Rav Miller explains that the blessing right before this one was about techias hameisim, the resurrection. This next blessing is about the eternal Afterlife that follows the resurrection. Therefore, we praise and thank Hashem for His holiness that we will hopefully enjoy forever and ever in the World to Come.
The reader might be disappointed at the thought of just sitting around with G-d forever and ever. After all, one might reason, how long can that pleasure last? We must know that the Gemora teaches us at the end of Masechtas Sanhedrin, “Kol haneviim lo nisnavu ela l’yimos HaMoshiach, aval b’Olam HaBa ayin lo ra-asa Elokim zulosecha – All the prophets only prophesized about the days of Moshiach, but the pleasures of the afterlife, no eye has ever beheld.” This is because the sheer ecstasy of Hashem and the myriad of pleasurable experiences are too much for the mortal shell to bear. One would blow out all his or her physical circuitry if exposed to the magnitude of Hashem’s radiance.
It is therefore understandable that we cannot fathom all the rewards and glory in store for us in the future. This is also the reason why we are taught, “Schar mitzvah b’hai alma leka – There is no reward for a mitzvah in this world.” This is because there is no bank in this world big enough to cash the check, we would receive for the payment of just one mitzvah. It is only in the unending pleasure of being in Hashem’s presence that we can be repaid for the acts of mitzvos and maasim tovim that we do in this world. As we are taught in Pirkei Avos, “Yafa sha-ah achas shel koras ruach baOlom HaBa mikol chayei holom hazeh – One moment of pleasure in the Next world is superior to all conceivable enjoyment of this world.”
May we merit all joyous life in this world and a glorious future in the World to Come.