The Death of the Righteous
Parsha Acharei Mot and Parsha Kedoshim are normally read together. To explain the connection between the two, one would have to say that a person only considers examining his spiritual state and repenting after the righteous die, telling himself that if such Tzaddikim (who were upright and perfect, and thus whose merit benefited everyone – see Perkei Avoth 5:18) have left this world, what could we expect, we who are nothing? They, at least, had properly prepared themselves for eternal life, but as for us, pity us, especially now that we have lost the leaders of the generation. What will we be able to say before G-d?
Acharei Mot and Kedoshim teach us that after the death of Tsaddikim, their holiness allows us to elevate ourselves spiritually and to examine our actions, particularly this year (5758), where because of our many sins, many of the righteous who were among the great of Israel have left us. It is obvious that we have much to learn from them and their way of life, and “we bewail those who have left and cannot be forgotten” (Sanhedrin 111a).
Our sins plainly provoked their departure, which is why we should do some soul-searching. We should ask ourselves what happened that caused our great Rabbanim to pass away one after the other, without even bringing us the Final Redemption. Naturally, the Satan manages to give a person neither the time nor the opportunity to reflect upon these things, but rather keeps him in a state of perpetual unrest by telling him to “do this” one day and to “do that” on the next (Shabbat 105a; Pesikta Zutah Nitzavim). This happens to the point that a person comes to actually forget what he is doing in this world, to neglect Torah, and to sin and make others sin as well (Avoth d’Rabbi Eliezer 40:3). This is why G-d removes a righteous individual from us, then another, with the world being left in the dark. It is at that moment that a person awakens slightly from his numbness and begins to reflect on things. “The righteous one perishes, and no man takes it to heart” (Isaiah 57:1), writes the prophet, which is why after the death of the righteous – acharei mot kedoshim (lit. “after the death of the holy ones”) – a slight awakening occurs and a person begins to question himself a little.
One can say, as well, that as long as the righteous live in this world, the evil inclination certainly doesn’t leave them at peace, and even makes them suffer. Yet these troubles mean that they arrive at a higher level of holiness after their death, so much so, in fact, that even while dead they are called alive (Berachot 18a). This is what it means to “behold the sweetness of the L-RD and to contemplate in His Sanctuary” (Psalms 27:4), and this is the significance of the idea that after their death (acharei mot), they become holy (kedoshim).
It can emphatically be said that many of the righteous desire to literally attach themselves to G-d (in accordance with the verse that states, “cleave to Him” [Deuteronomy 30:20]), with complete devotion, almost to the point of putting their lives in danger. This is why Scripture warns us: “He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary” (Leviticus 16:2). This means that despite the intense desire of the righteous to die for the sanctification of the Divine Name in accomplishing their service, they should all the same know that they do not have the right to act this way whenever they want, and that the prospect of attaining a state of holiness after their death should suffice them. This is what one can read in the words themselves: It is after death (acharei mot) that one becomes holy (kedoshim).
Nevertheless, the righteous that have left us this year served G-d with literally all their strength. They devoted themselves completely to the community, and we bewail their passing. In addition, they began by giving everything to others and put themselves last. They killed themselves for Torah study (Berachot 63b; Shabbat 83b), and this devotion combined with their humility gained them a considerable level of holiness. This is acharei mot kedoshim: The last (acharonim) that killed themselves (mot) for the Torah thus became holy (kedoshim). May it be G-d’s will that their merit protect us, as well as all of the Children of Israel, and that G-d hastens the Final Redemption to our exile and sends the Messiah quickly, in our days. May it be so, Amen.