Weekly Chasidic Story #1054 (s5778-23/ 4 Adar 5778)

An Unusual Death-Bed Request

Every year, on the seventh of Adar, the yahrzeit of Moses, the members of the Jewish Burial Society have a custom to fast, and at nighttime they join together for a special large meal.

Connection: Seasonal -- Seventh of Adar

An Unusual Death-Bed Request


Every year, on the seventh of Adar, the yahrzeit of Moshe Rebbeinu, the members of the Chevrah Kadishah ('Jewish Burial Society') have a custom to fast,* and at nighttime they join together for a special large meal. The purpose of this fast is to atone for their sins, in case they didn't treat any dead person with appropriate respect while preparing him/her for burial. At this meal, speeches are given to encourage each other to be even more careful in the future with the mitzvah of honoring the deceased.

At one such dinner in Jerusalem, a speaker related the following story:
One Friday afternoon, a woman called the Chevrah Kadishah office and told the secretary that her husband just died. The secretary told her that it was too close to Shabbat, and so the funeral will be held on Saturday night immediately after Shabbat.

"My husband left a request," she told the male secretary. "Immediately following his burial he wants people to sing Bar Yochai** over his fresh grave."

"We will do so. If this is what your husband wanted, we will fulfill his wishes."

During that Shabbos, a leading Torah scholar of the generation passed away. Thousands of people attended his funeral, so the funeral of the widow's husband was deferred until after the scholar's. The Chevrah Kadishah wasn't able to begin the purification rites for the waiting body until late that night, and when they finally finished and declared they were ready for the funeral, it was already 1:00 a.m.

By that time, there were only nine men still present to attend the second funeral. This couple never had any children, and they didn't have much family either, and now there wasn't even a minyan to escort this Jew on his final journey.

One member of the Chevrah Kadishah went to a Torah-study hall where people study 24/7, and sought someone willing to join them for the funeral. No one was available, other than a magid shiur, a teacher at a yeshiva. At first he also said, "I came here to prepare a class for tomorrow morning. Try to find someone else."

The Burial Society man tried, but soon returned saying that he couldn't find anyone else at such an hour. So the teacher climbed into the Chevrah Kadishah van, to join them for this mitzvah. After all, as he himself pointed out, the purpose of Torah study is to learn in order to fulfill.

The funeral was finally completed at two o'clock a.m. The secretary remembered the deceased's final request. "Does anyone have a siddur (prayerbook) with the Bar Yochai song? The deceased asked that we sing it over his fresh grave."

No one had such a siddur.

"Does anyone know the song by heart?" They didn't. One person commented, "Maybe I know it by heart, but at two o'clock in the morning, here on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives), standing in the cold, I don't know anything anymore." It seemed that the man's final request would not be fulfilled.

Just then, the teacher remembered that he had the text of the song with him. He took a piece of paper with Bar Yochai on it from his pocket, and they all sang together.

On the way back, the teacher told the Chevrah Kadishah members the incredible hashgachah pratit (instance of Divine Supervision) that occurred. "Generally, on Shabbat I davven mincha (pray the Afternoon Prayer) early, in a shul near my home. This week, I missed the early minyan, so I went to pray at a different shul, which is further away from my house.

"As I was walking to that shul with my son, he noticed a page from a siddur on the ground and pointed it out to me. I picked it up, intending to put it into the box for discarded holy objects in the shul. But I forgot to do it, so that page has been in my pocket until now. This is the page that has Bar Yochai on it!"

The other nine men in the van were all astonished by this wonderful demonstration of Divine Supervision. Seeing their amazement, the teacher hastened to add another detail.

"That's not all. On Saturday nights, I usually study in my house. Tonight, I needed to prepare a lesson, but there was too much noise in the house and I couldn't concentrate. That's why I went to the Study Hall. If I had been home, as I usually am, you wouldn't have found me."

One man remarked, "If such a story would have happened for a chassidic rebbe, people would speak about it for generations."

"Well, perhaps he was a hidden tzadik (holy man without sins)?" wondered another.

"I'll check into exactly who he was tomorrow," the secretary said.

After several inquiries, he discovered that the deceased was a regular Jew. However, on erev Rosh Chodesh (day before the New Moon) he would go to the tombsite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, and every Friday night, he sang the Bar Yochai song before reciting Kiddush."***

The speaker concluded his telling with the following thought: "We should treat every deceased Jew with utmost respect, because we can never know how special he or she is to G-d. Here is a story of an otherwise simple person, but G-d performed miracles for him. It is critical to fulfill all death-bed requests."

The next speaker stood up and said, "Thank you for this wonderful story, and it definitely teaches us to be careful with the important good deed of Respect for the Dead, as you said. But I would add that we shouldn't wait for people to die to respect them! We should honor each person when they are alive as well, because each person has qualities that make them special. Even the seemingly small good deeds that they do make them extremely precious to the Al-mighty."

Source: "Torah Wellsprings" - R. Elimelech Biderman (Ki Tisa 5776) - adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the translation of R. Baruch Twersky.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the most important sages in Jewish history, lived over 1800 years ago. Teachings in his name abound throughout the Mishnah, Gemorah, and Midrashim, while the Zohar, the primary source text of Kabbalah, is built around Rabbi Shimon's revelations to his inner circle of disciples. During the hours before his passing, on Lag b'Omer, he disclosed the "most sublime" secrets of Torah, in order to ensure that the day would always be an occasion for great joy, untouched by sadness because of the Omer period and mourning for him. The seminal importance of the Zohar in Jewish thought and the annual pilgrimage to Meron on Lag b'Omer are testimonies to his success.

Connection: Seasonal--Rosh Chodesh Adar was last Thursday & Friday; Adar 7 falls on Thursday of this week.

Editor's notes:
* Adar 7 is the date of Moshe's death, 40 years after leaving Egypt. It states that he was buried but no man knows where (Deut. 34: 5-6), from which we deduce that no man was involved in his burial (either he buried himself or G-d arranged it). Therefore, Adar 7 is a day of no work for the chevrah kaddishah!
** An extremely popular song composed in the mid-1600's by Rabbi Shimon Lavia, sung and danced to around the clock every Lag b'Omer at Meron (a ten-minute drive or a 2-3 hour scenic hike from Tsfat). For English translation of lyrics, click here.
*** Many Sephardic and some Chasidic communities have this custom.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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