Since the day Adam Harishon was created and then moved on to the higher worlds, a theory about life has been made. Everyday people take their lives for granted. But after they have faced mortal loss or life-threatening situations, their attitude towards life change.
They soon come to understand that the gift of life is to be appreciated and not taken for granted.
There may be no single thing that can teach us more about life – than death itself!
A person can live until 120 years of age—and die leaving no legacy, making it as if he never existed. A person can build monuments to himself, but they will only matter to the pigeons after he is long gone if what he started wasn’t worth continuing. But a person can die young, G-d forbid, and be eternal by leaving something eternal behind.
“For the living know that they shall die” (Kohelet 9:5): these are the righteous who in their death are called living … “But the dead know nothing” (Shmuel 2:23:20): these are the wicked who in their lifetime are called dead. (Berachot18a).
How can a person who is physically dead still be considered alive? Why would a person who is physically alive be considered dead?
It all comes down to what you consider to be life and what you consider to be death.
The Torah defines both:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life that you may live, you and your seed, to love G-d your G-d, to listen to His voice and to cleave to Him. For that is your life and the length of your days, so that you may dwell in the land which G-d swore to your fathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, to give them. (Devarim 30:19-20)
The creation of man testifies to the eternal life of the soul. The Torah says, “And the Almighty formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the SOUL of life” (Bereishit 2:7). On this verse, the Zohar states that “one who blows, blows from within himself,” indicating that the soul is actually part of G-d’s essence. Since G-d’s essence is completely spiritual and non-physical, it is impossible that the soul should die. (The Chizkuni says this why the verse calls it “soul of LIFE.”)
That’s what King Solomon meant when he wrote, “The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to G-d who gave it.” (Kohelet 12:17)
What brought death into the world in the first place? The distance created between man and G-d from the first sin back in the Garden of Eden. Separation from G-d is like pulling the plug of an electrical appliance out of an electrical socket. Won’t it die?
Cleaving to G-d is life itself. But, not just the kind that keeps the body functioning, but the kind of life that allows a person to live beyond his physical limitations so that even after his body has expired his life has not. That is a person’s true legacy.
The Torah informs us of Miriam’s death immediately after enumerating the laws of the Para Aduma, (red heifer) whose ashes were used for purification.
The Gemara asks why is the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the laws of the Para Aduma?
To teach that just as the Para Aduma brings atonement, so too, the death of the righteous brings atonement. (Mo’ed Katan 28a)
In what way does the death of Tzadikim atone for the people?
The principal benefit that comes from the death of Tzadikim is the spiritual and moral awakening that takes place after they pass away. When a Tzadik is alive, his acts of kindness and generosity are not always public knowledge. True Tzadikim do not promote themselves. On the contrary, they often take great pains to conceal their virtues and charitable deeds. It is not uncommon that we become aware of their true greatness and nobility of spirit only after they are no longer with us. Only then do we hear reports of their selfless deeds and extraordinary sensitivity, and we are inspired to emulate their ways. In this way, the positive impact of the righteous as inspiring role models increases after their death.
Our sages explain that this was the case in regards to the two sons of Aharon (Nadav and Avihu) that are mentioned in this week’s parsha as passing away.
The Torah presents a strange “conversation” between Moshe and Aharon (Parshat Shemini):
“Then Moshe said to Aharon, This is what G-d said: “I will be sanctified in those that come near to Me (bi-kerovai ekadeish), and before all the people I will be glorified (ekaveid).” And Aharon was silent.” (10:3)
Moshe told Aharon that he knew something was going to happen on this auspicious day and thought that it would happen to himself or to Aharon. Only now did he realise how special Aharon’s sons were, for it was them that were sanctified.
It was only after they passed away that Moshe realised how holy they really were.
This also helps explain the first Pasuk in our parsha where it says “And G‑d spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they drew near before the L-rd, and they died.”
Why does the Torah need to mention the fact that they died twice? If G-d spoke to Moshe after their death, surely we don’t need to be told “and they died”.
Our Sages explain that there is the initial time when a person is told that someone has passed away, the myriads of thoughts and memories of that person enter one’s mind. But then there is a further long term effect, where after a person has internalised all, he/she will hear so many stories and amazing events that the deceased was part of.
The death of the sons of Aharon was not just a normal death, it was a death that had a long term effect and the longer time went on the more people understood what amazing personalities the Bnei Yisrael had really lost.
Always show appreciation. What’s taken for granted will eventually be taken away. Then you end up missing most what you least appreciated.