By Dr. Bernie Kastner
Many of us feel that the process of dying and death is the hardest thing we’ll ever experience. The anxiety surrounding this stems from a number of common fears:
1. The finality of death
2. The uncertainty of what follows
3. The fear of a non-existence
4. The loss of everything we have ever valued, achieved, amassed
5. The fear of the pain and loneliness in dying
6. The fear of failing to complete our mission in life
However, those who commit suicide clearly see that dying is an easier road to take than facing up to the challenges they have been dealt. They perceive aspects of life as tougher to handle than going down the path to their death. Unfortunately, they give up.
Rabbi Menachem Azulai, author of Ohr Emunah, tells us that we each must strive toward taking upon ourselves to be happy with our lot and satisfied with the way that Hashem conducts Himself vis-à-vis our personal vicissitudes.
This is no easy task, as it requires us to be on a very high level with respect to faith. The Baal Netivot Shalom, an 18th-century rabbinic leader in Poland, said that the hardest thing for us to do in this life is to willingly and happily accept the manner in which Hashem relates to us as individuals through good and bad. As we learn from the Talmud (Berachot 54a), in every which way Hashem measures us, we should be very content—this mode of being is more difficult to carry off than death itself, yet it is a level that is second to none with regard to self-sacrifice and self-effacement.
There are times when Hashem’s will places us as individuals in untenable positions—left to cope with situations that are not to our liking. Nevertheless, this is precisely the time to go forward to do it with a spirit of happiness.
There is a wonderful story told of Rabbi Yitzchak Matityahu, zt’l, whose wife had suddenly taken ill, and he was left to tend to her every need, day and night. So busy was he at her side constantly, that he had absolutely no time to learn Torah nor to get to a minyan for prayer. One day, a good friend of Rabbi Yitzchak came to visit him at home and saw that he was indeed busy with maintaining the household while tending to his sick wife. What his friend saw upon entering his house was mind-boggling—Rabbi Yitzchak’s face was shining with happiness as bright as the midday sun. When asked to explain the source of his sheer happiness, Rabbi Yitzchak answered: When I am learning Torah or involved in prayer, I never really know whether I am doing it to the satisfaction of Hashem. I am always left with a shadow of doubt in my mind. However, in the task that was put before me since my wife fell ill, there was no doubt as to what I needed to do. It was abundantly clear to me that I am indeed fulfilling Hashem’s will. So how can I possibly not be happy about it?
The challenges we are faced with throughout our lives come with a price tag. Hopefully we won’t be overwhelmed to the point of, heaven forbid, purposely shortening our own lives. In that case, we would likely just have to cope with the same or even tougher challenges in our next incarnation. Hence, acceptance and faith with appreciation for the way Hashem leads us down the (right) path for our individual spiritual advancement will ensure that we will achieve our life’s purpose. If this, then, is a tougher challenge than dealing with death itself, then I would say that whatever lingering fears we may have about death and dying ought to dissipate relatively quickly. Living life with the hand we are dealt and asking ourselves, “What can I do now to move ahead?” rather than asking, “Why was I dealt this blow” is a much better formula to employ in order to keep our mental well-being intact. v
Dr. Bernie Kastner is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Jerusalem. He is also the author of “Understanding the Afterlife in This Life” and “Masa El Haor.” His upcoming book on the afterlife, “HaOlam She’acharei,” is scheduled to be released soon. Feel free to visit his website at drbkastner.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.