Posts Tagged 'death and mourning'
Category: Issues Volume 17 Number 02
Published on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:00
Written by Jews for Jesus
The tiny, one-room house was dark and musty. Narrow sunbeams poked through the cracks around a small draped window, and near the bed a solitary wick flickered in a little bowl of oil.
Ruchelah lay in her bed. She had been infirmed for years, barely able to move or sit up, much less stand or walk. She heard a rapping at the door—two knocks, a pause, and then three quick taps. It was Leah, the rebbetzin.
“Ruchelah, are you awake?” the elderly rebbetzin queried as she showed her head through the door. The sickly woman nodded. Leah came to see Ruchelah three times a day. She would come in, give Ruchelah a bowl of broth, adjust the pillows, and in the winter wrestle a log on to the hearth.
“Your healer hasn’t come yet?” Leah asked as she helped Ruchelah sit up and gave her a bowl of chicken soup. Ruchelah just smiled faintly.
“You’re still waiting for him?” Leah continued. Again, Ruchelah just smiled.
“Go ahead, eat; it will give you strength,” Leah urged. She watched as Ruchelah took a few spoonfuls of the hot nourishment.
“I’ll see you again in the morning,” Leah promised as she turned towards the door. “Make sure you rest; rest. Don’t you stay up all night reading.” Leah adjusted her wig and softly closed the door behind her.
Ruchelah sighed. Leah had been taking care of her for how long? It seemed too many years to count since the accident. A horse had gone crazy in the market place and knocked down everything—and everyone—in its path. Ruchelah had found herself lying flat on the ground, a sharp pain shooting up her spine.
“Rest,” the doctor had urged her, “stay off your feet and you’ll be better in a few weeks.” The weeks became months and the months made themselves years, but the pain had never left her. Ruchelah developed a lump beside her spine, and not long afterwards the lump grew and began spreading. Then she began to lose her strength.
Her husband, Leib-Duvid, had seemed a good enough man and a fair provider, but when he realized that his wife would be an invalid for who-knows-how-long, he packed his bags and left. Who could blame him for not wanting to bear such a tragic burden? Dishonorable, true! But understandable. She heard from him again only once when a messenger brought the get.
Ruchelah’s daughter, Shayna, had taken care of her at first, but it wasn’t long before she was able to escape into marriage. She and her new husband soon moved away. They brought their first child to visit but now they found it too cumbersome to do much traveling. Yet who could blame them?
It was after this that Leah came; was it six years ago, or seven? From the beginning Leah had always been faithful; it was “hesed shel emet,” an act of true loving-kindness, as Ruchelah knew she would never be able to repay the rebbetzin for her care. Leah even used to bring Ruchelah books with stories of far-away places. But the only one that Ruchelah cared for was the tattered old Yiddish Bible. Leah had let her keep it. It sat on the table beside her bed, right next to the bowl of oil.
Ruchelah, feeling a bit stronger, reached for the Bible and opened its yellowed pages, almost automatically, to the middle of the book of Isaiah. This was Ruchelah’s favorite passage, a slightly obscure incident about how Hezekiah, one of the kings of the ancient Jewish nation, had become mortally ill. He had prayed to the Lord, and the prophet Isaiah had come to him, saying, “Thus saith the Lord . . . I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. I hereby add fifteen years to your life” (Isaiah 38:5). God, Isaiah explained, was going to work a miracle to let Hezekiah know that he would be healed; the shadow on the sundial was going to go backwards ten degrees. Of course, the Scriptures recorded that the shadow did go backwards, and King Hezekiah recovered from his illness.
Ruchelah had come across this story by chance several years ago. “If God is God,” she had reasoned, “then he can do whatever miracles he pleases. If God could cure old King Hezekiah, why can’t he heal me?”
“Ribbono shel Olam,” she had prayed, “Master of the Universe, I know you are the great Healer; please, heal me as you healed King Hezekiah.”
She had barely finished her prayer when a flood of golden sunlight streamed through the window, making everything as bright as a summer afternoon.
“It’s a sign,” Ruchelah had gasped, “a sign that God has heard my prayer. He’s going to heal me; God is going to heal me!” And she hung onto that hope because she had nothing else.
Not too long after she read about Hezekiah’s miracle, Ruchelah’s eyes had lighted on another passage, also in the book of Isaiah. “Surely, our disease he did bear,” the prophet had written, “and our pains he carried . . .” Ruchelah continued reading. She discovered that God had sent a “righteous servant,” someone who took upon himself the sickness and hurts of others and bore their sins. “A healer,” she murmured. But who was this healer? Ruchelah didn’t know, but she knew that God had sent him. And since God had said he would send a healer back then, doubtless, he could certainly send a healer to her now.
Ruchelah had been so overjoyed with her discoveries that she couldn’t wait to tell Leah. At first Leah even shared her hope and looked for a miracle. But as time went on, Ruchelah, instead of getting better, declined. She was weakening; her already slight frame was wasting away, and her once healthy complexion was turning pale and gray. And the years had continued to drag by.
Now a sudden draft blew out the wick in the oil bowl. The sun had already set, and the room was swallowed up in darkness. Ruchelah wanted to recite the confession of sins and say the Sh’ma, but she found that she didn’t have the strength to remember all the words.
“Ribbono shel Olam,” she prayed, “please forgive me my sins, and quickly send the Righteous One, the Healer, to me.” Ruchelah prayed and then soon fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
She awoke to the sound of a rapping at her door—two knocks, a pause, and three quick taps. The room of her dream was flooded with a stream of golden sunlight, just at it had been the day she first asked God to send the healer. When the door opened, she thought she would go blind, the light was so bright. But instead of Leah, a man entered the room. He was dressed in white and was neither young nor old.
“Come, daughter,” he said, as he held out an ugly, scarred hand, “your faith has made you well.”
Ruchelah took hold of that hand, and with a quickness that surprised her, she leaped out of bed, jumped to her feet, sprang out the door and started running—running and skipping for sheer joy— through a lush, green meadow that was bursting with springtime.
Morning came. Leah entered the dingy room and shook her head sadly at the sight of Ruchelah’s gaping jaw and wideopen eyes that would never see anything on earth again.
“Poor thing,” Leah said out loud. “She really thought that God would heal her. . . .”
Category: Issues Volume 17 Number 02
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:24
Written by Matt Sieger
Many people do not believe in a literal heaven so for them, the question “Who goes there?” is moot. The late Dr. Louis Goldberg once told of the time that he went into the store of a Jewish proprietor:
Read More »
Category: December 2006 Newsletter (5767:4)
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 13:59
Written by Jews for Jesus
Did you know that Christmas can be a very lonely time for us Jewish people? All the advertisements, shopping, decorations and caroling remind us that we live in lands whose cultures are not our own. And so, as we watch our non-Jewish friends and neighbors immerse themselves in all the customs and traditions of Christmas, we're likely to feel more isolated than at any other time of the year. That's why Christmas is a wonderful time to reach out to your Jewish friends with the love of Y'shua. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 15 and ends just a few days before Christmas. This provides a wonderful opportunity. Why not send a Hanukkah greeting to any Jewish people that you know? Your Jewish friends will certainly know that it's Christmas. But they'll probably be surprised to see that you know that it's Hanukkah. And the fact that you cared enough to reach out in a way that's culturally Jewish may very well speak volumes to them about the love of Christ. Who knows, perhaps the Lord will even give you the opportunity to share the real meaning of Christmas—the birth of the Jewish Messiah Y'shua, God's Christmas gift to the world!
Some Interesting Facts about Hanukkah
- Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of the Syrio- Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes IV, around 165 B.C.. At that time, the armies of Judah Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and reinstated the sacrifices that had ceased. And that's why this holiday is called Hag Hanukkah"— the Feast of the Dedication.
- According to tradition, when the menorah—the seven-armed candelabrum in the Temple—was rekindled, there was only enough consecrated oil to keep the light burning for one day. But by a miracle, the light burned for eight days, providing enough time to bring fresh oil for the lamp. And that's why Hanukkah lasts for eight days.
- Unlike the seven-branched menorah that stood in the Temple, the Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah) that we light during this holiday has nine arms. The center arm is called the shammas, and it's used to light all the other lights on the menorah, one for each night. By the eighth night, our homes are aglow with the brightness of the fully-lit menorahs. And that's why Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights.
- There is only one place in the entire Bible where we find a reference to Hanukkah: "Now it was the Feast of Dedication [Hanukkah] in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch" (John 10:22-23).
- It was at Hanukkah that Y'shua, the Light of the World, stood in the Temple area and declared, "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30).
Category: Issues Volume 02 Number 01
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:24
Written by Susan Perlman
I remember sitting on daddy's lap
my pretty one" he used to say
"give daddy a nice big kiss"
I'd smile, put my chubby arms
around his neck real tight
then plant a big messy kiss on his rough cheek
I remember the first day of
school, boy was I scared
we lined up in the schoolyard
I was the shortest so I stood in front
was everyone looking at the hole in my sweater?
I hoped not
I remember when mommy had a baby
It cried and cried all the time
but that was all right
hadn't it been locked in mommy's stomach
for a long time?
I remember Betsy
she was my very best friend
we did our homework together
and talked about things
like the time when we would be wearing lipstick
and going out on dates
I remember thinking life wasn't fun anymore
daddy dying, mommy always crying
it just wasn't fair
I remember being alone a lot
thinking about what happens when you die
about how lonely that must be
but the rabbi said "daddy's in heaven"
no, he was just saying that to make me feel better
I remember thinking I'd never be happy again
I remember the next few years were filled
with attempts at happiness
join a club! get politically involved!
like to try some grass?
sex means I love you…no,
therapy's the answer
join the movement!
find meaningful relationships?
I remember being confused
unsure of this enigma called happiness
and I remember the day that confusion ended
the day I met the Holy One of Israel.
Category: Issues Volume 02 Number 01
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:24
Written by Robert A. Friedman
Is there life after death?
Throughout history, men of every nation and culture have been intrigued with this notion. The Jewish Scriptures, the Tenach,have a great deal to say about life, resurrection and eternity. For most of my life I believed once someone died, that was it—six feet under the ground and a state of nonexistence.
Now I know the Author of life. Now I know each one of us will continue to exist forever and ever.
And the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being."
Life originates from God. The Creator of the universe, through His love and mercy, gave life to us. Physical life is not something we asked for, but rather something we received without asking. Even a friend of Job said:
"The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life."
Yet, if mere physical life were all we possessed, we could rightly ignore any speculations as to life after death, responsibility to our fellow man or necessary obedience to God. Each great man of God has known this, that there is a Life beyond life, an eternity beyond the temporary. Jeremiah knew.
"O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life."
"But Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting."
What do these great Jewish prophets mean when they use words like "redeemed" and "salvation"? By definition there must be a redeemer or savior in order for us to be redeemed or receive salvation.
This was, in fact, a great hope of Israel: that a messiah would come as savior and redeemer—a messiah who would allow us to exchange our temporary physical life for an eternal one.
"The promised Redeemer would bring the existing world-order to an end and inaugurate the timeless sphere in which the righteous would lead a purely spiritual existence freed from the trammels of the flesh."
-Everyman's Talmud, Page 364
Throughout the Tenach we have evidence that at least a few men, having died, were resurrected back to life by the power of God. Could Abraham have had this in mind when, knowing he was to sacrifice Isaac on the mountain, he told the men with him:
"'Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.'"
Abraham knew our great nation would come through Isaac. He knew he was to sacrifice Isaac. How else could this make sense unless, in fact, the dead could rise again? Abraham's faith led him to declare, "…We will come back to you."
Greater evidence is given. Have you ever considered the miracles which took place through Elisha? Not Jewish myths, but Jewish history nicely written down for us to reflect upon.
"When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy Iying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD…The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes."
-II Kings 4:32,33,35
Even a dead Elisha had an effect upon another dead man—bringing life back to a corpse.
"Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet."
-II Kings 13:21
People in Biblical times were sure—sure that when a prophet of God spoke, what he said would come to pass. If a man said he spoke for God, and what he prophesied did not come true, then he was subject to a swift and fatal stoning.
The prophet Daniel said something about the end of history as we know it and what would happen to those who have already died. Let's take a look at Daniel:
"Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." -Daniel 12:2,3
Perhaps you have heard us discuss eternal life, without considering there was such a thing as eternal death. Your seventy or eighty years on earth today mean nothing compared to an endless tomorrow. It's time to figure out how one can choose life and reject death and forever be in heaven with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the rest of God's children.
There came a time, about 2,000 years ago, when a carpenter of Nazareth of Galilee in Israel made some extraordinary statements about life and resurrection. At the time, our Jewish nation was divided on this issue, with Pharisees believing in the resurrection of the dead and the Saduccees denying it. The latter group questioned the Nazarene, the one called Jesus, on this issue and He responded:
"But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'
"He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." -Luke 20:37,38
Yes, He is the God of the living, the God who can bring us from death into life. Jesus not only confirmed the resurrection of the dead in word, but also in deed. He put His miracles where His mouth was. Contrary to popular belief today, Jesus did not merely claim to be a prophet of great insight and compassion; rather, He claimed to be the Messiah, the unique Son of the living God, and He proved it.
"'My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live…' When Jesus entered the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, 'Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.' But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up."
It's reasonable to assume that when the once-dead girl burst into the room full of relatives and friends, they stopped laughing at Jesus. In the seventh chapter of Luke, Jesus touched a dead man and he arose. In the eleventh chapter of John, a village witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, a man who had been dead four days before his life returned to him.
This last miracle occurred after the man's sister expressed her disappointment in Jesus, for He had not been there at the time her brother was dying. Her only hope for Lazarus' resurrection was in the resurrection "of the last day" as we read about in Daniel 12.
Then Jesus did something and claimed something no other man in history ever has done. He didn't claim, as Buddha did, that he "would point the way." He didn't encourage Martha, the sister, to return in some other life as a higher form or try to do as many mitzvahs as possible to earn her way into heaven. No. He stared right at her and said:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…"
The Gospel narratives relate the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—a resurrection which turned a frightened group of followers hiding behind locked doors into a dynamic nucleus of faith which would spread over the entire world.
Yet, unlike other resurrections where the person would come back to life only to die again, the resurrection of Jesus is permanent. He conquered death not only for Himself, but for any who would ask it of Him.
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."
Immediately following the time of Jesus on earth, thousands of devout Jews accepted Him as their Messiah. Others chose to ignore the voice of the Shepherd. Moses Maimonides lived from 1135 to 1204, and stated in his last and thirteenth article of faith:
"I fully believe there will be a revival of the dead at a time which will please the Creator, blessed and exalted be his name forever and ever."
We Jews who have come to know and joyfully accept Jesus as our promised Messiah no longer have a fear of death, but rather a joy of resurrection. Through His death as the Passover lamb He has offered us life—eternal life.
"If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection."
We each must make an individual choice to seek God and find God; to be filled with His peace, joy and awareness of who He is, who we are and what it means to be His child.
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…"
We pray you will truly seek and find, that you will truly choose life over death, and that your special eternity will begin from the moment you realize a resurrected life is not only a historical fact but a promise for today, for you, forever.
Category: Mishpochah Message Spring 1995
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 13:12
Written by Jews for Jesus
Why does Jewish law require that the deceased be buried within twenty-four hours of death? Are any exceptions allowed?
The biblical basis for this law is questionable, as a portion of Deuteronomy 21:23 is cited: His body shall not remain overnight…, but you shall surely bury him that day."
If you read the command in its context, you will see that it refers to someone who has been executed for a crime. Verse 23 in its entirety says, "His body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God."
Nevertheless, the reasons stated in The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning seem altogether reasonable and in keeping with Scripture, if not specifically stated: "The religious concept underlying this law is that man, made in the image of God, should be accorded the deepest respect. It is considered a matter of great shame and discourtesy to leave the deceased unburied—his soul has returned to God, but his body is left to linger in the land of the living."1
A secondary stated reason is for the benefit of the bereaved, that they should not have to undergo the pain of the physical presence of a deceased loved one.
There are times when a delay is allowable according to the rabbis. The delay must in some way contribute to honoring the dead—for example, if close relatives must travel a long distance or if the proper shrouds or casket are not immediately available. The burial may also be delayed when the government requires it, such as for the legal transportation of the body or for required post mortem examinations.
Why must the deceased be buried in a wood coffin?
Three reasons are given. First, Adam and Eve hid among the trees when God said that the result of the first sin would be death. Second, wood is used so that the body and shroud will not decompose too much sooner than the coffin, that God's Word "Unto dust shalt thou return" be fulfilled. Last, and probably least, is the idea that because metal is useful in war, it might seem somehow to mitigate against a loved one resting in peace.
There is no religious requirement placed on the type of wood or the expense (or lack of expense) of the coffin. However, Jewish tradition tends to frown on any ostentation at a funeral, as it does not afford the deceased any added dignity. A better way to honor the deceased is to contribute money to charity or a good cause in his or her name.
Has the traditional Jewish view of the nature of death changed over the years?
Yes! According to The Jewish Mourner's Book of Why, at one time the rabbis taught that death was "the wages of sin." The author wrote, "This concept, later rejected by mainstream Judaism, later became a core belief of Christianity." He cites, via footnote, Romans 5:12.
Is it appropriate for a Jewish believer to be cremated?
If you are seeking to follow Jewish tradition, the answer is a definite no, as Genesis 3:19 is seen as a command. However, there is no verse that says, "Thou shalt not cremate." The passage in question is a death sentence, a declaration of what will happen, not a directive. (Even so, most of the body's composition returns to the earth even with cremation.) However, even if cremation is not strictly forbidden in Scripture, you need to be aware that the practice has its roots in monism. Many who wish to be cremated believe in reincarnation, becoming one with God, etc. Even if you attach no such significance to cremation, remember, you will not be there to defend your view! Therefore, for the sake of your testimony, it is probably best to seek an alternative plan.
Is it appropriate for a Jewish believer in Y'shua to use Jewish law and tradition as a standard for mourning loved ones and for planning one's own funeral?
Jewish law and tradition provide many well thought out guidelines for sensitive and appropriate measures regarding caring for the deceased as well as caring for the mourners. Most traditions are based on respect for the dignity of life and consideration for the bereaved. It is appropriate for a Jewish believer to maintain such traditions as he or she feels led. It is appropriate for Jewish believers to identify with Jewish family and friends through the keeping of these traditions insofar as they do not require us to compromise our testimony. For example, in planning for one's own funeral, it is not appropriate to plan on being buried where it is forbidden for a fellow believer to perform the ceremony or for any kind of Christian testimony to go forth.
For those who have questions about Jewish customs regarding death, burial and mourning, The Jewish Mourner's Book of Why by Alfred J. Kolatch contains a wealth of information on the subject. It is a relatively new book (copyright 1993) written in question and answer format. The publisher is Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., Middle Village, NY 11379.
Category: Mishpochah Message Spring 1995
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 13:12
Written by David Brickner
Some believe that we are the same as other Jews and have merely added our faith in Jesus as an extension of Judaism. This is not true! Our faith in Y'shua causes us to be different in many ways, and those differences are not insignificant. They are matters of life and death.…
I was too close to the edge! I tried to veer away but stumbled on a rock and was suddenly over the cliff. I grabbed for something, anything, to break my fall, but there was only the rush of air as I plummeted down, down, down. I wanted to scream but could not. My whole body tensed—and I awoke with a start.
Maybe you know the terror of such dreams and the relief of awakening. Perhaps you have also known real tragedy and you understand that death is not just for dreams or television or the cinema. Death and dying are as real as life itself.
Death is an ugly intruder that tears the soul and body asunder. There is no beauty in a corpse. A skilled mortician might create a pleasant illusion, but human beings have an inherent sense that a body no longer animated by a soul is somehow obscene. There is an inner nakedness that causes some to stare and others to avert their eyes.
Saturated as our society is with violence and images of death on television, it is surprising how most people exclude the subject from conversation. Death is a ubiquitous enemy, yet we find ways to anesthetize ourselves to its painful presence. People keep their thoughts and fears about death to themselves. There is a conspiracy of silence. Even believers may try to ignore the fact of death, postpone it for a while, but eventually it will lay claim to each of us and to those we love.
The good news is, we don't have to be afraid!
Y'shua came to release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15). Fear of death causes bondage, but Jesus has liberated us. We need not be part of the conspiracy of silence. We have a hope that is unlike that of the rest of the world. We have confidence in our eternal relationship with God through Y'shua. For us, death is but a door through which we pass into the presence of our Lord. We know that we will be united with Him and reunited with those we love in the Lord who have gone before us.
Whereas fear of death subjects people to bondage, confronting death liberates and produces something of great value. "The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. …So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:10, 12).
It is time for us, as mishpochah, to speak frankly and help one another face the facts of mortality so that by God's grace we may gain that heart of wisdom. Wisdom will help us recognize realities and overcome temptations in matters of life and death.
Unbelievers Do Not Share Our Hope
This is a harsh reality, but it is better to endure reality and act accordingly than to be lulled into passivity by an illusion.
Most unbelievers know that they do not have hope. My father tells the story of the funeral of his father, Nathan. Cancer had claimed Nathan's life at an early age, but he, along with his wife (my grandma), my father and his brother had become believers just days before his death. At the graveside, my great-grandma was overcome by the loss of her son. Wailing and crying, she moaned in Yiddish, "Oh my Nathan, he's in the ground, he's in the ground. Oh my Nathan, he's in the ground." My grandma spoke softly through her tears to reply, "No, Mama, Nathan is not in the ground; he is in heaven with the Lord." What a contrast. Had my grandfather died a few days earlier, his wife would have had no hope to share with his mother.
This contrast does not exist merely on an ordinary personal level. The unbeliever's uncertainty about the hereafter is woven into the very fabric of Judaism. Compare and contrast the words of two first-century rabbis.
First, hear from one who knew Y'shua: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.…Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?'" (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
That same rabbi, Saul of Tarsus, also wrote that he was hard pressed to say whether he preferred life or death. He was eager to depart this world and be with the Messiah, but he knew his death would leave a void among the living. Paul did not fear death; in fact he had to curb his desire for death in order to fulfill his responsibilities to younger believers who needed him.1 He had full confidence in his eternal destiny as well as the eternal destiny of all believers.2
Compare Paul's thinking to that of the first-century rabbi who was the architect of modern-day Judaism and who did not know Y'shua:
When Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them he began to weep. His disciples said to him: Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer! Wherefore weepest thou? He replied: If I were being taken today before a human king who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, whose anger if he is angry with me does not last forever, who if he imprisons me does not imprison me for ever and who if he puts me to death does not put me to everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money, even so I would weep. Now that I am being taken before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He who lives and endures forever and ever, whose anger, if He is angry with me, is an everlasting anger, who if He imprisons me imprisons me forever, who if He puts me to death puts me to death forever, and whom I cannot persuade with words or bribe with money—nay more, when there are two ways before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom, and I do not know by which I shall be taken, shall I not weep?3
The pious Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai profoundly articulated the uncertainty, and thus the terror, death holds for those who have not accepted the reconciling work of the Messiah, Jesus. Most rabbis today do not speak with the certainty of Rabbi ben Zakkai regarding everlasting life and everlasting death, any more than they speak of a personal God who judges and determines eternal destiny.
Today's frequent omission of statements about God and eternal destiny are part of the anesthetization that keeps people from a proper fear, a fear that tells them to concern themselves with God's requirements. (After all, the Scriptures teach that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.) But what has not changed since the first century is the unbeliever's statement, "I do not know…"
We believers in Jesus are different. Our hope springs from true faith in God's provision, Y'shua, through whom we can and do know our destiny. Those who do not share the faith do not share our hope or our destiny. That lack of faith and hope causes people to be terrified of death.
People try to deny their terror by saying that all paths lead to God. They do not realize how very correct they are! All paths do lead to God. One path leads to Him as Father and Savior; the rest lead to Him as Judge. This adds great urgency to our obligation to tell others—especially our loved ones—of our hope in Jesus. A heart of wisdom recognizes that those who don't know the Messiah do not share our hope, and it also recognizes that there are limited opportunities to expose them to the hope that we have in Jesus.
None of Us Knows How Much Time We Have
My pastor, Scott Rubin, has a heart of wisdom. He knows more about life and death than most other men in their thirties. If he doesn't think something is worth his time, he'll let you know—sometimes rather bluntly. But he always has time to pray, to pick up a weary traveler at the airport, to encourage a member of his congregation. He knows just how he wants to invest his time and his emotions. He is in the tenth year of life as a heart transplant survivor. Every day he takes drugs to restrain his immune system from mounting an attack on his heart. We hope and pray that he is with us for many more years, and I am sure he hopes the same. Meanwhile Pastor Scott makes each day count.
Any crisis can be productive if we respond by "numbering our days," so as to use them to full advantage. But it isn't necessary to undergo a crisis in order to confront our mortality and gain wisdom in the use of our time.
The fact of death should stimulate us to renewed vigor as we tell those who don't know Messiah about our hope in Him. We have no idea how long we will be around to tell it, just as we do not know how long they will be around to hear. Physical death always looms larger than spiritual death, yet which should concern us more? In the grand scheme of things, spiritual death is far more significant. Yet it is physical death that makes the condition of spiritual death permanent.
Our own death may seem of little concern when compared to the death of loved ones who don't know the Lord. Perhaps no other grief is as profound as that of losing close friends or relatives who have kept themselves outside of Christ. A heart of wisdom deals with grief honestly and redemptively. Anything short of that enables grief to fester and cause a sickness of soul.
We Must Be Truthful in Our Grief
There are many temptations to offset or deny the pain of losing an unbelieving loved one. Each temptation offers us a way to lessen the profound anguish, but none of us can afford the price. Our pain stems from the truth: an unbeliever's death causes that person separation not only from us but also from God…forever.
The temptations to ease that pain each involve some deviation from the truth. We are not looking to be dishonest; we are simply trying not to hurt so much. If we allow ourselves to become desperate for relief from grief, we may loosen our grip on truth.
We may be tempted to create an illusion. Many people seek to manage their pain over the death of an unbeliever by saying, "Who knows, what if at the last moment, just before she passed into eternity, she said yes to Y'shua?" The more they dwell on this, the more certain they become that it is precisely what happened.
There are even those who insist that God personally revealed to them that beloved relatives had been saved, even though the relatives never indicated that they wanted Y'shua. Certainly God can reveal whatever He wants to whomever He chooses. But God does not reveal to anyone anything that is contrary to His Word or contrary to reality. I believe in the possibility of "death-bed conversions" vis-?-vis the thief on the cross. Yet even the thief on the cross confessed his faith.
We must never discount the grace of God, yet we cannot trade the truth for a pain remedy. People who insist that loved ones were saved at the last moment without any kind of evidence may not realize that they have violated their loved one's right to choose. They also show a lack of trust in God. Creating illusions regarding unbelieving loved ones trivializes reality. Like all illusions, it may look like a blanket in cold weather, but the person who trusts in it for warmth could freeze to death.
We may be tempted into denial. A Jewish believer who has lost unbelieving loved ones can seek to ease the pain by thinking that heaven and hell are not that important. Perhaps even the reality of the afterlife dims. Then the reality of Christ and His cross become diminished in that person's eyes. What was once held to be true by virtue of God's Word and a real encounter with Him, what was known by the power of His Spirit is no longer accepted, not because it is any less true, but because of the pain we feel over those who perish without that truth. Such a person is tempted to avoid reading the Bible, to avoid praying, to avoid doing all those things that remind him or her of the truth.
When the truth hurts, it is natural to avoid it. What we need to realize is that the truth doesn't change if we stop believing it. Any relief we might feel from avoiding the truth comes at our own peril. There is a time to mourn and a time to grieve; there is a time to weep and a time wail. The death of a loved one outside of Christ causes pain that we cannot soften or avoid if we want to function within reality.
We may be tempted to create a different, nonbiblical theology in order to ease our pain. Some allow themselves to believe that people are saved by sincerity. They are convinced that if their loved one had known that Jesus was the Lord, he or she would have believed, and that God somehow reckons this as faith. This kind of theological shape shifting trivializes the cross and makes what the Messiah did for us into a cruel joke. If God accepts people based on what they would have chosen rather than on what they did choose, Jesus should not have had to die at all. Y'shua's suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane should have been enough since God knew that He was sincere and willing to make the supreme sacrifice. That kind of thinking is contrary to Scripture, and we must not succumb to the temptation to bend the truth for the sake of lessening our grief.
We may be tempted by the mistaken notion of a second chance. It would be comforting to believe that there is some cosmic way station after death. We know God is merciful, so why not believe that He will give another chance to people who had what we feel are hindrances to faith? It would be comforting to believe this, but there is no biblical basis for the idea. In fact, the Bible indicates just the opposite, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Hebrews 9:27-28). As surely as Jesus is coming again, so does judgment come after death. We cannot argue for grace beyond what Scripture allows.
How can we avoid the temptation to be less than honest when we grieve over unbelieving loved ones? In the end we must trust all of our loved ones to God. The one thing that enables us to survive the death of unsaved loved ones is the knowledge that God is just and loving. God does all things well, and beyond this we cannot argue with Him. One day we will know as we are known. We must know now that what we will know then will answer all the questions of the heart.
Meanwhile, grief for those who don't believe must move us to pray, to witness boldly, to risk everything so that while they are yet living, they may hear and be saved. And we must not turn from our pain when those who were not saved die.
A heart of wisdom bears the pain of death as part of life's reality. We come to the Lord with our pain and tell Him we hurt. He does not remove the pain any more than He removes the reality, but He lets us know that we are not alone, and we are able to bear real grief with Him as our comforter.
Part of our comfort is that we know a day will come when there shall be no crying or mourning—the day when every tear shall be dried and His presence will fill our hearts with understanding and joy.
How Do We Interact With Others As We Grieve?
If a family member has died and your relatives are sitting shiva, no matter what it takes for you to be there, it is good to spend all seven days in mourning. This enables you to enter into the family grief and also to be a witness to the living.
Part of the reason for grief is to release the departed person. That is why we need the funeral and why sitting shiva helps. People spend time with one another missing the person who died and accepting the fact that there is a profound absence. Mirrors are covered so the mourners need not be reminded of their grief-altered appearance and are not tempted to vanity. A minyon gathers for prayer so the mourners need not leave the house for worship.
This is a time when people are thinking about life and death, so there is a chance for discussion and an opportunity to tell of your hope in the Messiah. It is a good time for witnessing, but it is not a time to hand out tracts. If you are the only believing member of your family, you may be excluded from participating in certain parts of the funeral. Don't let that keep you from being there.
I was in Israel for Project Joshua with Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, who was the teacher/guide for our group of Jewish Christian college students. Dr. Fruchtenbaum received a phone call from his wife, MaryAnn, saying that his father had passed away and that the funeral was set to take place in less than 48 hours.
I know that Arnold really struggled over what he should do. His family had planned the funeral without him, and had left little time for him to return. It would have been easy for him to be offended by the slight and to reason that he had a responsibility to the tour. Instead, he made the arduous journey to Los Angeles, arriving just in time for the funeral. I believe Dr. Fruchtenbaum made the right decision. He reported upon his return to Israel that he had been asked to say Kaddish on behalf of the entire family. God honors our efforts to do what is right.
How do you eulogize a loved one who didn't believe? You need to speak of the things that you appreciated about the person, but you also want the chance to share the hope people can have in Y'shua. You can stand up and say, "First of all, I need to tell you where my father and I had some differences." Then you can tell briefly and concisely what Y'shua means to you. For a transition you might say something like, "Dad never pretended to support my faith, but where some fathers might have turned their backs on their children, he respected my right to think for myself and arrive at my own conclusions." Then go on to tell of his other attributes. In other cases it may be appropriate to say, "If so and so were able to speak today, I believe he/she would want you to know about the reality of life after death." Then speak of God's salvation in Messiah.
What about relating to bereaved in general, not merely our own family? Unfortunately, comfort is an art that has practically been lost except for the act of choosing a greeting card. James 1:27 tells us, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.…" We demonstrate our love for God by consoling those who grieve. Death is a wound to the living, and we must be willing to dress and wrap that wound.
We can comfort survivors; we can pray for them to manage their grief well. During shiva we can visit and read Psalms to those who care to hear. We can send condolence cards. Too many of us have so protected ourselves from pain that we have lost our ability to cry. If we ask, God will give us the ability to weep with those who need to weep. Y'shua wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He entered into the grief of Mary and Martha, and so should we enter into the grief of those people whom God has placed in our lives.
When we help someone who grieves, we must not seek to diminish reality with platitudes or say what the grieving person knows to be true. Most often it is not what we say but what we do that makes a difference. Job's comforters started out well. They wept when they saw Job. They sat on the ground without saying a word for seven days and seven nights. If they had stopped there, they would have done well. But they ceased to minister when they began to speak and to seek explanations.
A heart of wisdom responds to grief in simple and sensitive ways: through an invitation to dinner, by inviting a child to a family outing who has lost his father. Acts of kindness provide comfort and can go beyond comfort to encourage healing.
Facing the Death of a Believer
We face the death of a believing loved one with mixed feelings. We grieve, knowing we will live the rest of life on earth without that person. It could be a loss that requires us to regroup and figure out how to go on as a single parent. It might mean finding a way to live without the advice of a cherished mentor or the security of a loving parent. There is no denying the pain. Yet there is, or should be, a sense of rejoicing to know that these loved ones are in the presence of the Lord. Not only are they enjoying Him forever, but we will see them again!
It is important to allow ourselves to have those mixed feelings. If we deny that it is painful to go on without a believing loved one, we carry that pain alone. There is nothing unspiritual about allowing ourselves to feel a terrible sense of loss.
It is important to be honest with ourselves about the loss so that others can help bear our burden and we can adjust our lives to function without that person. But it is also important to keep our loss in perspective. It is a temporary loss in a world that is quickly passing away. The joy we will have at our union with the Messiah and reunion of loved ones in Him should never be far from our thoughts.
One thing to do when a believing loved one dies is establish a memorial gift that shows the meaning of that person's life. At our training center in New York City we have the Rachmiel Frydland Memorial Chapel. Those who knew Rachmiel know of his untiring commitment to telling our Jewish people about Y'shua. It is fitting, then, to have such a place in his honor where Jewish people can hear the Good News. It is wonderful to have lasting tributes to those whom we love in the Lord.
How Do We Prepare for Our Own Death?
Some of the mishpochah have asked about what is involved in having a Jewish funeral and burial. Many of us already have burial plots purchased for us by our families. Certain problems may arise from this. If you own cemetery property, it is probably illegal for anyone to keep you from being buried there. Yet I know of cases where this was done to Jewish believers because of their faith.
It would be wonderful if there were provision for Messianic cemeteries. The American Board of Missions to the Jews, now Chosen People Ministries, at one time purchased a section of a cemetery in New York for Jewish believers. For most of us, this isn't an option. Therefore, we have to ask, is it good to be buried in a Jewish cemetery by a rabbi? Definitely not!
If an unbelieving rabbi performs your funeral, some might say that you renounced Jesus and "went back to Judaism" before you died. Your funeral might very well be used to prove that. You won't have the gospel preached at your service, rather the message of one who does not share your hope will be the last official words spoken on your behalf.
Most of us wouldn't think of moving from one city to the next without filling out change of address forms, letting family and friends know where we will be. In a sense, when God calls us home to be with Him, we need to fill out one final change of address form. That is the best way for us to make sure that those we leave behind can find us and join us in our new home. If there is ever a time when we ought to be a testimony, it is upon our death. The funeral can serve that purpose.
I think it is very important for each of us to have a will that includes our wishes concerning the details of our own funeral. Planning it yourself is the only way to be certain you will get what you want. You can pick the songs that you want sung. You can even make a cassette to greet people who come to your funeral. You can decide now what you will tell them.
For example, a believer's message might be:
Shalom! Thank you for coming to honor my memory. I want to let you know that I'm not just a memory, because I've invested my life with Y'shua Ha Mashiach. I'm not in the body that is going in the ground. I am in the presence of the Lord, and I can truly say that I am happier than I have ever been! I know this by faith, and you can know it too. If you put your trust in Jesus, you will enter into that joy. You will have a bit of heaven inside of you while you walk this earth, and you won't have to be afraid of death. Okay, now I especially want to tell my brother.…
Then you can greet different ones in the family and tell them how you have appreciated them. You might even conclude by saying:
This is the last time you will hear from me unless you invest your life in Y'shua. I hope you will because if you do, I know that soon we are going to have a joyous reunion in a much better place.
The most important thing about our funeral is not where but how we are buried. If you decide to make it so, what takes place at your funeral can be a testimony to unsaved family and friends that Jesus is alive and so are you.
Near the end of his life, D. L. Moody said, "Soon you will read in the newspapers that Moody is dead. Don't you believe it, for I shall be more alive than I am now." That is our hope and our testimony.
Some of us have gotten well past the fear of death, but we still fear the actual process of dying. We can ask the Lord to help us die well, not knowing what the circumstances will be, but desiring to glorify Him in all things. And though we might tremble a bit in thinking of walking through that door, we need not fear. For we will surely awaken, not as dreamers from a nightmare, but as beloved citizens of our true home, radiant as we greet our Heavenly Host. "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me" (Psalm 49:15).
Many of the people who came in, both young and old, never left. In some rooms the stench of death hovered with gruesome anticipation over the frames that still breathed: sturdy bodies grown frail, once healthy complexions now pale and sallow. I watched families leave weighted down by grief over the loss of their loved one. The families would leave; but I would remain to deal with this same scene day in and day out.
For almost three years I was a nurse in the cancer ward of major hospitals in Detroit and Chicago. In that time I cared for hundreds of people of all ages, but each person had one thing in common—a cancer that threw them into the battle for just one more breath": a battle which death would inevitably win. For some it became a desperate struggle just to "buy time." But for others the response was a bitter fury or a helpless resignation. There were still others, however, who somehow were able to cope and live to the last with confidence and peace.
Some of my experiences are difficult to describe in words. How does one tell of the consuming terror in the eyes of a dying 40-year-old woman? Or the absolute peace in the eyes of a 50-year-old man wracked by constant pain until his death? Who can understand the bitter disappointment of a 23-year old man dying of leukemia weeks before his wedding day? These people did not need a philosopher's explanations. Any words offered at this time were worse than trite. I learned to understand the pattern of grief. My goal was "to be there," to reach out as sensitively as possible, to hurt with the grieving, to keep caring and not "turn off" to the suffering.
These objectives required the kind of strength, energy and stamina that I was only able to find outside of myself. I continually drew strength and compassion from God Himself. I could say along with King David, "Thou art my rock and my fortress; for Thy name's sake Thou wilt lead me and guide me…for Thou art my strength. Into Thy hand I commit my spirit" (Psalm 31:3-5). Not only was God my source, but also my example. In the Messiah I found the highest example of compassion and strength.
Many of the doctors and nurses with whom I worked didn't have that resource of faith. They cared for the dying like mechanics repairing machines: with physical efficiency but emotional detachment. I remember one doctor crying after he lost his first patient. But after just one month of working on my unit, this same doctor had so hardened himself that, one day, his sterile detachment with the terminally ill made me cry.
It was after one of those difficult nights when I lost three of my patients in the span of just one hour that my agnostic co-worker shared her haunting observation: "After five years on this unit, the pattern is just too consistent…the people who have faith in God die differently from those who have no faith. There's a peace and a capacity to cope that I just don't see in the others." Yes, a faith relationship with God makes a very real difference in the final test of life. The reason is summed up in this scripture that points to Messiah: