Prologue: Rav Yissochar Frand Shlita once discussed a book of ethical wills he had come across. These ethical wills were diverse and spanned different centuries and writers. One wrote about how he needed to write separate ethical wills to each member of the family as they were so disparate that each needed to hear something else. Rav Frand lamented:
“Awful, isn't it? This person thought everything was going along normally in his family. And then he sat down to write an ethical will and realized that he could not address them as a group because they were not a group. They were strangers to each other. How heartbreaking. How tragic.”
Which got me to think about Yaakov. Yaakov speaks and blesses each child around his bed uniquely. Yet, in Yaakov's case, the fact that he spoke his ethical teaching to each child uniquely is a positive statement and not a failing of his ability to unite them. Why is the fact that his ethical teaching – his ethical will – was not seen as a tragedy but rather as an inspiration for the Jewish nation?
Rav Schachter Shlita would regularly remind us that parents need to educate their children in accord with each child’s own capabilities. Each person is totally different. Different personalities approach the same lessons differently. Rav Hirsch, Rav Schachter would often state, explains that the sin of Yitzchak was that he did not realize that Eisav was pressured to live in the style of Yaakov. Had he educated Eisav differently, he might have turned out differently. And while it is true that there needs to be a basic learning education for everyone, we are ruining talmidim by making everyone think they need to learn the exact same way. Zevulun got the same Kavana in his Beracha as Yissochar. Each one got the Beracha that he was cut out for. We need not to make learning and Shmiras Hamitzvos all or nothing for acceptance. If we do, we will lose those who aren’t fully there yet.
I think that therein lies the difference between Yaakov and the person who wrote the ethical will: The children of Yaakov were all receiving the same message from Yaakov. They understood the centrality of Avodas Hashem and Torah in his life and that he expected the same from them in their own. The only issue was how each child could maximize his own life and actualize that Torah importance given the talents he had. The direction and goal would be the same, it would be the roads that would be different. And each child knew exactly what was important to Yaakov. Indeed the Talmud tells us that on his deathbed they told him – in unison – that Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. That isn't tragedy, it is triumph in diversity.
NASACK, the National Association of Chevra Kaddisha has declared this Shabbos to be a TEAM Shabbos. They hope to shed light on end of life issues within Jewish tradition. It is never too early to be prepared for end of life --- by making sure our parents know that we have internalized their ethical messages and by making sure that our children know ours for them as well.
Being prepared for the future is the subject of this week’s chaburah as well. It is entitled:
Buying Burial Plots when one is alive: Mandatory or Murderous?
It is mentioned that there is a Segulah for long life by buying burial plots while one is still alive. When they asked the Steiper for the source, he said “Kacha Omrim” – that is what they say. He did not identify a souce. His son, Rav Chaim Kanievski Shlita also noted that he was not aware of the source. Rav Shmuel Eliyahu Shlita suggested that perhaps the issue is dependent on the fact that one who does so demonstrates that he is not afraid of Yom HaMissa and is mikabel the intention of Hashem. Whether correct or not, it seems that one at least is ALLOWED to buy a burial plot while s/he is still alive.
Similarly, Rav Shay Schachter noted that in Pirkei Avos it is mentioned that Kever Moshe was identified by Hashem as prepared from the 6 days of creation. This too, seems to suggest that one may prepare a burial place while s/he is still alive -- maybe even before birth. The Gesher HaChaim notes that based on Sanhedrin 45a where the gemara debates the issue of whether Hazmana Milsa applies to a burial plot and shrouds, it seems that one may prepare his burial plot when alive.
Chasam Sofer (Shut Chasam Sofer, Y.D. 323) is not in favor of the practice for it seems that when one opens a burial plot, it is a violation of the principle of Makdim Inish Paranusa L’Nafsheh -- that one is not supposed to bring troubles onto himself. This is similar to the concept of Al Tiftach Peh or opening the mouth to the Satan as it appears in Kesubos (8b). Why then would one be allowed to open a Kever or even purchase the plot?
Rema (Y.D. 339) based on the command of Rav Yehuda HaChossid suggests that one cannot dig up a Kever and leave it open overnight. The Noda B’yehuda (cited in Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 116) explains that the issue is one of Shmiras HaGuf V”HaNefesh – it breeds a bad omen. This is challenged by the Tashbatz and Minchas Elazar who note that Yaakov Aveinu asked to be buried in the Kever that he prepared for himself in Chevron (BaKever Asher Kirisi Lee). The Tashbatz explains that the concern of Shmiras HaGuf V’HaNefesh applies when the grave is opened for a particular person. However, if it is opened for no one in particular, it would not be a problem. This is similar to the practice that they had in Yirushalayim where they CERTAINLY opened graves before the person expired. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shut Har Tzvi Y. D. 260) explained that one may open a grave for someone who is well, but not for one who is seriously ill. In the latter case, it might make the person nervous setting him or her over the edge (scaring the living daylights out of him or her?) Rav Waldenberg (Shut Tzitz Eliezer V: Ramat Rachel #30) felt that leaving a grave opened overnight was a serious matter and ought not be done.
But what about making funeral arrangements or simply buying a plot? In a different Teshuvah, Chasam Sofer (Y.D. 331) notes that there is an Inyan for a person to be buried in a place that is his – not borrowed. That is the basis, in his opinion, of making pre-arrangements for burial. This is based on Avraham’s request to Bnei Cheit that they give him the land before he buries Sarah there. And even when they wanted to gift it to him, Avraham insisted on paying. Similarly, Yaakov insists he be buried in the placed that Avraham purchased from Efron. (See also Shut Tiosh V’Yitzhar 35). Beyond owning the field, others suggest that receiving it as an inheritance is not good enough ownership for burial. Hence, Yaakov notes that it was the kever that was set (Asher Kirrisi LEE) for him uniquely. The Maharal’s brother (Sefer HaChaim II: VIII) explains that this is why Yosef was buried in Shechem in his portion which was paid for. There was no doubt that by the time Yosef was buried, he was buried in a place that was rightfully his.
L’Halacha, it seems that one could, and perhaps should, consider making pre-arrangements for the future in preparing for death. He certainly should let his family know what he would like to happen with him and his expectations from them (See prologue) in the long term.