May 18, 2024
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L’chaim! To (the Good) Life!

The Midrash relates that Adam haRishon was given a panoramic tour of all the future generations. At one point during the tour, Adam noticed that the future David ben Yishai—David haMelech, was only going to be granted a grand total of just three hours of life. Adam asked Hashem “How many years of life do I have?” Hashem said “One thousand years.” “Well, then wish to give David 70 of my years.” Before Hashem conceded, He summoned the ministering angels and appointed them as His witnesses, and He proceeded to write a “legal” document stating Adam’s pledge. As we know, “time flies,” and sure enough, Adam reached his 930th birthday. When the angel appointed to gather in a person from this world (known as the Malach haMavet) went to take Adam’s soul, Adam cried out: “I heard from Hashem that I will live one thousand years, and it’s only 930!” The Malach haMavet went to Hashem, whereupon Hashem gave him the legal document, together with the ministering angels who were the original witnesses. The Malach haMavet went back to Adam and asked him, “Did you not agree to give away 70 years of your life?”

Giving away part of your life to someone is not an easy thing to forget. To say that Adam forgot this unique philanthropic act seems like a stretch. If so, was Adam playing around with the Malach haMavet? Didn’t he remember that he agreed to give away 70 years? In fact, it seems like Adam was attempting to renege from his original commitment that he was once so enthusiastic about. But why?

The Chafetz Chaim says there is one desire that everyone shares in this world, which is the greatest desire of mankind. What is that? The desire to live. We love life so much that we can’t imagine an end to it in this world. Hence, on some level we might think we’re going to live forever, and the quality and importance we place on the tick tock of our lives is drastically underappreciated. Therefore, perhaps we can say that only at the very end did Adam realize there’s an end to this world. Only once his life was coming to a close did Adam see the value of life, and so he wanted it back, even though the years he granted were to David haMelech, who became one of the greatest men ever. Adam, the first man, portrays to us and all mankind the desire for life that we all have, and how to an extent it can blind us to think that we will live in this world forever and thus underappreciate life.

During these days we ask Hashem that he give us life, and we say in the tefillah, “for Your sake.” What does that mean? Isn’t it for our own sake that we want life? Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Parshiyot, p. 243) explains that the life we are asking for is a life lived spiritually. Hence, when we stress “for Your sake,” we are asking solely for this kind of life, and none other.

Rav Tzadok haKohen M’Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, p. 245) says similarly that when we ask Hashem “May it be Your Will that you renew for us a good and sweet year,” we are essentially beseeching that Hashem renew our hearts so that in all matters of life we are inspired to act according to His Will, and according to the Torah. This is what we mean when we say a “good” year, since only when we follow in the ways Hashem and the Torah are we considered to be living the “good” life. Rav Tzadok adds that the concept of “good” can also refer to applying ourselves to learning Torah, as the Gemara in Berachot (5a) says “There is no ‘good’ other than Torah.” We can add, perhaps, that indeed, in reference to Torah we say in the evening prayer “For they [words of Torah] are our lives,” and thus we see the correlation between “good” (i.e. Torah) and “life.”

We can imagine that most people, at the end of their lives, probably don’t wish they could have made more money, gained more fame and attained more possessions, but rather wish they could have been a better person, built better relationships, explored and connected to God and His Will and helped others. This is the kind of life we ask Hashem for, because while the former life is more for “our” sake than Hashem’s, the latter, spiritual life is for truly for Hashem’s sake. While the former is a life distracted from our purpose in this world, the latter connects us directly to meaning, connecting with self, others and God.

Yet, it’s common to get caught up in the former. The Gemara relates that the blowing of the shofar “confuses the Satan” [who acts as the prosecutor]. What does it mean that he gets confused? Rashi explains that he gets confused “when he sees that the Jewish people demonstrate love for mitzvot.” It’s normal to get caught up in the former life, and the Satan perhaps has a lot to prosecute about. But when we learn from Adam the appreciation of life, to live a life of spirituality, a life of “good,” a life that demonstrates love of mitzvot, love for others and love for God, that’s uncommon, and we become different, more elevated people. Thus, the Satan may no longer recognize us—he’s utterly confused.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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