1) A NORMAL DEATH
QUESTION: The Beraisa discusses different levels of suddenness of death. It says that one who dies after being ill for five days is considered to have died a normal death. This is derived from the death of Moshe Rabeinu, whom Hash-m informed five days before he died that his death was imminent (Devarim 31:14).
How does the Gemara learn from the death of Moshe Rabeinu that when a person dies after being ill for five days, his death is considered a normal death? The Torah explicitly states that Moshe Rabeinu died when he was in full health (Devarim 34:7)! (TOSFOS DH Hen)
(a) The TOSFOS HA'ROSH answers that Hash-m told Moshe that had he not merited to die "b'Neshikah" (through the "kiss" of Hash-m), he would have become sick at that time and died five days later, since his allotted lifespan was finished. (The MAHARSHA gives a similar answer.)
(b) The RITVA adds that the reason why Hash-m created man such that he should become ill five days before he dies is so that the person will have an opportunity to conclude his worldly affairs before he leaves this world. The Gemara proves from Moshe Rabeinu that five days is an appropriate amount of time to conclude one's affairs, for Hash-m warned Moshe Rabeinu five days before his death to take leave of the Jewish people.
2) THE CELEBRATION OF A BIRTHDAY
OPINIONS: The Gemara quotes Rabah who says that death between the ages of fifty and sixty is the death of Kares. The Gemara relates that when Rav Yosef reached his sixtieth birthday, he celebrated that he had passed the period of Kares.
Should a person follow the conduct of Rav Yosef and make a celebration when he reaches his sixtieth birthday? Is it appropriate to celebrate any birthday?
(a) A number of authorities (as cited in MINHAG YISRAEL TORAH by Rav Yosef Lewy, OC 225) write that there is reason to make some sort of celebration upon reaching a certain age, as Rav Yosef did when he reached the age of sixty.
The CHAVOS YA'IR (#70), cited by the CHASAM SOFER (to Shulchan Aruch OC 225:10), writes that when one reaches his seventieth birthday, he should make a Se'udah and recite the blessing of "Shehecheyanu," since he has reached a full lifespan. The Chasam Sofer adds that he should recite the blessing without the name of Hash-m.
The KAF HA'CHAYIM (223:29) writes that upon reaching one's sixtieth birthday, he should recite the blessing of "Shehecheyanu" upon a new fruit and have in mind to thank Hash-m that he was saved from the punishment of Kares. The LEKET YOSHER relates that whenever the TERUMAS HA'DESHEN would make a Siyum on a Maseches, he would invite men who had reached their sixtieth birthday and have them participate in his Se'udah in order to enable them to fulfill their obligation to give thanks for reaching the age of sixty.
The BEIS YISRAEL (#32) writes that it is proper to make a Se'udah on one's eightieth birthday, since that is the age at which one has not only passed the age of Kares as it relates to the years of one's life, but he has also passed the age of Kares as it relates to shortening one's lifespan (as Abaye asked Rav Yosef in the Gemara here). He says that the reason people do not make such celebrations is probably because they are afraid of an "Ayin ha'Ra" and therefore they do not reveal their age.
Some authorities encourage celebrating one's birthday every year. The BEN ISH CHAI (Re'eh #17) writes that it is a commendable practice to celebrate one's birthday, "and so is the practice in our homes." Similarly, RAV YOSEF HA'KOHEN SCHWARTZ in GINZEI YOSEF (#4) writes that men of piety recite the blessing of "Shehecheyanu" on a new fruit or a new garment each year on their birthday. The KESAV SOFER (YD 148) writes that it was his practice to make a Siyum on a Maseches on his birthday. (It is said that the CHAFETZ CHAIM celebrated his birthday every year during his later years, to demonstrate publicly that those who guard their tongue are rewarded with long life.)
(b) There are those, however, who discourage such celebrations. The ARUGAS HA'BOSEM (#215) writes that it is improper to make a celebration upon reaching a certain age, such as seventy, because that is the "practice of boors who walk in the ways of the other nations." The reason, he says, is because the Mishnah in Avos (3:1) states that one should realize where his eventual end will be and that he will have to give a reckoning of all of his deeds before Hash-m. When one reaches the age of seventy and approaches that frightful moment of truth, it is not an occasion to rejoice but to tremble in fear.
It is cited in the name of the MUNKATCHER REBBE (DIVREI TORAH 5:88) that it is not the practice of Jews to make birthday celebrations. The reason he gives is that the Gemara in Eruvin (13b) concludes that it would have been better had man not been created. There are so many Mitzvos for him to do and so many Aveiros to avoid that it is very difficult to successfully return his soul to his Maker in a pure and unstained state. Therefore, it is inappropriate to celebrate the day on which one was born. This applies, however, only to Jews, who have the responsibility to observe all of the Mitzvos. Non-Jews certainly may celebrate their birthdays, since they were entrusted with only the Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach, and thus their creation in this world is not such a liability for them.
Indeed, the Torah relates that Pharaoh celebrated his birthday (Bereishis 40:20), while Avraham Avinu celebrated only the day on which he performed the Mitzvah of Milah for his son Yitzchak (CHASAM SOFER to Bereishis 21:9).
It is important to note that even these opinions (which maintain that there is no basis for making a special celebration on one's birthday) agree that there is something special about that day, and, therefore, one should increase his Torah learning and enhance his Tefilah on that day, as well as increase his acts of charity (RAV CHAIM PALAGI in TZEDAKAH L'CHAIM). One's Mazal is empowered on his birthday (as the CHIDA in Chomas Anach (to Iyov 3) and KORBAN HA'EDAH on the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 3:8) write).
Conversely, the opinions which permit celebrating one's birthday agree that it should not be celebrated in a frivolous, light-hearted manner, but that one should concentrate on expressing gratitude to Hash-m for keeping him alive.
3) LIFE, CHILDREN, AND LIVELIHOOD
QUESTIONS: The Gemara quotes Rava who says that one's lifespan, children, and livelihood do not depend on his merit (Zechus) but on Mazal.
(a) Why does Rava say that these things depend on Mazal? The Gemara in Shabbos (156a) clearly states, "Ein Mazal l'Yisrael" -- Mazal has no influence over the destiny of the Jewish people.
(b) The Torah states explicitly that when the Jewish people follow the will of Hash-m, He will grant them life, children, and a livelihood (see, for example, Vayikra 26:4, Devarim 11:13, and Devarim 30:16). Why does Rava say that these things do not depend on merit but on Mazal, when the Torah clearly states that they depend on merit?
(a) The Rishonim address the first question in several different ways.
1. TOSFOS in Shabbos (156a, DH Ein) and the RITVA here explain that when the Gemara in Shabbos says that "Ein Mazal l'Yisrael," it means that although some things do depend on Mazal (as Rava says), those things nevertheless can be influenced by a person's merit if it is great enough. "Ein Mazal l'Yisrael" means that merit can override Mazal. (The other nations, in contrast, have no way to change their Mazal.) The Gemara in Ta'anis (25a) says that even the great merit of the holy Tana, Rebbi Elazar ben Pedas, did not suffice to override his Mazal.
2. The RASHBA (Teshuvos 1:409) adds that one person's merit is able to change another person's Mazal, but one's merit cannot change his own Mazal. (See Berachos 5b: "a captive cannot free himself from jail.")
3. In another Teshuvah (5:48), the Rashba proposes a different answer to this question, but one which is also based on the premise that the Jewish people are not subject to the "forces of Mazal" like other nations. Although he speaks in vague terms, he apparently means that even when a Tzadik (who is not perfect in all ways) does not have an easy life, it is not due purely to his "Mazal." Rather, other considerations may necessitate that he suffer.
The Rashba may mean what the Zohar and Vilna Ga'on teach, as cited by the HAGAHOS BEN ARYEH here: it is the Thirteen Attributes of Hash-m which determine whether or not a Tzadik's merits make him worthy of having an easy life. Even if he has many merits, the Thirteen Attributes may determine that he must suffer in order to rectify the harmful effects of sin (his own sins or those of others).
(b) With regard to the promises mentioned in the Torah, it is clear that an exceptional merit is not required to cause them to materialize. The Torah says simply that "if you keep My commands, you will be rewarded...." The RASHBA (Teshuvos 1:148, 409; see also RAMBAN to Vayikra 26:11) explains that those verses refer to the Jewish nation as a whole. When all of the Jewish people do the will of Hash-m, Hash-m grants them life, children, and sustenance in reward for their deeds, despite their Mazal. An individual, however, is subject to his Mazal in these areas (unless he has exceptional merits).
4) AGADAH: THE GREAT FUNERAL IN TIMES TO COME
QUESTION: Rebbi Akiva comforted Rebbi Yishmael upon the death of his sons. He said that if the evil king, Achav, who did only one good thing in his life, merited to have such a great funeral as depicted in Zecharyah (12:1), then certainly the sons of Rebbi Yishmael are worthy of great praise and eulogies.
The Gemara describes Achav's great funeral by citing the verse, "On that day, the mourning will be great in Yerushalayim, like the mourning of Hadadrimon at the valley of Megidon" (Zecharyah 12:1).
Although the verse makes no mention of Achav, the Targum Yonasan explains that the verse means, "On that day, the mourning will be great in Yerushalayim, like [the two great funerals combined,] the mourning of [Achav bar Omri, who was killed by] Hadadrimon [ben Tavrimon in Ramos Gil'ad, and like the mourning of Yoshiyah bar Amon, who was killed by Pharaoh Chagira] in the valley of Megido."
Why does the verse compare the great mourning in times to come specifically to the mourning at these two funerals? (See also Insights to Megilah 3:1.)
ANSWER: To answer this question, it is necessary to first examine for whom this great funeral will be held in the times of Mashi'ach.
The Gemara in Sukah (52a) records an argument about this funeral. One opinion says that the funeral will be for Mashi'ach ben Yosef, while another opinion says that it will be for the Yetzer ha'Ra which will be killed at that time. The Gemara there explains that in the future Hash-m will slaughter the Yetzer ha'Ra, and the Tzadikim and the Resha'im will cry. The Tzadikim will cry because they will see the huge mountain that stood before them in their service of Hash-m. The Resha'im will cry because they will see that they failed to conquer such a small thread which stood in their way. (See Insights to Sukah 52:1
The VILNA GA'ON (in KOL ELIYAHU) explains that this is what the Targum Yonasan means. The Targum follows the opinion that says that the great funeral in the future will be for the Yetzer ha'Ra. Normally, if the deceased was a Tzadik, only the Tzadikim cry at the funeral. If the deceased was a Rasha, only the Resha'im cry. At the funeral of the Yetzer ha'Ra, however, both groups will cry, as the Gemara in Sukah says. Thus, it will be like the funeral of Achav, the great Rasha, at which all of the Resha'im cried, and like the funeral of Yoshiyah, the great Tzadik, at which all of the Tzadikim cried.