There once was a great rabbi. This rabbi knew he might die one day, but no one else wanted to believe it. He wanted the messiah to come, and so he would speak every day as if the messiah was coming that day, as if it was all about to happen. Some people believed him so much that they started to believe he was the messiah.
This great rabbi would leave messages to his followers that would only be seen later, would only be understood later as messages to the future. Messages about his death.
When he died, suddenly people felt abandoned, lost. The man who wasn’t supposed to die had died, and now they had to find their own way. He had given them no successor, and so they had to rely on their own wits.
But in his messages, they found guidance. In the form of letters, speeches, and more, they found a new truth, dug and redug to be seen in the new light of death.
Before him, there was another great rabbi. Often, the great rabbi transmitted the messages about his own death (knowingly or not) through explaining the passing of the great rabbi before him.
The most direct message was a reply to this question: “Dear Rabbi, I do not know how to deal with the loss of Previous Great Rabbi. What do I do? How do I speak to him? Can I, even?”
And the great rabbi wrote back to him, “But of course you can. He lives on, didn’t you know? The rabbi is with us. Open one of his books. Read the lessons he taught. In there, you will find him. In there, you will know him.
“Not only that, you will know him better than we knew him before. For he will no longer be limited by his physical body. All that will be left is his words, his lessons, his teachings. How much deeper, how much truer, is such an existence.”
And so now we use the same lesson with our great rabbi. We see him in his words, in his lessons. And so he lives on, and we connect to him in a way that was not possible before.
But there is a snag. There are those who cannot let go of him as a person. The people who want the physical being to not be gone, to not have been erased from this world. They want the body back.
They all deal with it differently, but the desire is the same (They miss him, can you blame them?). Some of them obsess over every detail of his life, and believe that in doing so they are being holy. Some of them expect everyone around them to wear the same clothes he wore. Some of them talk more about his returning when the messiah comes more than they talk about his teachings. A very few of them believe he never actually died.
But they all want his body back, even though his soul lives on within us stronger than ever, if only we would open his books, if only we would hear his words, if only we would let his body go.
So sad it is to see those who cling to a dead body, like a wife at a funeral clinging to her dead husband and refusing to allow the casket into the ground.
So sad, for she does not move on. So sad, for the husband’s body does not get to finally rest. So sad, because the husband is all around her, and yet she thinks him gone.
Tragedy, then, is not death. It is in not trusting in the words of the great rabbi: a well-lived life never ends. In fact, it expands. It breaks the boundaries a body could never break on its own.
The tragedy (and the potential opposite) extends to our own lives. In how we live. In how we plan to die.
In the great rabbi’s words were not just lessons for how we deal with the deaths of the Great Ones we admire, but in us small people, in us who no one expects to be the messiah or the savior of humanity.
What does it really mean to live on after death?
The ones who cling to a great name, to a great person, and to all the trappings that come along with those things, die in their own lives. They are alone, because the only way that they lived before was together with the physical existence of that great person.
Because the great person is dead. His body is cold, in the ground, and an empty shell of what it once was.
“Any love that is dependent on something – when the thing ceases, the love also ceases…”
His spirit, though, haha! Alive and kicking.
“…But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases.”
And how do we feel it? How do we know it? In the deeds left behind. The seeds we planted throughout our lives that will only have a chance to fully germinate when our body stops concealing them.
To die forgotten but with great deeds, in other words, is so much grander than to die remembered but with no seeds planted.
So many live their lives in the opposite way. They wonder, will I be remembered? They wonder, how great will my name be when I die? How grand my following, my fans, my money, my possessions, my work, my name, my name, my name?
And if you don’t think that’s true, you just need to look at the way people live their lives. Chasing fans and followers, chasing their own name around like dogs chasing their tails.
The great rabbi knew how great this desire was, and how much it applies just as much to our own lives as much as the great ones we cling to. He was telling a lesson so much higher, so much deeper, so much broader, than the one it seemed he was telling. He was not talking about the Past Great Rabbi, and he wasn’t talking about himself, he was talking about life. He was talking about death. He was talking about how to live a good death.
He was saying, “The only things that matter in this world, my followers, is the seeds you plant. My seeds are the words I live to you. I am not this body you see before you. I am a soul of unlimited nature, one that is only given substance because it is attached to the only true thing in all of existence: God.
“If you want to live forever, like me, you need to live your life like mine. You need to let go of what’s inherently dead: your body, your name, your reputation, people’s praises… and start living God. Start doing good deeds. Start saying good words. Thinking good thoughts. It is only there that you will live. Not just in the next world, but in this one, now. Death is but an analogy for life. A place where all the realities of existence are revealed through the lack of existence that follows.
“You are only alive when you let go of me. You are only alive when you let go of you. You are only alive when all that matters is living truth. When you attach yourself to the higher. And when you live it out.
“It is there that you’ll find me. For we are both alive when our deeds are lived, by us or others. And we are both dead when all we care about is the corpses we arrived into this world inhabiting.