August 16, 2022

Ketubot 37

Today’s daf (Ketubot 37b) dedicates much of its time to discuss various punishments that were meted out by the Sanhedrin. Yet embedded within our daf are two curious phrases which I would like to explore beyond their literal meaning.

The first phrase, מיתה אריכתא – ‘a long death’, is used when discussing the possibility of someone being both lashed and then given the death penalty and how this would constitute a ‘long death’, while the second phrase, מיתה יפה – ‘a good death’, is used when discussing the methods used when carrying out the death penalty and how preference should be given to provide ‘a good death’ as opposed to a gruesome one.

Yet looking beyond the literal meaning of these phrases, what do we mean when we say, ‘a long death’ and what do we mean when we say, ‘a good death’? In many cases, we’d likely define the former as a drawn-out death, while the latter as a death whose process is short – which suggests that we measure the quality of death by the quantity of time of the final death process.

However, I’d like to offer an alternative explanation based on a Rabbinic interpretation of life and death, as well as from a line from the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Our Sages teach (see Brachot 18b) that those who are intent to do good are considered alive even when they are dead, and those who are intent to do bad are considered dead even when they are alive, and as Rav Kook explains in his stunning ‘Ein Ayeh’ commentary (on Brachot ibid.), this is because while physical life may be measured by bodily functions, the force of life is measured by the extent with which the soul of a person drives them to live a life of meaning.

Applying this to the two phrases found in our daf, ‘a long death’ is reflective of someone who, even while alive, has decided to pursue activities that are at best meaningless and at worst bad, whereas ‘a good death’ is reflective of someone who, notwithstanding the physical state of their body, continues to choose the good and pursues a meaningful life.

Ultimately, to quote from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, at any given moment, ‘it comes down to a simple choice: get busy living, or get busy dying.’

In this article:
Share on social media:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on telegram

More articles