March 10, 2023

Nedarim 83

Today’s daf (Nedarim 83b) references Kohelet 7:2 which teaches us that, ‘[it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting; for that is the end of all man], and the living should take it to heart (וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ)’.
Based on the final words of this verse, Rabbi Meir explains that, ‘one who eulogizes [others] will be eulogized’ (דְּיִסְפּוֹד יִסְפְּדוּן לֵיהּ), ‘one who weeps [over the loss of others] will be wept over’ (דְּיִבְכּוּן יִבְכּוּן לֵיהּ), and ‘one who buries [others] will be buried by others’ (דְּיִקְבַּר יִקְבְּרוּנֵיהּ) – meaning that each of us should take to heart what it means to do chessed, especially with the dead, because each of us ultimately have a finite amount of time on earth.
With this in mind, I’d like to mention Sally Berkovic’s stirring book titled, ‘Death Duties: The Chevra Kadisha Jewish Burial Society – What Being Around the Dead Taught Me about Life’ which opens with a chapter titled ‘My Burial’ where she provides a detailed description of the various rituals that the Chevra Kadisha will do for her once she dies – just as she has done for many others as a member of the Chevra Kadisha.
Then, describing her experiences when performing a Taharah, Sally writes that, ‘as I dress the woman in her burial shrouds I wonder about her life: what was important to her, what were her dreams, did she have a happy life, a difficult life?.. What will her absence mean to those she left behind?’
This question runs through her book, especially when she writes towards the end of her book, ‘Eventually, I will lie on that metal slab. The women of the Chevra Kadisha will tenderly prepare my body for burial.. [And] as the women carefully place me in the coffin, what stories will they imagine? What stories will I be able to tell from beyond the grave?’.
Yet none of this necessarily means that Sally is fearful of death. As she writes, ‘I’m not so worried about my own ‘after-life’ – rather, I’m more concerned about my daughters’ ‘life-after’ I’m gone. What sort of memories have I created for them? How will they remember me?’
In terms of memory, there may be some who question whether they have a duty to leave a legacy. However, Sally challenges her readers by asking, ‘What makes you think you’re not important?… As we breathe we have a singular obligation to make life meaningful by the sheer virtue of being alive.’
In conclusion, just as today’s daf references Kohelet 7:2 which teaches us how הַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ – ‘the living should take it to heart’, Sally Berkovic’s book is a powerful testimony on how to take such things to heart. To order a copy of the book in English, and to download a free copy in Hebrew, visit
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