Today’s daf (Yoma 38b) makes reference to the phrases זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה – ‘may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing’, and וְשֵׁם רְשָׁעִים יִרְקָב – ‘and the name of the wicked will rot’, which are both mentioned in contrast to one another in Mishlei 10:7.
In general, we think of these phrases as referring to the dead, and thus when someone righteous passes away we ascribe the initials זצ”ל after their name. However, as the Gemara informs us (and see also the Maharsha on Kiddushin 31b who says this explicitly), both phrases of זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה and וְשֵׁם רְשָׁעִים יִרְקָב are derived from incidents involving the living. Specifically, when God spoke of Avraham during his lifetime, He blessed him and accorded him the phrase זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה (see Bereishit 18:18 & Rashi there), while the phrase וְשֵׁם רְשָׁעִים יִרְקָב is understood to apply to the people of Sdom (see Bereishit 13:14). But what is the significance of this?
Unfortunately, many of us wait till those we know pass on for us to acknowledge the blessing that they are in our life, while it also takes many years for many of us to acknowledge the individuals who – for whatever reason – somehow brought out the worst in us.
But while we often reflect on the legacy of someone’s life once they have died, it is essential to acknowledge the spiritual energy of those who surround us while they are alive so, as the Rambam describes in his Hilchot Deot, we can identify those towards whom we should draw nearer, and those from whom we should maintain a healthy distance.
As we know, Jewish stories often speak of hidden tzaddikim/tzaddikot. However, I believe that tzaddikim/tzaddikot are often not so hidden. Instead, the problem is that we often don’t look for them in the right place, and we often only ascribe righteousness to people once they’ve passed on.
Ultimately, what I think we can learn from today’s daf is that we shouldn’t wait till the end of a lifetime to regret failing to get to know those righteous people around us, or to regret spending time with those who lead us astray. Instead, we should constantly be thinking about those whom we choose to include in our life, and seek to enrich our lives with those who are a blessing to our life.