Grave Questions, Grave Implications
שָׁאוּל: King Shaul
וַיֵּרְדוּ הֵם וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם חַיִּים שְׁאֹלָה וַתְּכַס עֲלֵיהֶם הָאָרֶץ וַיֹּאבְדוּ מִתּוֹךְ הַקָּהָל
And they went down and all that was theirs, alive to the grave, and the earth covered them over and they were lost from among the congregation.
The whole of life is one long period of שְׁאֵילָה/borrowing. We have been given a פִּקָדוֹן/deposit to look after; are we going to return it intact? We are intrinsically a soul and we have been given a גוּף/body to look after — somewhat similar to looking after a pet — so are we going to return it in the pristine state we received it, pure as the day we were born?
According to this way of looking, we can understand the בְּרָכָה/blessing that says יְצִאָתְךָ/your going out should be like בִּיאָתְךָ/your coming in.”
Anytime we borrow something, there is always the question of whether we are going to be able to return it. Interestingly, the difference between a מַשְׁאִיל and a מַלְוֶה, both terms for lending, is that with a הַלְוָאָה/loan the original money is borrowed in order to spend, with only its value returned, whereas with a מַשְׁאִיל, the actual object is returned.
שָׁאוּל: King Shaul
וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּחַרְתֶּם אֲשֶׁר שְׁאֶלְתֶּם
And now here is the king that you chose, which you asked for.
שָׁאוּל הַמֶלֶך was called so because the peopleשָׁאַל /asked Shmuel HaNavi to place upon them a king and be like all the other nations. There was also an incident in which King Shaul שָׁאַל/asked after the dead.
A question can be a quest to find the truth and find the quintessential answer to the meaning of life. In Hebrew, the word for “answer” is תְּשׁוּבָה, which also means “return.” Once we find what we are looking for, we are able to return with the answer — חוֹזֵר בְּתְּשׁוּבָה.
Hashem has perfectly placed us in a state of question, with an innate quest to search for meaning in life. Deep down, we are seekers of truth — the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We are indeed living on borrowed time. Are we going to waste the precious commodity of time that Hashem has entrusted to us, or are we going to invest it wisely, seeking out the truth? After the battle with the angel of Eisav, a synonym for the yetzer hara, Yaakov asks for the angel’s name, to which the angel responds: לָמָה זֶה תִּשְׁאַל/why do you ask? This is hinting to us that one of the tactics that the yetzer hara employs is an attitude of “why bother asking” — just take life as it comes, don’t ask any questions.
How do we find the truth? Hashem left us a very big clue:מֹשֶה אֶמֶת וְתּוֹרֹתוֹ אֶמֶת /Moshe is true and his Torah is true. The Torah is the road map, the blueprint, the DNA of life, and within it lie all the answers to our quest for the truth of our existence. Without the Torah, we are like a fish out of water, we are truly lost.
Another name for Gehinnom is אַבְדוּן, which means “lost.” By definition, something lost can never be returned.
We are lost to the שְׁאוּל/grave. If we go to the grave in a state of שְׁאֵלָה/question, then we are like a lost object. We have not successfully returned our borrowed object, we have not been successful in our quest, we have not returned with the answer. We are therefore lost, and we end up in the grave, lost forever. The Modern Hebrew expression for someone who is off the derech (who has lost his way) is חוֹזֵר בְּשְׁאֵלָה/returning to question, which kind of mimics the expression of someone who is חוֹזֵר בְּתְּשׁוּבָה. Yet more than being חוֹזֵר בְּשְׁאֵלָה, they are in essence returning to the שְׁאוּל/grave.
קֹרַח questioned the validity of the truth of Moshe and his Torah. He didn’t find the right answers and therefore went down to his שְׁאֵלָה/grave, lost forever in a permanent state of question — of living גֵּהִינֹּם/hell. In a way, גֵּהִינֹּם is a place where one lives in a state of being lost. Like a child who has lost his parent in a crowded shopping mall and screams out in despair, so too the real גֵּהִינֹּם is when we realize that we have wasted our lives and are now lost and cut off from our Tatty, אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָׁמַיִם/our Father in Heaven. Would we not cry out in despair? וַיְאַבְדוּ מִתּוֹך הַקְהַל/and they were lost from amid the congregation.
The Bottomless Pit
שְׁאוֹל (ואבדה) וַאֲבַדּוֹ לֹא תִשְׂבַּעְנָה וְעֵינֵי הָאָדָם לֹא תִשְׂבַּעְנָה
The pit and Gehinnom are never satisfied, and the eyes of man are never satisfied.
Rashi says on the above verse that the pit and Gehinnom are never satisfied from accepting the wicked inside, so too the eyes of the wicked man are never satisfied from trying to fulfill the desires of his yetzer hara. For this reason, the מַלְאַךְ הַמָוֶת/the Angel of Death appears מָלֵא עֵינַיִם/full of eyes to the wicked man at the time of his death. No wonder the fly, which is compared to the Satan and the Angel of Death, has been created with an abundance of eyes.
There is a condition called Prader-Willi Syndrome, in which a person eats without ever feeling satisfied, causing him to continually eat because he is always hungry. This exactly typifies the yetzer hara: the more one tries to satisfy one’s desires, the more one is left hungering for more. It is like a bottomless pit that can never be filled.
וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת פִּיהָ וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם
And the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed them.
The Torah’s description of Gehinnom having a mouth aptly describes this idea of never being satisfied. The mouth is always eating, receiving new food, yet always hungers for more. So too the mouth of Gehinnom receives new food in the way of the wicked, but never stops receiving more. The one who is unable to be satisfied is as if in a living hell. He is forever in a state of wanting, needing, chasing, and thirsting for more, and yet his desire is never quenched.
Praiseworthy is the man who uses his mouth primarily to praise Hashem, to sing to Hashem, and to be a יְהוּדִי/Yehudi, one who is מוֹדֶה עַל הָאֶמֶת/who recognizes his Creator and thanks Him for all the goodness that is bestowed upon him. Only one who is שָׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ/who is happy with his lot, who is satisfied with what Hashem has given him, is able to give freely without the feeling that he is being diminished through his giving. My father, עָלָיו הַשָׁלוֹם, would always give when people came knocking on the door asking for money. He would always acknowledge and be thankful to Hashem that he was in a position to give and be the one opening the door, rather than the one on the opposite side.
The one who has the answer no longer needs to ask, for he is in a state of תְּשׁוּבָה/answer (lashon שֵׁב/sit), signifying that he has come to rest. He has יִשׁוּב הַדַעַת/literally, “his mind is at rest,” he is in a state of peace, a state of שַׁבָּת, where all one’s work is done, a time to rest, a time to want for nothing.
I once took part in an exercise where I was repeatedly asked the question “What do you want?” The point of the exercise was to get me to the point of wanting nothing. The exercise went something like this:
“What do you want?”
“I want to get married.”
“That’s great, now what else do you want?”
“I want to be happy.”
“That’s great, now what else do you want?”
“I want to find peace of mind.”
“That’s great, now what else do you want?”
It continued like this until I got to a point where I said, “I want a hug.”
Sure enough, the reply was, “That’s great, now what else do you want?”
And when I finally reached the point of having exhausted all the answers, there was nothing else to say but, “I want nothing,” to which the reply was, “You got it!”
Suddenly, an overwhelming sense of satisfaction welled up in me, being in that moment of wanting for nothing. It reminded me of an old Yorkshire expression that my grandparents would say to describe how they felt after a sumptuous meal of wanting for nothing: “butcher’s dog!”
The grave is called שְׁאוֹל because at the time when we will be placed into the ground, there will be a big שְׁאֵילָה/question mark hanging over our heads as to where we will be headed. We find this in the Gemara when Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai was close to death and his talmidim/students entered and saw him crying. They asked him, “Ner Yisrael, the right pillar, the mighty hammer, why are you crying?” He replied: “There are two paths in front of me, one going to Gan Eden and the other to Gehinnom, and I don’t know which way they will be leading me. Should I not cry?” Grave questions, grave implications!
On that day, when our bodies will be deposited in the grave, we will stand naked in front of Hashem. On that day we will be judged; our whole life will be screened in front of us. The big movie, our life movie, will all be uncovered and there will be nowhere to hide.
The grave is also שְׁאוֹל because when our bodies are deposited in the earth, the earth will so to speak borrow our bodies until the time that we will be fitting to receive them back. Some of us will have to go through the painful process of גֵּהִינֹּם to clean off the stains of our souls that need to be spiritually burnt off. Some of us will need to come back and complete another cycle of life known as גִלגוּל נְשָׁמָה/reincarnation. Whether it will be a life cycle or a wash cycle, hopefully in the end we will come out clean and be fitting once again to wear the garments of our soul, where our bodies will be returned to us from the שְׁאוֹל/grave, on that great day of תְּחִייַת הַמֵתִים/resurrection that Hashem has promised us.
The Gemara in Bava Basra says that seven went to the grave without the need for the worms to decay their bodies: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Miriam, and Binyamin. The Gemara is telling us that tzaddikim, who have embodied the truth, return their bodies in the pristine state they were given. This is one of the reasons why Yaakov requested not to be buried in Egypt, because if the Egyptians would have seen that his body did not decay, they would have made him into an avodah zarah/false worship. In fact, there have been many reports of holy people who were reinterred and whose bodies had not decayed.
הַשִׁיבֵנוּ ה’ אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
Return us Hashem to you and we will return, renew our days like before.
We are asking Hashem the מַשְׁאִיל/Lender to help us return and renew our days like before. In essence, we are asking Hashem to help us return what we borrowed in the same pristine condition as the day we were born — חַדֵשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם.