Death After the Holidays

The mechanism of destruction - sin-repentance, repentance-sin - is a perpetuum mobile.

From here on, after purifying himself, man will return to his evil ways, and in a year he will return as a collector of sins; the mechanism of destruction - sin-repentance, repentance-sin - is a perpetuum mobile. For almost two months, since the beginning of Elul, we were busy asking for forgiveness - heaven asked for mercy on us. By the skin of our teeth we evaded the Judgment Day ruling this time. Now we can breathe a sigh of relief; the tension of the High Holy Days is letting up, or so we believed.

We were mistaken: There is no rest for the wicked, nor for the righteous. A new scientific study, whose main points were published in Haaretz, found that even death waits until after holidays and special occasions: People use their last strength to make it to the holiday, and die immediately afterward. In that case, and as opposed to everything we thought, the post-holiday period is destined for calamity.

"Even a birthday is a kind of ceremonial finish line, after which the desire to live declines," the study states. For me, this means another worry: My desire to live has not declined, as far as I can tell, but my birthday was three days ago, on Simhat Torah, which turned out to be premature rejoicing, as far as I'm concerned.

These lethal statistics caught me completely by surprise. Recently, it had seemed that the bitterness of death really had departed. It's enough to peruse the black-bordered newspaper announcements to see: Deaths have disappeared in Israel. The dead don't die here any more, they only pass away. And what a difference it is: Dying is bad, passing away - "getting rid" - is good. We are finally getting rid of the vanities and flaws of this world. When this country dies the Black Death of poverty, then too a death notice will declare its premature passing, no consolation visits, please.

The charm of death has disappeared. If we once believed it was bad for life, we now know it is also bad for business. A company that produces cosmetics from Dead Sea mud petitioned the Government Names Committee, seeking to change the name of the Dead Sea. "Our customers abroad are deterred by products connected to death," it stated in the request, which was publicized this week. Is death losing its attraction and its public relations? Do people here already understand that it's not a good idea to descend so low, because not only life itself dies there, in the lowest place in the world, but so does its meaning and quality?

The retreat of death, like the retreat of the Dead Sea, has quite a few negative aspects, which Jose Saramago noted in his most recent book, "Death at Intervals." First, while the Dead Sea does not draw its name from the Torah, it still would be a shame to give up a 1,700-year-old brand; second, it would require a new version of the Bible, which contains hundreds of deaths (ibid. and ibid. and ibid.); from now on, we would have to say "And Saul and Jonathan his son also passed away," may God have mercy, or "When I came from Padan Aram Rachel passed away upon me," may God preserve us from disrespect for language. And how will we be able to describe politicians as dead horses, who are filling our stables now more than ever?

And worst of all: At the End of Days, it may not be those who passed away who will arise from their Jewish graves, not to them was the resurrection of the dead promised. For a deceased person who is planning a comeback speedily and in our time, this chance may not be worth taking.