The second Pasuk in Parashat Chayei Sarah revolves around the death of Sarah. The Torah relates, “VaTamat Sarah BeKiryat Arba Hi Chevron BeEretz Kena’an,” “And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba which is Chevron, in the land of Kena’an” (BeReishit 23:2). I shall discuss the final Viduy in a person’s life, a death-related aspect of Halachah that is oftentimes not discussed, even though an entire chapter in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 338) is dedicated to its importance and ramifications. It is understandable why this Halachah is often overlooked and ignored, because it is relevant only once in a person’s life, and most people do not enjoy discussing death. However, this Viduy is so important that the Aruch HaShulchan refers to it as an Ikar Gadol, a major pillar of Jewish life.
Rashi (BeReishit 23:2 s.v. Lispod LeSarah VeLivkotah) comments that the story of Akeidat Yitzchak is juxtaposed with Sarah’s death because Sarah, at age 127, died out of shock upon hearing that her son was to be offered as a human sacrifice. In order to prevent elderly people from dying of shock, the Shulchan Aruch (337:1) forbids telling a seriously sick individual about the death of a close relative for whom he would be obligated to be in a state of Aveilut for seven days. Regarding this Halachah, the Aruch HaShulchan (337:2) comments that it is forbidden to bring extra pain to a sick person; rather, one must place his effort into strengthening the soul of a sick individual. This is one of the sources for the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick and giving them strength. From this Halachah, we see that one must be very cognizant when telling someone about the final Viduy. People must be careful to not add any extra distress to a sick person.
If the Torah warns us not to speak in a way that may cause distress to a person who is close to death, when is the appropriate time to tell a person to recite the Viduy? The Shulchan Aruch (338:1) sets forth that in order to not cause a dying person any excess grief, one should say: “Many individuals have recited the Viduy and have not died, and many individuals who did not say the Viduy have died. In the merit of your recitation of the Viduy, may you live, and anybody who recites the Viduy enjoys a portion in Olam HaBa.” Following this, we would hope that the dying person would say the Viduy without feeling any extra distress, just in case the Viduy’s merits do not unfold.
Clearly, this is a sensitive matter that should not be taken lightly. One should consult with a rabbi before telling someone to say this Viduy, and when telling somebody to say Viduy, one should do so in an extremely respectful and gentle manner.
After the arrival of the Mashiach, we will no longer need to learn the Halachot of this Viduy, as death will cease. Yeshayahu prophesies, “Bila HaMavet LaNetzach, UMachah HaShem Elokim Dim’ah MeiAl Kol Panim,” “He will swallow death forever, and God will wipe away tears from every face” (Yeshayahu 25:8). While we eagerly anticipate the coming of Mashiach, it is important that we analyze this topic while death is still, unfortunately, a relevant topic.