parsha of the week

Everybody, shlit’a, but don’t put it in writing


Other than former current events, nothing dates a Jewish book more than when discussing or quoting a deceased great rabbi with “Rabbi So and So, shlit’a, says...”

The term shlit’a is an acronym for She’yichyeh L’Yamim Tovim Arukhim — that he should live for good, lengthened days. Essentially, it is a wish upon the person that he have a long and blessed life, a term which is out of place when one is speaking of or reading of the deceased.

While it is a lovely sentiment to write about someone, due to the likelihood that the written word will outlive the person, it seems silly to put it in print for posterity. And, of course, we should not limit it to rabbis, but should thus bless everyone we know with good, lengthened days.

How does one achieve long life? My grandfather, zichrono livracha (may his memory be a blessing), used to say “If you eat horseradish for a hundred years, you’ll live a long life.” Can’t argue with that.

But many, fond of Torah trivia, will tell you that there are two mitzvot in the Torah for which people merit long life — honoring one’s parents (Shmot 20:12), and sending away the mother bird (Devarim 22:6-7). Is that all it takes?

Not really. Because the Torah, in fact, has many other examples of activities and manners of behavior that raise the possibility of extended and multiplied days on this earth, or in the Land of Israel proper.

Devarim 4:40 suggests that keeping the commandments is good for you and lengthens your days al ha’adamah (on the land), just as does honoring your parents (Devarim 5:15).

Devarim 5:29 says that following G-d’s path brings “life, is good for you, and causes lengthened days in the land of your inheritance.” This verse leads into chapter 6:1-2, in which observance of the commandments leads to fear of G-d, which causes you and your descendants to have lengthened days.

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In telling about Datan and Aviram, who were swallowed by the ground, the Israelites are reminded that their eyes have shown them the benefits of allegiance to G-d. “Keep the commandments, so you will be strengthened, and you will come and inherit the land - so your days may be lengthened on the earth that G-d promised to your fathers.” (Devarim 11:6-9)

Perhaps most famously, the second paragraph of Shema, which appears in our parsha, concludes with the phrase, “In order that yours and your children’s days be multiplied on this earth” (11:21), suggesting that the wearing of tefillin and the placing of mezuzahs, as well as general allegiance to G-d’s instructions (“im shamoa tish’m’u”) will give one extended life.

And Devarim 25:14-15 says that carrying honest weights and measures and being honest in business is a good ingredient for lengthened days.

Do any of these guarantee long life? Not really. They all guarantee lengthened days. And since lengthened days is relative in every person’s life experience, we have no idea who has merited and who has not. A person who dies at 40 may have been meant to live 20 years, while a person who dies at 80 may have been meant to live 100 years. We don’t really know how G-d takes account.

Our task is to do our best, to choose a life of Torah and to be as committed to G-d as possible. Upright observance, sanctifying G-d’s name, and living as a model Jew from whom all walk away thinking “That is a G-dly person,” are the common denominator of all the ticket items mentioned above. You certainly don’t need to be a rabbi to do all of them, and it is highly inappropriate to expect one’s rabbi to “be Jewish for me.”

May you, shlit’a, and you, shlit’a, (rabbi or not) merit to follow as many of these precepts as possible.

In their merit and in the merit of the other fine deeds you will accomplish in your limited time on earth, may you enjoy the blessings of health and happiness as you live out your good, lengthened days.