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. It to wish that a person have a long and blessed life, a term 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.
It is really meant to be a blessing one says about someone naturally, when quoting the living person or speaking nicely of the person. And 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, 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 there are two mitzvot in the Torah for which people merit long life — honoring one’s parents (Shmot 20), and sending away the mother bird (Devarim 22). 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. 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.
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, Eikev, 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.
Oddly enough, Devarim 25:14-15 says that carrying honest weights and measures and being honest in business is a good ingredient for lengthened days. The ends of Devarim 30 and Devarim 32 also speak about how general commandment fulfillment leads to extended life while turning away from G-d leads to eternal destruction.
It could be that there is a focus on honoring parents and the sending of the mother bird because they are two specific positive commandments on opposite ends of extremes — honoring parents is most difficult, while sending away the mother bird is a relatively simple act.
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.
A version of this column was published in 2010.