The psalmist was dismayed and shocked to see the success of the wicked. “I envied the arrogant,” he admits, “when I saw the tranquility of the wicked.” These evil people seem to live without worries or concerns.
“כִּי אֵין חַרְצֻבּוֹת לְמוֹתָם, וּבָרִיא אוּלָם.” (תהילים ע"ג:ד)
“For there are no pangs (chartzubot) concerning their death; and their health (ulam) is sound.” (Ps. 73:4)
The meaning of the word chartzubot is unclear. The Talmud explains that it is a composite word, char-tzuv, from the words chareid (to tremble) and atzuv (to grieve).
“Not only do the wicked fail to tremble and grieve before the day of death, but their hearts are as firm as an edifice (ulam).” (Shabbat 31b)
Rav Kook noted that the Sages mentioned the two aspects of life that usually trigger people — unless they are incorrigibly evil — to be aware of their spiritual side: contemplation of death, and a sensitive soul.
Those who are completely immersed in physical matters will not notice the tremendous loss when the soul is disconnected from its true nature, when it fails to acquire the traits of holiness it was meant to attain.
Death, however, frees the soul from the body’s fetters and its physical cravings. After death, the soul can strive to return to its pristine state, and is painfully aware of its distance from its Source.
When contemplating death, we are forced to confront the mortality of our physical nature and the fleeting value of worldly pleasures. Those who have lost their way should ‘tremble and grieve.’ While they will not be able to fully recognize what they lack, as they are distant from the light of truth and God’s lofty holiness, they will nonetheless realize that these are life’s most important acquisitions. They will regret failing to work toward life’s most significant accomplishments, its greatest satisfactions — perfecting the soul and strengthening its inner light.
The psalmist is disturbed by the phenomenon of people so entrenched in evil that they fail to consider the ramifications of death. These complacent individuals are not troubled by the transient, superficial nature of their lives. “There are no pangs concerning their death.”
There exists a second wake-up call of the inner spirit. On occasion the soul makes its presence felt, and the heart awakens of its own accord. Those who have forgotten their spiritual side and forsaken the path of integrity and morality will feel the biting sting of these pangs of conscience.
Yet some individuals are so thoroughly immersed in evil that they are immune to such stirrings of emotion. It is as if their hearts are covered with a thick layer of fat, preventing them from noticing the needs of others. Not only do they refuse to consider the implications of death, but “their hearts are as firm as an edifice.” Their hearts are numb and unfeeling, like concrete slabs of an inert building, oblivious to the harm they cause. With a blind arrogance, they live their self-centered, materialistic lives without a thought as to the implications of their actions.
To protect us from this ailment of spiritual obtuseness, God in His kindness provided us with a remedy — the Torah. The Torah and its mitzvot elevate all aspects of life, enabling us to be close to God, to be receptive to holy matters, pure thoughts and refined feelings, to contemplate and do good. The Torah protects us from being trapped and wallowing in the mud-pit of materialistic cravings and self-absorption.
“God wanted to purify Israel, so He gave them Torah and commandments in abundance, as it says: “God desires for [Israel’s] righteousness, so He made the Torah great and glorious” (Isaiah 42:21). (Makkot 23b)
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, Shabbat II:177-178)