Hunted by his enemies, David felt betrayed and abandoned:
“נִשְׁכַּחְתִּי כְּמֵת מִלֵּב, הָיִיתִי כִּכְלִי אֹבֵד."
“Forgotten from the heart like the dead, I have become like a lost vessel.” (Psalms 31:13)
Why did David describe his sense of isolation and loneliness as being like a “lost vessel”? In what way are the dead like lost objects?
The Sages learned from here that, in some aspects, our emotional ties to loved ones are like our ties to possessions. When an object is lost, it takes a full year before one loses all hope of recovering it. So, too, “The dead are only forgotten from the heart after twelve months have passed” (Berachot 58b).
For this reason, when seeing a friend after a year has passed with no contact, one should recite the blessing which praises God as מחיה מתים — “the One Who revives the dead.” For us, it is as if our friend has come back to life.
Of course, we remember those whom we love even after a year has passed. The searing pain of loss, however, is experienced primarily during that first year.
What function do these heartrending emotions of grief and mourning serve? Would it not be better if we could immediately reconcile ourselves to the loss, without having to undergo a lengthy process of bereavement?
If a certain trait is ingrained in the human soul, it must have some basis in reality. There must be some aspect of the world — if not in its current state, then in a future, repaired state — that is reflected by this characteristic of the soul.
If death were truly a case of irrevocable loss, we would not mourn the passing of those we love for such a long time period. It would serve no purpose. The very fact that these feelings of profound bereavement and loss are a universal aspect of human nature indicates that death is not an immutable state.
The psalmist’s comparison of the dead with lost articles reinforces this conclusion. When we lose an object, why do we not immediately give up hope of recovering it? Because we know the lost object still exists; we just don’t know its precise location. In fact, it is this very sense of loss that spurs our efforts to search for and recover the object.
The lengthy period of mourning after the death of a loved one indicates that, for humanity as a whole, the future promises a remedy for death. But unlike lost objects, this process will be through Divine means. “Then you will know that I am God, when I open up your graves and lead you up out of your graves” (Ezekiel 37:13).
Since this tikkun will ultimately transpire, even now we refuse to accept death as an expected — although tragic — occurrence. Rather, we relate to death like the loss of a highly prized object which we still hope to recover.
A lost vessel is not truly gone, just missing with regard to its owner. So too, the soul is eternal; death merely places it outside our reach. The lengthy passage of time during which we long for that which appears unrecoverable is a sign that there is indeed hope. Thus the prophets foretold a future era, when the dead will be resurrected to life:
“Your dead will come to life, My corpses will rise up. Awaken and sing, you who dwell in the dust.” (Isaiah 26:19)
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 304)
Illustration image: ‘Portrait of an Old Jew’ (Rembrandt, 1654)