Rav Kook Torah

Chukat: Even in the Hour of Death


“זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה אָדָם כִּי יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל”

While the verse is speaking of the ritual impurity associated with death, the Sages derived a profound lesson about Torah study:

“Rabbi Yonatan said: One should never abstain from attending the Beit Midrash and studying Torah, even in the hour of death. As it says, ‘This is the Torah: when a person dies in a tent’ (Num. 19:14) — even in the hour of death, one should engage in Torah study.” (Shabbat 83b)

Why did the rabbis emphasize Torah study in every situation, even on one’s deathbed?

Eternal Light

All societies possess codes of moral conduct. The primary function of a moral code is to regulate communal life, so that individuals will assist rather than harm one another. It follows that these codes of behavior are only necessary when one is part of a community.

One may view the Torah as simply a body of moral teachings, and as such, only relevant during one’s lifetime. In fact, the Torah is more than just a moral code. All of its teachings, even those that regulate society, are meant to uplift society in a way that prepares both its collective spirit as well as its individual members for eternal life.

Thus, Torah study remains relevant even during our final moments, as we prepare to transition from the temporal world to the eternal.

The Ohel of Torah

Rabbi Yonatan spoke of studying in “the tent of Torah.” This tent is not a place of private, individual study. Rather, it signifies a fellowship of scholars within the Beit Midrash. One might think that this form of communal study is only important to cultivate friendship and camaraderie. The Sages, however, emphasized that the Torah study of the Beit Midrash is deeply bound to eternal holiness. This collective study sanctifies time and elevates life.

Thus, even at the hour of death, one should remain engaged in Torah study. All of Torah, even the practical laws that govern societal conduct, illuminate life with a timeless light, as each detail is infused with nobility and holiness.

Even in old age, we should seek to remain בְּאֹהֶל — “in the tent” – in the company of scholars who love and cherish Torah. This lifelong engagement with Torah ensures that we continue to grow in its eternal light, “going from strength to strength.”

As the Sages taught, “Torah scholars have no rest, not in this world nor in the next” (Berakhot 64a).

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 163-164)