In Kotsk there was a saying: "If a person is afraid of the day of death, there is but one piece of advice to give him: If you lie in bed as though you're lying in your grave, then at the end of your days you'll be able to lie in your grave as though you're lying in bed."
Meaning, if a person remembers throughout his life that his life ends with the grave, it will cause him to behave in the correct way and when he dies he'll be able to rest in peace.
Many were our leaders to whom the yom hamisoh was a tangible reality, considered by them constantly.
A man was once lodging in a hotel together with Reb Chaim Brisker zt"l. As the rays of early dawn were just beginning to make their appearance, the man awoke and stepped out onto the veranda to watch the sun rise. He held his breath as the sun's reflection splashed pink and red hues over the expanse of the sky and all creation seemed to awaken anew.
All at once, through his dreamy gaze, he saw the Gaon R' Chaim sitting and facing the same scene as he was. However, Reb Chaim's face, in contrast to his, showed lines of worry — and even fear.
To his question as to what was causing this chalishas hada'as, Reb Chaim replied, "I'm sitting and thinking of the day of death and this is what is causing me such fear and anxiety."
"What was the strange custom of the Chofetz Chaim?" wondered his talmidim. What did he do every evening when he disappeared for half an hour and went up to the attic of the house?
One of the bolder among them decided to hide upstairs before nightfall to discover the secret.
To his horror, he watched as the Chofetz Chaim ascended the stairs and lifted the lid of a casket lying in the attic — a casket just like the one used for a dead body. As the talmid watched from his concealed corner, the Chofetz Chaim climbed into the aron and lay down. He then proceeded to make an account of everything that had occurred and he had done over the past day, fulfilling in the literal sense the dictum in the mishna "Look at three things and you will not come to do an aveiroh. Know . . . where you are going!"
Velifnei mi atoh ossid litein din vecheshbon.
It was well known that the Grach of Brisk was not brought to tears easily. The times he cried were few and far between. However, during the tefillos of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when it came to the poem of Lekeil Orech Din, he would break down in bitter tears, crying at the words, "To the One who thinks through the mind in judgment."
He would not be calmed as he imagined how the Mighty King of Kings sees through a person's mind — who can withstand such tough scrutiny?
When the Admor, the Beis Avrohom of Slonim, went to visit his chassidim in the town of Brisk, he paid the moro de'asra , Reb Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik, a visit too. The Griz zt"l took him to see the new mikveh in Brisk that was just nearing completion.
The mikveh was as yet without water, but the two gedolim stood studying its almost finished interior and exterior.
Pointing to one side, the Beis Avrohom asked, "Isn't that a small hole I see where the water could flow out?"
Upon hearing the words, the Griz began to tremble in fear. The color drained from his face and his cheeks began to swell, as though he had been hit. Together they checked the wall and ascertained that the doubt was unfounded and the spot was okay.
As they left, the Slonimer remarked to his chassidim, "Did you see what yiras Shomayim means? He just heard a doubt that perhaps there could in the future be a leak and he became shaken and ill. And we're talking about a mikveh that hasn't been used yet!"
Years later, when the two great leaders met again, the subject of the mikveh came up, and Reb Yitzchok Zeev shuddered again at the thought, as he said, "Oy! Did we have a shock."
The famed ger tzedek Graf Potocki, otherwise known as Avrohom Ben Avrohom, was on his way to be bound to the stake, to be burned for his beliefs. The henchman who bound him kept asking his forgiveness, saying he was only fulfilling orders.
The doomed ger answered him calmly with a smile, "You are in this world, and you think this is a great deal, meaning the pain and suffering of this world's reality. But in comparison to the place where I'll soon merit to be, this world is only a vanishing dream, a toy vision of no importance.
"It's like the story of a farmer's son who was playing with the prince. During the course of their play, the village boy broke the house of blocks made by the young prince. Furious, the heir to the throne vowed to have his revenge once he grew up. Obviously, once the years had passed and the prince was grown up, the importance of the house of blocks had shrunk into oblivion.
"So too the physical suffering in this world will soon become nothing but a mockery in the face of the merit of facing the great light of the Melech Malchei Hamelochim."
The holy Chasam Sofer zt"l was lying on his deathbed on the final day of his earthly life, 24 Tishrei 5600. As his pain became stronger and more overpowering, he asked not to be disturbed, even requesting that the Tehillim should be said quietly so as not to interrupt his thoughts.
As the doctors wondered how a person suffering such great pain can even speak coherently, the Chasam Sofer revealed why he wished not to be disturbed.
Since he was preparing to reach the Heavenly Court before the King of Kings, he wanted to review all he had learned and been mechadesh throughout his lifetime, which required intense concentration.
When an elderly talmid entered, the Chasam Sofer asked him if he remembered a chiddush they learned in a certain sugya twenty-three years previously. The talmid answered to the best of his memory and the Chasam Sofer became absorbed in his thoughts on the sugya.
The seconds passed in silence and the lofty soul engrossed in Torah rose up to meet the King of Kings, HaKodosh Boruch Hu.