Suicide bombers seem to come in swarms, like flies. There
seems to be no end to them. What is their secret? Why is it
seemingly so easy for them to give their lives for their
"homeland"? From where do they take their heroism? Why is it
that for Klal Yisroel giving up one's life for
Kiddush Hashem is so scarce and precious?
The answer lies in understanding the meaning of sacrificing
one's life for Kiddush Hashem. In order to give one's
life for Hashem, one must first understand and appreciate the
importance of life. One who doesn't appreciate life isn't
sacrificing anything by giving it up. The more one values
life, the greater the sacrifice.
At first glance, the two sound like a contradiction: How
could someone who appreciates life, give away his life? The
answer is found in the words of Chazal in Pirkei Ovos
(4:16): "This world is like a lobby before the World to Come.
Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the
banquet hall." If the purpose of our coming to this world was
to enjoy ourselves as much as possible, then it would not
make sense to sacrifice our life for anything. However Chazal
tell us that this world is nothing more than the preparation
for the World to Come, by doing the will of Hashem.
Sometimes, but only sometimes, the will of Hashem is to
sacrifice our life for His will. Not only is it not a
contradiction, but on the contrary, doing otherwise would be
contradictory because our whole purpose in this world is to
perform His will.
Sacrificing one's life al Kiddush Hashem doesn't mean
blowing oneself up together with innocent men, women and
children. That is merely suicidal, and hence the term
"suicide bombers." In Jewish law committing suicide is a sin,
no matter what the motivation for the action. Nothing can
justify giving up one's life like that. Such a person is not
even allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
A person who places no value on life, has no place among the
dead. A cemetery is a holy place. It is a place where people
come to pray for their life. Therefore, one who does not
value life, has no place in a cemetery.
Only one who truly realizes and values the importance of life
as a preparation for the World to Come is capable of
sacrificing his life for the will of Hashem. Thus we only
find this self-sacrifice by truly righteous people.
This is in contrast to the Arab who blows himself up together
with innocent children, and who really does so out of
frustration and total lack of placing any value in life. He
is not sacrificing anything, because for him life has no
value. Therefore you won't find any of their intellectuals
committing suicide in the name of their religion. They are
not willing to sacrifice anything.
With this we can understand the gemora in Brochos
(61b) that tells us the chilling tale of R' Akiva's
sacrifice for Kiddush Hashem. When he was brought out
to be executed, and his skin was raked with metal combs, he
happily accepted upon himself the yoke of Hashem and said,
"My whole life I have yearned for the opportunity to
sacrifice myself for Hashem."
This is the way of life of the righteous, yearning a lifetime
to merit the opportunity to sacrifice oneself for Hashem.
It is a way of life that a non-Jew cannot fathom. For them
there is no greater contradiction: to yearn a lifetime for
death? Only one who realizes that the sole purpose of life in
this world is as a preparation for the World to Come, is
capable of yearning to sacrifice his life in the Name of
This is the life of tzaddikim, who prepare themselves
for the World to Come. Their whole life revolves around the
day of death. As the gemora tells us in Shabbos
(153a), "R' Eliezer said, `Repent one day before
departing this world.' His talmidim asked, `How is a
person supposed to know his day of death?' R' Eliezer
answered, `Then let him repent every day lest he depart the
world tomorrow.' "
Preparing oneself for the World to Come does not only entail
a willingness to give up one's life al Kiddush Hashem.
It also entails a constant awareness of our purpose in This
The Brisker Rov zt"l was known to put his finger into
the fire of Havdoloh on motzei Shabbos in order
to get a taste of the fire of Gehennom. Chazal tell us
that our fires are one sixtieth of the heat of the fire of
HaRav Gifter zt"l, the Telzer rosh hayeshiva, wrote
his will more than forty years before his petiroh,
asking his talmidim to learn for his neshomoh
in order to minimize the fire of Gehennom for
HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt"l, the Mashgiach of
Lakewood, once gave a powerfully parable. The gemora
in Sotah (46b) tells us of the city called "Luz"
in which the Angel of Death had no control. The older people
would simply leave the city to die when they had no more will
to continue living.
One time a resident of Luz met a resident from a different
city. In the course of their conversation the resident of Luz
realized that it was only in his city that people lived as
long as they pleased, whereas in other cities people lived no
longer than seventy or eighty years. He said to the other
person, "I'm sure that in your city people don't spend their
time building large houses, for your life span is a mere
To his astonishment his acquaintance told him that not only
do they build large houses, they also spend lots of time
furnishing the house. The Luz resident could not believe his
ears and considered those people insane.
The Mashgiach told us: "Our problem is that we live within
the borders of an eighty year life span, thinking that it is
an endless period of time. Only a resident of Luz is capable
of realizing the silliness involved in wasting our precious
However one should not make the mistake of thinking that
living a life in preparation for the World to Come is a life
filled with sadness, depression and deprivation. The exact
opposite is true. If one realizes that this world is just a
preparation for the Next World, then most of his problems
disappear. Such a person does not get aggravated over every
little argument or problem. Such a person does not demand
respect. Blessed is the one who lives like this.
HaRav Chaim Charlap is rosh yeshivas Bais Zvul. This essay
is adapted from his sefer Ohr Chaim on avodas