Burial: Truth Refuted

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Jewish burial customs

The days of Israel approached death; and he called his son, Joseph, and said to him: “…Do me a kindness and a truth… I shall lie to rest with my ancestors; carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burial site”

Genesis 47:29-30

“Do me a kindness and a truth”—a kindness done to the dead is a true kindness, for one does not expect a favor in return

Rashi, ibid

The Midrash relates that when G-d desired to create man, Truth argued that “he should not be created, for he is full of lies.” Kindness, however, said, “He should be created, for he is full of kindness.”1

The Midrash does not say what Truth’s response was to that argument, but we can assume that it said: “But that, too, is just another of man’s lies. Yes, man does acts of kindness to his fellows, but not because he is ‘full of kindness’—only because he expects them to return the favor.”

But there is one act of kindness that proves Truth wrong: the kindness done to the dead. This “kindness and truth,” as the Torah calls it, shows that man is capable of a truly altruistic deed, thereby proving that all our acts of kindness—even those superficially tainted by selfish motives—are in essence true, deriving from an intrinsic desire to give of ourselves to our fellows.

Based on the Rebbe’s remarks at the founding meeting of the Chabad burial society, Av 5, 5702 (July 19, 1942)2

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Show 2 footnotes

  1. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 8:3.
  2. Reshimot #25.
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