As a religion, Judaism encourages us to practice death. We do a version of the deathbed Shema every night. We go to sleep reciting a confession (viddui) and surrendering to sleep (which we are told is one-sixtieth of death) with the same words we are encouraged to say on our deathbed. We practice death on Yom Kippur when we don our burial shrouds, fast and recite another viddui in preparation for the atonement and symbolic rebirth of our souls. We practice death each time we cross a threshold and take the time to kiss a mezuzah or recite a Kaddish at a turning point in a prayer service.
There is a seeming paradox in a religion that impels us to choose life while encouraging us to cultivate a relationship with death. There is another paradox in the fact that this recognition of what is finite helps us to focus on the infinite. Perhaps the biggest paradox is that we can come again to love life even when we are mindful of death. Holding these apparent contradictions at once is a sign of wholeness – or healing – or shalom – words that have the same meaning linguistically. It helps us to love more courageously, to search in every moment for what is holy and eternal, to cherish each day and to cultivate life by caring for ourselves, each other, and the planet. Just as it brings personal healing, this relationship with death is a vehicle for bringing healing to the community and to the world.