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Afterlife Actions

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Afterlife Actions

After people die, we recount their actions that really made a difference, that which lives on eternally. That is, the Torah they learned[1] and taught, the chessed they performed, and so on,[2] and as the Mishna informs us, when one departs from this world, he is accompanied by his Torah and Maasim Tovim,[3] not his money.[4] This is hinted to in the Parshiyos in Sefer Vayikra, which are in the order of אחרי-מות, קדושים, אמור, as it can be expounded that after one dies (אחרי-מות), we say holy things about him (קדושים אמור). Let us spend time on that which will spend time with us eternally.[5]


When the Alter of Kelm was on his deathbed, he requested that his clothes be laundered before being given to the poor. This is what was on his mind before he died.[6]


A Jew named Jack was getting old so he told his rabbi that he wants to hire him to deliver his eulogy when the time comes for him to leave this world. He asked how much he charges. The rabbi told him that it depends on the eulogy. For the best eulogy which is delivered with emotion and relating praises of the deceased, it cost $5,000. That was too expensive for Jack so he asked for the lower level eulogy. The rabbi told him that cost $2,500$. “For that one, I say how beloved you were by the community and what a great husband and father you were, but I don’t cry.” Since that was also expensive for Jack he asked for the cheapest one. The rabbi replied that cost $1,000, and for that one I tell the truth!


This story is a segue for the following question: Can one exaggerate the praises of one who died? The halacha states that it is forbidden to overly exaggerate the praises of a dead person.[7] However, to say a little more than is actually true is okay.[8] The Taz[9] is bothered by this. Why is there a difference between lying a little or a lot? Let us take an example of one who performs a mitzva, for instance Tzedaka, by giving a specific amount of money. If there were a need to give a bit more, he would surely do so. Therefore, it is considered as if he actually did.

[1] In a commentary attributed to the רש משאנץ (one of the Rishonim) on the Sifra (Kedoshim, Chapter 9), it says on והקיצות היא תשיחך, when you awake, it will converse with you (Mishlei 6:22) that at times one has gone through half a mesachta and then dies. When he is resurrected at Techias Hamaisim, the mesachta will say to him, בכאן הנחת ומכאן תסיים אותי, this is where you left me, and from here you should finish me (אוצר פלאות התורה, Bamidbar, p. 696).

[2] This is hinted to in (Bamidbar 5:10) ואיש את קדשיו לו יהיה, the holy acts one did in his lifetime are what truly belongs to him.

[3] To propel us to accomplish what really matters, we should ask ourselves what people would say about us if we were to die now. What would they say at our funeral? Is it something we would be proud of or not? As the saying goes, “Fear not death, but rather unlived life.”

[4] Avos 6:9. An allusion is found in the word מת, as its initials are the first letters for מעשים טובים and תורה.

[5] The story is told of a dictator who ordered a citizen to come to his compound. The subject, knowing that he could be executed at a moment’s notice, decided to get himself a good advocate. He went to those he was close to throughout his life—those with whom he had partied. They told him that although they were friends, they were not willing to go with him, since the dictator could kill them too. Then he went to those he didn’t feel as close to, but decided to ask anyway. They said they would walk him to the compound, but not go all the way in to face the dictator. Then he went to those he wasn’t close to at all, but since he was desperate, he decided to ask them. They said they would walk him all the way and advocate on his behalf so that nothing bad would occur. This is what happened and he was saved. The same thing applies to life. That which many of us pursue—money—doesn’t go with us beyond death. Then after we die, there are friends and family who walk with us until the grave. Then there is that which we might not have felt so close to—Torah and Maasim Tovim. This is what will not only escort us all the way through, but can truly save us (see Chofetz Chaim, Nasso, 5:10).

[6] See Rashi in Bamidbar 27:15, who says when Tzadikim leave this world, they put aside their own needs and busy themselves with the needs of the public.

[7] Yoreh Deah, 344:1. Otherwise he causes evil to himself and also to the one who passed away.

[8] The Yerushalmi says that the one who died knows and hears his praises just like in a dream (see Shabbos 152b).

[9] Yoreh Deah, s.v. ומוסיפין. The Taz lived from 1586 until 1667. He was born to a family renowned for wealth as well as scholarship. He married the daughter of the Bach and they had six children, four of whom died young. After the death of his wife, the Taz married the widow of one of the sons of the Bach. Several of the Taz’s halachic rulings, as well as some liturgical poems he composed, reflect the horror of that time (decrees of 1648-49) and depict the escape of the Jews of Ulick from Chmielnitzki’s troops. In 1666, when conflicting reports of the impending coming of Moshiach reached Poland, he sent his son and nephew to investigate. They arrived in Turkey in Tamuz and were received warmly by Shabsai Tzvi who gave them a letter for the Taz with a present. Two months later Shabsai Tzvi—the false Moshiach—converted to Islam.

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