The Talmud (Kesubos 103b; see Avos Rebbi Nason 25:2) says:

מת מתוך השחוק סימן יפה לו מתוך הבכי סימן רע לו

If one dies from laughter it is a good omen for him, but it is a bad omen to die from weeping.

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 17a) relates the incident of Rebbi Elazar Ben Durdiah, and seems to imply that it was a great thing that he wept himself to death.

אמר אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי הניח ראשו בין ברכיו וגעה בבכיה עד שיצתה נשמתו יצתה בת קול ואמרה ר"א בן דורדיא מזומן לחיי העולם הבא

Rebbi Eliezer Ben Durdiah exclaimed, “Repentance is truly dependent upon my own actions!” He then inserted his head between his legs and began to wail and weep until his very soul left its body. A heavenly voice (bas kol) then announced, “Rabbi Eliezer Ben Durdiah is to be taken to life in the World to Come”.

If I have followed the story right, it seems like the crying is part of his penitence, which results in “Rabbi Eliezer Ben Durdiah is to be taken to life in the World to Come”, which is seemingly a very good omen for him.

Indeed, Tosafos (Kesubos ad loc.) notes how the phrase ‘one is to be taken to life in the World to Come’ always indicates that it is done so without a judgement and without suffering.

מזומן לחיי העולם הבא - תימה והלא כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעוה"ב ופירש הרב ר' מאיר כל היכא דאמר מזומן לחיי העולם הבא היינו בלא דין ובלא יסורין:

Therefore, how is the statement that it is a bad omen to die from weeping to be explained in light of this tale. Does it apply only sometimes?

  • i would assume laughing and crying is regarding mundane matters. To die while doing full Teshuva is like the 10 matyrs being Mekadesh Shem Shamayim while dying, there is no greater level
    – user15464
    Sep 16, 2019 at 1:21
  • What does an omen mean for someone who's dead? They know already if they were successful in life or not. They don't need to read omens.
    – Double AA
    Sep 16, 2019 at 11:53
  • What do you mean.. רבי שמעון בן לקיש אמר אלו כלים האוליירין הבאין ממדינת הים למימרא דחיורי נינהו והאמר להו רבי ינאי לבניו בני אל תקברוני לא בכלים לבנים ולא בכלים שחורים לבנים שמא לא אזכה ואהיה כחתן בין אבלים שחורים שמא אזכה ואהיה כאבל בין חתנים אלא בכלים האוליירין הבאין ממדינת הים אלמא סומקי נינהו לא קשיא הא בגלימי הא בלבושי:
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Sep 16, 2019 at 12:40

1 Answer 1


Perhaps the manner in which he died indicates that he not only repented in theory but also in practice. That is, he rectified the area in which he had sinned. The Talmud (Kesubos 103a) must be explained in its own way; likewise, the weeping here must be understood in its own context. The Talmud is clearly offering a situation wherein one dies amidst either jest or wail. Under those terms, jest means a good omen, etc.

In the incident with Rebbi Elazar Ben Durdiah, it is clear that he has not been placed under those above-mentioned pretenses. His crying is only an accompaniment to the main event: the position of the head between his legs. According to a passage in the Aryeh Kaplan commentary on Sefer Yetzirah (p. 37), this itself is very significant, especially with regards to sexuality, which as the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 17a) taught, was the chief offense of Rebbi Elizer Ben Durdiah.

The covenant of circumcision also represents the channeling of sexual energy. The sexual drive is one of the most powerful psychological forces in man, and when it is channeled along spiritual lines, it can help bring one to the highest mystical states. In giving the commandment of circumcision, God indicated that the emotions and desires associated with sex could be used for the mystical quest of the Divine on a transcendental plane.

The juxtaposition between the "circumcision of the tongue" and the "circumcision of the membrum" explains the prophetic position favored by Elijah. The scripture states, "Elijah went up to the top of the Carmel, entranced himself on the ground, and placed his face between his knees" (1 Kings 18:42). This position was used for the intense concentration of spiritual energy. According to the Midrash, this position was used because it placed the head in conjunction with the mark of circumcision.

When one is in this position, all of these forces are brought together. The ten fingers. ten toes, tongue and sexual organ comprise a total of 22 elements, paralleling the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.The individual's body itself thus becomes an alphabet, with which he can "write" in the spiritual realm.

While the true depth of these Kabbalistic teachings is unknown to me, according to this passage it seems that Rebbi Eliezer Ben Durdiah may have achieved a high level of meditation. Furthermore, it appears that this meditation directly served as the greatest form of repentance available to him amidst his moment of plight. This is indeed similar to the interpretation offered by Ben Yehoyada. I believe the "seven waters" which Ben Durdiah crossed in order to reach the prostitute may have certain significance in light of his subsequent repentance in the area of circumcision; see further in Kaplan's Sefer Yetzira (cf. p. 188).

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