Final Moments

The last moments of a person’s life are critical in the soul’s journey. An illustration from Rabbi Tatz brings home the point. You are given 1-hour to make a beautiful piece of pottery and at the end of that hour – no matter what – your work will go into the kiln – after which its form will be frozen forever. Whether you diligently worked throughout the hour to mold a masterpiece, or whether you frittered away the entire hour, there is tremendous potential to ruin, salvage, or perfect your work in the last moments. So too with a person’s soul in its last moments. No matter how one spent their life, there is tremendous potential to ruin, salvage, or perfect their life’s work in their final moments by renewing and fortifying their belief and commitment to G-d and his Torah. By helping your loved one complete the following steps in their Last Moments, you can ensure a beautiful ending to a life’s work.

1. Teshuva (Repentance): As long as we are still alive we can repair our lives and atone for our sins. It is a tremendous elevation for the person’s soul for him to repent with all of his heart for any sins that he may have committed in his life, whether against G-d or his fellow man. The person should do whatever he can to seek out whoever he offended and ask them for forgiveness. Our Talmud records that G-d only accepts our teshuva (repentance), once the person we offended has forgiven us (Rosh Hashanah 17b). Your loved one should also ask for forgiveness from G-d. Our sages have explained that on all matters that are strictly between the person and G-d, as long as the person does sincere teshuva (repentance), his teshuva will be answered (Yoma 85b). Our sages have informed us that no matter how grave a sin a person may have done “nothing can stand in the way of teshuva.†(Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14; Yerushalmi Pe’ah 1:1, Sanhedrin 103a).

How does one do teshuva?

There are differences of opinion among the Rabbis how one does teshuva.[1] The Rambam, one of our greatest Rabbis, outlined Teshuva as a 4 Step Process:

A. Regret: Acknowledging your misdeeds, recognizing the damage, and feeling sincere regret for what you have done.

B. Confession: If it is teshuva between a person and G-d, you must verbalize your misdeeds out loud to G-d but soft enough so that no one else can hear you. If it is teshuva between a person and someone else, that person must ask forgiveness from the person he wronged directly.[2] Specify sin verbalize regret

C. Resolution: Sincerely resolve to change your ways. This may involve resolving to desist from continuing your misdeeds and coming up with a plan so that you do not revert to your prior ways.

2. Confessional on the Death Bed (Viduy): It is critical that the following text be said prior to the person passing. Ideally, it should be said moments before the person dies. Since no one knows for sure when that moment will occur, or whether or not the person will be unconscious before that moment, you should be prudent when to prompt your loved one to say viduy. When prompting your loved one to say the viduy, it should be done in such a way that it will not break their morale because that could hasten their death.

You should tell your loved one: “Many have confessed and did not die and many who did not confess, died anyway. In reward for your having confessed, may you live, but everyone who confesses has a share in the World to Come.â€[3]

You might also want to tell your loved one that you can never give up hope, as our sages have said: “Even when a sharp knife is resting on one’s neck, he should not despair from Heavenly mercy.” [4]

If your loved one doesn’t understand Hebrew, they should recite the viduy confessional in their natural language. If they have more time, they can also try to read it in the Hebrew version.

If your loved one can no longer speak, they should read the viduy and confess in their heart.

The following text is the minimum confession as recorded in the Shulchan Aruch[5] if one wishes they may add the text of the Yom Kippur confession as well.[6]

Certainly adding your own confessions in your own words after the minimum confession is a major cleansing of the soul before the soul departs to the next world.

· P.796 Confessional of the Death Bed (Art Scroll regular siddur)

· Yom Kippur Confessional p.776 (Art Scroll regular siddur)

3. Reciting Tehillim (Psalms): The following psalms can either be said by your loved together with their family and friends in the room, or by the family and friends alone if your loved cannot say them. Psalms 121, 130, 91, 19, Adon Olam, Ana B’koach, V’al Ken Ne’kaveh, and the Shema.

4. Watching over the person as they are dying: Out of respect, no one should leave the room as the person is dying since no one should have to die alone.[1] One may leave if they feel it is impossible for them to stay in the room or if someone in the room is a Kohen (from the priestly cast) and the person who is dying is not the Kohen’s father, mother, son, daughter, wife (see more in this footnote if you are a Kohen)[2] . For those in the room, the best things to do are:

1. Recite the following psalms, 121, 130, 91, 19[3]

2. Learn any piece of Torah[4]

2. Pray for the person’s recovery

3. Make sure the nearest relatives are present while their loved one passes away.

[1]YD 339:4

[2] If a Kohen is present while a person is dying and there is no way for the Kohen to save the dying person, then he must leave the room, unless the person dying is one of the following people in relation to the Kohen: the father, mother, son, daughter, brother from the fathers side i.e half brother from their common father, half unmarried sister from their common father, wife (married according to halacha).

[3] Chochmas Adam 151:19 – learn Torah or Tehillim

[4] Chochmas Adam 151:19 – learn Torah or Tehillim

[1] (Rambam Teshuvah 2:2 lists these 3 and abandoning sin. Sha’arei Teshuivah Perek 1 gives 20 steps, and Sefer Charedim and Orchos Tzadikim agree. Sefer ha’Toda’ah (35) lists abandoning sin, regret and Confession. Hakdmas Derech Pikudecha lists abandoning sin, regret and Resolution.)

[2] Rambam Teshuva 2:5

[3] YD 338:1

[4] Masekta Brachos 10a

[5] Yoreh De’a 338:2

[6] Yoreh De’a 338:2


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