Is There a Way to Care Jewishly for Family Members and Friends at The End of Life?

Students of the Hasidic masters wrote down the stories of the last months, days, hours and moments of the lives of their rebbes. A compilation of their experiences, called The Book of Departure (Sefer haHistalkut), first published in Hebrew in 1930, brings together the rich end-of-life stories of forty-two holy men who died between 1760 and 1904, as well as their philosophical forebearer, Isaac Luria.

“Most of Torah’s teaching is about how to live. But there is a special section within its wisdom that also speaks to us about how to die. Since we are all mortals, our lives fashioned somehow around the awareness that death is inevitably to come, this is one of the important lessons,” writes foreword author Arthur Green, in DEATHBED WISDOM OF THE HASIDIC MASTERS: The Book of Departure and Caring for People at the End of Life, translated and annotated by Rabbi Joel H Baron and Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow (Jewish Lights / August 2016 / Quality Paperback / $19.99). “There is something profound to be learned about the way of dying, and it is best learned from the wisdom and stories of those who have gone before us.”

Featuring new pastoral commentary in a unique facing-page format, this English presentation of heart-touching deathbed tales sheds light on Jewish traditions about death, the afterlife and how to care for people in their final days. Joel H Baron and Sara Paasche-Orlow, both rabbis and Jewish chaplains, draw insights and suggest helpful teachings on end-of-life care from The Book of Departure. They approach these deathbed stories as narrative theology, bringing their own experiences, clinical pastoral education training and rabbinic knowledge into conversation with those of the Hasidic masters and of their biblical, rabbinic and intellectual forebearers.

By following the pathways into the texts to which the stories refer, and by extracting modern pastoral lessons, Rabbis Baron and Paasche-Orlow help caregivers and chaplains of all kinds make Jewish meaning out of the experience of caring for others at the end of life.

Rabbi Joel H Baron is a hospice chaplain at Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL) Hospice Care in Boston.

Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow is the director of Spiritual Care at Hebrew SeniorLife.

Arthur Green, renowned spiritual leader, author and teacher, is one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Jewish thought and spirituality. He is author of Judaism’s Ten Best Ideas: A Brief Guide for Seekers, among other books.