Zohar Chai: How to Die on Friday
The Baal Shem Tov commented on the passage, “He who passes away on the eve of Shabbat is spared the body’s tribulation in the grave (Ketuvot 103b).” Although this is undoubtedly true, my master asked, certainly the Talmud intends to advise us on how to be spared the body’s tribulations in the grave. If so, what is this passage telling us, for it is not within a man’s power to ensure that he will die on the eve of Shabbat?
He answered that it contains a great ethical teaching: that a person should bring himself to death in this world, which is described as “the Eve of Shabbat (Avodah Zarah 3a)” as is well known. He should be willing to endure failure, humiliation, distress, and suffering in love in order to prepare for the Shabbat–the World to Come. Thus will he be rescued from the body’s anguish in the grave. Such persons depart from this world during their lives, achieving fixing by means of dust, “May my soul be lowly to all as the dust (Berachot 17a).” By virtue of eternal life, such a person dies to this world, for he has “brought himself to death and prayer” in his service of Torah and prayer.
Afterwords, after his mortal span of days is completed, and he physically dies, his death is far more praiseworthy than the deaths of everyone else in the world.
But you might say, won’t they be judged in the world to come? No, they won’t, for it is written, “Trouble shall not rise up the second time (Nachum 1:9),” so that they will not be judged twice, because they have already endured punishment and suffering in this world.
Thus, a person acting in this manner has most certainly perished on the eve of Shabbat, having brought himself to death in the study of Torah for its own sake, and his place is wholly prepared with surpassing praise. (Zohar Chai, page 182)
We can use all the stress of physically preparing for Shabbat as our way of “giving up our body,” so that we can achieve the spiritual reality offered by Shabbat.