Kiddushin 72 - 77
“A tzaddik (righteous person) does not depart this world until another tzaddik like him is created (i.e., is born into this world).”
This teaching in a beraita on our daf follows a statement made by Rebbi as he lay on his deathbed (he was given a prophecy to tell — Rashi). Rebbi, who was in the Land of Israel, told of a number of terrible events that were occurring on that day in various cities throughout Bavel, concluding with the passing of Rav Ada bar Ahava on that day (according to one of two explanations cited by Rashi and Tosefot) in a city called Akra Diagma in Bavel. However, Rebbi “ended on a good note” and concluded with a statement of consolation that on that same day the Sage Rav Yehuda was born in Bavel.
The gemara follows up on this statement of Rebbi with a beraita that expresses a final message from Rebbi, which states that a tzaddik does not depart this world until another tzaddik who is like him comes into it. (According to the other explanation in Rashi and in Tosefot, Rav Ada bar Ahava was circumcised on that day, and did not die — “he was dwelling in the lap of our Patriach Avraham” — and it was Rebbi who died on that very day when Rav Yehuda wasborn.)
The idea being conveyed in this beraita is that God ensures that there is a “conservation of tzadikkim” in the world, in order that the righteousness, Torah study and the ethical Monotheism of Judaism should continue to exist in the world — for the sake of the continued existence of the world.
The beraita quotes a verse in Kohelet (1:5) as the source of this concept that when a tzaddik departs this world another one enters: “The sun rises, and the sun sets…”. The commentaries explain in various ways how our Sages learned from this verse, which seems to be descriptive of natural, daily sunrises and sunsets, the assurance that the passing of one tzaddik will always be accompanied with the birth of a new tzaddik.
One approach is that the order of the sun’s events is reversed in the verse. According to the Torah, in Creation and for most purposes in Jewish law and practice, evening precedes daytime. “And it was evening, and it was morning, day one.” The change of this order in the verse cited by the beraita hints to a completely different aspect of the world: the daylight preceding nightfall refers to the arrival of a new tzaddik in the world before the departure of an already existing one, so that the world should never be lacking “the light of the Torah” that tzaddikim bring with them. (Iyun Yaakov)
Another reason for explaining the verse in this manner is the seemingly redundant mention of the word “sun” a second time. The verse could have said “the sun rises and sets” instead of saying “the sun rises and the sun sets”. By stating the word “sun” a second time in the verse we are taught that this is a reference to a “different sun” — the tzaddik, who illuminates the world with his Torah righteousness and scholarship. Before the “light” of one tzaddik is dimmed when he departs this world, the light of a second tzaddik who has entered the world has been “lit”. (Maharsha)
I once heard from a great rabbi in Jerusalem that the comparison of a tzaddik passing from this world to sunset also teaches another important lesson. Just as the sun after setting is still “there”, and is giving light someplace else in the world even if we don’t see it in a specific place, so too tzaddikim radiate an aura of holiness, purity and Torah in our own existence — even after their passing from this world.
- Kiddushin 72b