Satan, the angel of death, and the evil inclination are all one (Bava Batra 16a).

Reb Shmaya was a venerable chassid of the Rebbe of Kotzk, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern. Shmaya’s friends knew him as sincere, pious, and humble, more so than anyone else they knew.

And then, disaster struck. Shmaya fell deathly ill. His situation deteriorated, and before long, the end was approaching. He lay on his deathbed, frighteningly pale, holding onto the very last threads of life.

Those at his bedside noticed that he was murmuring to himself. Eager to hear the last words of this renowned and esteemed chassid, they quickly moved closer to bask in what was sure to be a deeply meaningful and awe-inspiring lesson.

Imagine their disappointment when they heard nothing of the sort. With the last vestiges of energy left in his frail body, Reb Shmaya turned to them and said. “You see, the evil inclination is always right there, ready to pounce and capitalize on my every move. Even now, as I lie here ready to meet my Maker, that wily and noxious creature is at my side, whispering:

“ ‘Reb Shmaya, now’s your chance! You’re about to die, and everyone is eager to hear what you’re going to say. Take the opportunity and go out like a star. Say Shema with all your might and make sure to really draw out the last word as is your habit. People will be so impressed, and they’ll remember you forever as a chassid of unparalleled piety and devotion. For centuries, people will say, “With such concentration, Reb Shmaya died with the last words of Shema on his lips!” Go for it; make your mark!’ ”

“I can’t give the evil inclination such a victory,” said Reb Shmaya, “so everyone leave me alone and let me die in peace.”

To everyone’s surprise, Reb Shmaya made a miraculous recovery. Word in Kotzk was that because he had denied the Angel of Death his big victory, he had given up and left him alone.1