What is the difference between the death of the aged and the death of the young?
Rabbi Judah says: “When a lamp goes out of itself, it is good for the lamp and good for the wick, for the lamp is not broken and the wick does not form coal; but when men extinguish it, it is bad for the lamp, and bad for the wick.”
Rabbi Abahu said: “When you pluck figs at their proper season, it is good for the figs, and good for the fig-tree. But if figs are gathered before their time, it is bad for the figs and bad for the fig-tree.”
Then why do we often see the righteous die young?
A story told of Rabbi Chiya bar Aba and his disciples. It was their custom to rise early in the morning and to sit and teach under a certain fig-tree. And the owner of the fig-tree used to rise early and gather the figs. The scholars thought that they were suspected of eating some of them, that’s why the owner would gather early. What did they do? They changed their place of meeting.
Then the owner of the fig-tree went after them, and when he found them he said: “Why have you changed your meeting place? You used to show me honor, and give me a share in your reward for the study of God’s word, and give me the privilege of contributing my share to your deeds of piety, by coming and studying under my fig-tree.”
Then they told him that they thought perhaps he suspected they might eat some of the figs because he always rose so early in the morning to gather them.
“God forbid,” exclaimed the owner of the fig-tree; “I rise early to gather the figs because, if the sun shines brightly upon them, they breed worms.”
So he persuaded them to return and study under his fig-tree. That morning he did not gather the figs, and the sun shone on the fig-tree, and the ripe fruit bred worms and was no longer fit to gather.
Then said the Rabbi and his students: “The master of the fig-tree knows the season of each fig, and when it ought to be gathered, and gathers it. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, knows the season of the righteous, and when it is best to remove them from this world.”
Wisdom Of Israel, Edwin Collins