The days of our lives are seventy years, if with special strength, eighty years; most of them are troubled, and then they are cut..... [Psalms 90:10]
The day of one's death is one's personal Day of Judgment, when one's deeds, both good and evil, are scrutinized. The Zohar [II, 199b] teaches that it is a day of seven judgments:
1. The actual death
2. Announcement of one's deeds, whether good or evil
3. Placement in the grave
4. The judgment of the grave
5. The decaying of the body
7. The interval before the soul is completely purified
The Arizal teaches that these various judgments are not intended as punishments so much as they are meant to cleanse a person from sin. Thus, Gehennom - and reincarnation, when it is imposed - are means by which one's sins are purged. Death, too, is an integral part of this cleansing process.
The accounting system which G-d uses when drawing up our final balance sheet is far beyond the level of man's understanding. In His unfathomable mercy, G-d adds to the credit column all mitigating circumstances - one's upbringing, environment, financial resources and so on. Nevertheless, the judgment is real: we are held fully accountable. The main question that we must answer is : Have I tried hard enough?
Reb Nosson writes that a person's most important advocate for mercy on the day of judgment is the "will factor", the degree to which he or she wanted spirituality. If our will was strong throughout life, even if we were remiss, our credit is greatly increased. This does not imply that a weak effort can suffice. "I just couldn't do it" is not an acceptable excuse. Reb Nosson's "will factor" involves making every possible effort. If our efforts prove unsuccessful, then what are we to do? We must try again and again and again. As Rebbe Nachman used to say: "Gevalt! Never give up!"
Source: from the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
adapted by Chaim Kramer