By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
Death is inevitable. This sobering point is a major tenet of Jewish thought. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden brought death into the world.
From man’s very first day, death has become a fact of life, here to stay until the end of time. Morbid as it may be, there is nothing we can do ultimately to vanquish the Angel of Death. The knowledge that we will not live forever is both a sobering and empowering thought. Death is quite literally the ultimate deadline and it brings with it an impending sense of accountability.
The Talmud teaches us that after we pass away we will be brought before the Heavenly Court, there to account for our actions, to see if our achievements matched our potential, or if we fell pitifully short. That same sense of accountability ought to be incredibly empowering. If we knew that we would live forever, there would never be any incentive to get anything done today, or tomorrow for that matter. We could procrastinate ad infinitum, secure in the knowledge there will always be a tomorrow.
The fact that one day there won’t be gives us the impetus to make the most of the present. Once we know that time is a finite, limited resource, we are spurred into action to make every moment count.
Rabbi Yosef Yozel of Novardhok summed this up by saying pithily, “A person should be willing to give up all his tomorrows for one today, so that he doesn’t end up wasting all his todays on one tomorrow.”
All too often we spend our time dreaming and fantasising about what we intend to do one day, and let the present slip through our hands.
In the morning prayers, we declare that we believe that God renews the act of creation daily, at every moment. This is saying we believe that the act of creation is ongoing and that every moment that the universe exists is only because the creator wills it into existence.
God, therefore, creates each moment anew – just as if it is to teach us that every moment is precious and will never return. If so, then we need to maximise the potential in every moment, for we do not glorify death, rather we are told to ‘choose life’ and make the biggest and best contribution that we can.
•Jonny Roodyn is a rabbi for Aish UK