If you knew you were going to die, what would you say to your loved ones?
You might tell them of your deep love for them. You might tell them of how your story together has profoundly affected your life, how proud you are of them despite their struggles. You might tell them that, no matter what, you loved them. You might tell them that you did the best you could.
Moshe Rabbeinu had a gift, perhaps the most important gift that a human can have, all things considered. He had a chance, as we begin reading about this week and will read about until the end of Sefer Devarim, to say goodbye. He had a chance to recount the ups and the downs, the failures and the triumphs. He had a chance to synthesise all those different events in to one story - our story, the story of the beginning of the Jewish people. Had a chance to take leave, to tell us that he loved us, that he was proud of us, and that he expected great things from us.
Many of us don't get a chance to say goodbye the way that we'd like. Death comes too soon, before we were prepared for it, before we had our chance to take our leave from those we love. Often we are left struggling to understand our new reality, to get closure on a life we weren't ready to part with.
Shelomo HaMelekh writes: "At all times let your garments be white." Be ready, at any moment, to take your leave of this world. This doesn't just mean that you need to have your taxes in order or your will written. It means to be ready at any moment to meet your Creator. It means that you must live a life that you are proud of, and part of that life is the legacy you leave behind. The people you leave behind.
Shelomo HaMelekh is asking us to live life aware that we are an all to brief spark in the history of the universe - that we are mortal. Indeed, it is this mortality which infuses our life with the rich colour of meaning. Once we internalise this message, that "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living shall lay it to his heart," we can begin to live in the moment.
When you live your life with the understanding that your time is finite and that every moment counts, you are able to radically open and honest with those that you love. You don't let a moment go by where those that you love don't know, with the full force of their being, that you love them. You live a life where everything that needs to be said is said.
After finding out that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Paul Kalanithi wrote, "I began to realise that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live."
Moshe Rabbeinu had a unique gift, one that many of us will never have.
We don't know when we're going to die, and so should do our best to be as real and authentic as possible in every moment. We should make sure that people know what and how we feel about them.
Don't wait until it's too late - live as your full self, right now.