In response to a fellow blogger who, having read my book Snapshots In Memory of Ben, asked me to respond to the question below ...
Question: People who have gone through a near death situation or lost a loved one often remark that the secret of life is to live each day as if it were their last. Practically speaking though, do you believe that this is possible to do? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once wrote, "There is a tragic aspect to man's essence; it lies in the fact that people and things closest to his heart are not properly appreciated so long as they are alive and present."
Response:Permit me to state unequivocally I do not endorse this notion that one live each day as if it were his last because it does not reflect a Jewish point of view. It seems more akin to hedonism that elevates “gashmius” to a level higher than godliness.
Many people, having survived a near death situation and/or the death of a loved one, feel themselves morally entitled to live their lives per this seemingly wise maxim. As justified an approach as it may seem, I hope to show how seriously flawed it really is.
Implicit is the suggestion that—because I have suffered--I am now at liberty to live my life with few if any restraints and even question my belief in a god that permits bad things to happen to good people. In other words, having survived a near tragedy or coped successfully with loss somehow absolves me of moral responsibility and guiltlessly entitles me to shed all semblance of moral constraint.
On the contrary, I have found the “secret of life” rests upon a foundation of bitachon, emunah, the solitude of prayer and readiness to know before Whom I’ll someday stand.
We strive to build a personal relationship between man and His maker which guides our lives in accordance with Torah values.
Secondly, no man knows when his last awakening will be. For this reason, Jews of faith recite "Modei ani lefanecha" upon arising in the morning. Living each day to the fullest does not mean with abandon but thanksgiving.
In place of a “philosophy” of “wine, women and song”, Jews of faith declare: “Hodu l’ Ha Shem ki tov, ki le’olam chasdo.”
I recall a story from years back of a certain religious Jew who responded to a series of questions by a local newspaper features reporter. The interview went something like this:
"So, Mr. Goldberg, what do you do on Christmas Eve?"
"I do what I do every day. I go to shul and pray but not because it is Christmas Eve."
"Ok, gotcha. Tell me about what you do on Friday nights when the weekend begins?”
"I go to shul to pray Kabbalas Shabbos to welcome the Sabbath, and then return home and together with my wife welcome the Sabbath Queen."
"Oh, okay got it." the reporter, clearly frustrated that his interviewee was adhering strictly to his story, came up with something he thought would turn out to be the ultimate "gotcha" question.
"Mr. Goldberg, this year New Year's Eve is on Friday night. What big plans do you have? What are you going to do?" hoping to elicit an "appropriate" response.
"I plan to go to shul to pray Kabbalas Shabbos to welcome the Sabbath, and then return home and together with my wife welcome the Sabbath Queen."
That pretty much says it all, and we can be certain that Reb Goldberg would continue to lead his life just as before were he to lose a loved one or survive a near death experience-notwithstanding any wayward notions of the “secret of life”.
Practically speaking, would it be possible to live each day as if it were our last?
Yes, but not without first clarifying our choices beforehand.
We are beings of free well and can live our lives as we wish. The key to the “secret of life” is the recognition that the choices we make are not all equally good.
The Rav is correct when he points out we all too often only really “appreciate” our blessings when they're irretrievably gone. It is my belief one should acknowledge the Bo’re Olam by praising Him optimally in times of familial bounty and material success rather than lamenting their loss when it’s already too late.
While true that we are busy raising our families, being married, tending to hearth and home and going to work, my point though simple is easily forgotten. Hug your kids every day when all is good. Enjoy and nourish them now. Be thankful for their good health. Take nothing for granted.
Does it make any sense to write a book about our living brachot? It seems absurd but is it really? I wrote a book about my son but only after he was gone. Our lives are exceedingly delicate and fleeting like blades of grass caught up in a breeze.
All the things we know intuitively to be right are. Here is a starter’s list. Do them now lest the opportunity slip away:
Hug your kids now in sickness and in health.
Appreciate your spouse for all (s)he does for hearth and home.
Greet every one with a smile; practice "darchei noam".
Perform gemilus chasadim-no matter what form it may take.
Praise a child for the good rather than only pointing out the bad.
Let a friend know how very much you value him for whom he is.
Plant a tree.
Raise a child.
Write a book.
Live your life in a way that you wish your children to imitate.
Alan D. Busch