We’re all going to die. I’m not being gloomy, just truthful.
The problem is that we don’t like to think about it. Which is too bad, because keeping our mortality in mind can help us focus on living life fully. People who have experienced a life-threatening illness or a near-death experience know the heightened feeling of luxuriating in being alive.
This is why a pair of entrepreneurs created a website and app called We Croak, with the slogan “Find happiness by contemplating your mortality.” If you subscribe, you’ll get this alert on your phone five times a day: “Reminder: Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”
I mention this because this week we read the last two chapters of the Torah, in which Moses gives his final blessing to the people and dies. So much has been written and said about his death – why did God deny him the opportunity to set foot in the Promised Land? Were his sins so great that they outweighed the good he did? This is the man of whom the Bible says “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.” (Deut. 34:10)
But I think the lesson is simple and important – there’s always something left undone. Moses doesn’t get into the Promised Land because that’s what life is like. No matter how rich or poor, how important or inconsequential we are, there’s always something that we don’t get to finish. Even Moses didn’t get to finish what he started. That was for the next generation, for Joshua and the others to do.
Life is finite and beautiful and rich. It is up to each of us to live our lives to the fullest; to know that we’re going to die, and go on living and enjoying life nonetheless.
We Croak sends a quotation with every reminder. One of today’s was from the British writer Zadie Smith: “The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful… and decide what you want and need and must do.”
I’ll admit that it’s a little unsettling to get these messages five times a day; I’m more inclined to think that a few times a week would be sufficient. And yet there is something uplifting about being reminded of the brevity and beauty of life, and my responsibility to make the most of my life.
But we don’t need an app for that. All we have to do is emulate Reb Simcha Bunem, who carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote, “for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote, “I am but dust and ashes.”
We are magnificent beings and incredibly insignificant. Both are true. For me, this takes the weight off my shoulders of feeling that I must change the world, and leaves me free to simply do my best, and know that at the end of my life I will leave some work undone, for the next generation to take up.