Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) tells us “there is a time to be born and a time to die”.
We know the time to be born is nine months. But when is the time to die?
I knew of a 37 year old man who was washing and dressing in preparation for going to the synagogue with his 13 year old son on a special shabbat. It was his son’s Bar Mitzvah, a joyous day for the family.
While he was shaving, he suddenly dropped to the floor. He was dead. No advanced warning. Just a very quick and hopefully painless death.
The husband of a dear friend and her beloved family in Rishon Letzion, a healthy man in his early fifties, drove to our gigantic supermarket, Chatzi Chinam, and packed all his groceries into a shopping cart and wheeled it outside to his car.
As he opened the trunk to put the groceries inside, he fell to the ground and was dead. There was no warning. It was just his time.
Unfortunately, we can never know the day, month, year or time of our death. Only a merciful God can know.
For me, it is a problem. I am a man of habit. It is my obsession. I know in advance what my plans are and will be for given dates and hours.
I know that I recite my daily prayers at 9 o’clock every morning. I know that I feed my dog at 5:45 every evening and take her out half-hour later.
I know when it is time for me to get my hair cut, to visit my doctor, to make telephone calls to my children and dear friends.
And today, on 4th day of the 10th month of the year 2019 I know what my schedule is for the remaining days of this month and I know what my scheduled events will be for January 2020 (my grandson’s wedding) and my meetings, appointments and programs for March, April, May and June of 2020.
Whether or not I will be blessed with health and life to fulfill those days and commitments, only God knows. And He is certainly not confiding in me !
On Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, in the recitation of the very solemn prayer of U’Netaneh Tokef, we read the frightening words “mi yichyeh u’mi yamut”… who will live and who will die, and the prayer goes on to ask who will die by fire and who by water, who by the plague, who in youth and who in old age. And it continues with an entire liturgy dealing with all manner of death.
Terrifying words to cry out aloud while begging God to inscribe us and to seal us in His great Book of Life.
It is a major prayer which causes us to tremble in trepidation as we beg God for His mercy. Authorship of the prayer is attributed to the 11th century Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, his final words as he lay dying in martyrdom.
The proposed cure to chase away the awaiting angel of death is found in three powerful Hebrew words:
“U’teshuvah u’Tefila u’Tzedakah” – But Repentance, Prayer and Righteousness” avert the severe decree.
I think that I will carry my pocket calendar to the 13 hours of the Yom Kippur services and open it for God to see. Perhaps, if He flips the pages, He will enable me to prepare for the inevitable day, month, year and time.
Without knowing in advance, how can I possibly arrange my schedules and my affairs?
This frightening prayer is the essence of the Day of Atonement when we confess our sins publicly to God and ask for His mercy. If the three words are recited and obeyed sincerely from the heart and not just from the lips, we can put trust in God’s loving care.
Let us live to enjoy the year 5720 with good health, long life, happiness, prosperity, success in the work of our hands, love and in godliness and peace in order that we may live to see many days and many more years of a good life.