Yakov Saacks
Yakov Saacks

The 7 things that humans do not know

# 1

There is a fascinating quote in the Talmud that just begs to be discussed. The Talmud, of course, is the wisdom and wit of the Sages and is the source from where Jewish law is derived. It is made up of rabbinic discussions going back to the Hellenistic period when the Greeks ruled in 350 BCE. The Talmud spans over 2,700 pages (both sides of a page) and there is nothing like this scholarly scope.

We will not be able to get through all seven in this limited article, and it therefore may be spread over a few weeks.

THE FIRST UNKNOWN

The first item on the Talmud’s list is, “We do not know the day we are going to die.” Why is this hidden from us? One would think that if we knew our date, then we would maximize our time in all aspects. We would be prepared to pass the baton as opposed to leaving a mess for those left behind to sort out. We can also tell the IRS that after this date, leave him/her alone.

MORTALITY VS. IMMORTALITY

Initially, death was not a given. We are taught in the Torah that originally man was going to live forever, but that quickly changed when Adam and Chava (Eve) ate from the forbidden fruit that they were specifically told not to eat. This instruction was given to them by God directly, and yet, they still defied Him brazenly. One of the punishments/corrections meted out by God because of this transgression was mortality. From then on, every human being who is born will have an expiration date.

There is fascinating commentary that posits that the punishment was not death per se, but rather to block Adam & Chava from partaking of the Tree of Life. He therefore banished them from the Garden and did not allow them to return.

In other words, God did not create them immortal but rather intended them to live forever. However, after the consumption of the illicit fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, God stopped them from eating from the Tree of Life which caused them to weaken, age and lose vitality and eventually perish. Once they internalized evil (egged on by the snake), they were not fit to live forever.

MORTALITY VS. LONG LIFE

Interesting to note, after God had decreed that man shall no longer live for eternity, Adam still lived for an incredible 930 years. He was a young whippersnapper compared to Methuselah who lived for 969 years. A very, very long life. For over 1,500 years, the average person lived an incredibly long life. However, God removed this gift because some people became evil and the rest complacent. After the flood, God decreed that man shall live at its peak 120 years and no more.

How old is Keith Richards?

LESSONS OF MORTALITY

It completely makes sense to shorten life because if man knows he can live to close to a thousand years, then individuals would have much longer to be tyrants, thieves, rapists and wreak havoc on the world. Can you imagine Castro living for hundreds of years? Cuba would never have a chance at being normalized. At least when a dictator dies, there is hope.

NOT KNOWING

Back to the original question. Why not tell us and leave us hanging? I think another quote from the Talmud says it best.

Rabbi Eliezer says: “Repent one day before your death.” Rabbi Eliezer’s students asked him: “But does a person know the day on which he will die?” He said to them: “All the more so this is a good piece of advice, and one should repent today lest he die tomorrow; and by following this advice one will spend his entire life in a state of repentance.”

God wants us to be on our toes and not be complacent until the last couple of months of life, where all of a sudden we wake up out of our slumber, and only start then making amends. Since this insight was taken from us, we need to make amends as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it may be too late.

BEAUTIFUL POEM

One of the nicest things I have ever read is a poem by Norma Cornett Marek. The beautiful poignant poem is titled “Tomorrow Never Comes.” Norma penned it in 1989 in remembrance of her young son Samuel who drowned whilst saving the life of another young boy. I hope you enjoy her writings as much as I do.

If tomorrow never comes…

If I knew it would be the last time that I’d see you fall asleep,

I would tuck you in more tightly, and pray the Lord your soul to keep.

If I knew it would be the last time that I’d see you walk out the door,

I would give you a hug and kiss, and call you back for just one more.

If I knew it would be the last time I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,

I would tape each word and action, and play them back throughout my days

If I knew it would be the last time, I would spare an extra minute or two,

To stop and say “I love you,” instead of assuming you know I do.

So just in case tomorrow never comes, and today is all I get,

I’d like to say how much I love you, and I hope we never will forget.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike,

And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight.

So if you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today?

For if tomorrow never comes, you’ll surely regret the day

That you didn’t take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss,

And you were too busy to grant someone, what turned out to be their one last wish.

So hold your loved ones close today, and whisper in their ear,

That you love them very much, and you’ll always hold them dear.

Take time to say “I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me,” “thank you” or “it’s okay.”

And if tomorrow never comes, you’ll have no regrets about today.

May we be blessed with a long life.

 

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About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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