The esteemed second- century Sage, Rabbi Eliezer taught, “Repent one day before your death!” (Pirke Avot 2:15)
When he heard this teaching, one of his disciples asked: “But how do I know when I shall die?”
“That’s just the point,” the Sage responded. “You do not. So, you had better repent today before it is too late.”
To repent is to ponder the times we have failed to live up to our best selves and then to atone as best we can for the times we said or did the wrong thing and for the times we failed to say or do the right thing.
Rabbi Jack Riemer recalls a particularly sad funeral. The grieving widower remained standing next to his dead wife’s grave for a long time after the service ended. After he watched him patiently for some time, the Rabbi put his arm around the man’s shoulder and gently said to him, “It has been a long and stressful day, Jacob. I think it is time for you to go home and get some rest.”
“I loved my wife,” the man responded.
“Yes,” the Rabbi answered, “I know you loved her. She was a fine woman, but you have been here for some time now. Don’t you think it’s time to leave?”
“You don’t understand, Rabbi, the man insisted. ‘I really loved my wife, and once …I almost told her.”
Once I ALMOST told her!
How many times have we failed to say the things we needed to say? Or how many times have we said or done things we shouldn’t?
Rabbi Eliezer tried to teach us that God does not guarantee us tomorrow. Life can end for any of us in an instant.
So, if you have someone to love, or someone you can help, or someone with whom you have quarreled and with whom you hope to reconcile, better do it today. Tomorrow may be too late.