Q. When will I die?
A. As the prophet Ezekiel would have said, “Lord God, Thou knowest”. Even when the doctors give an indication of how long a patient has, they cannot be certain. When a person seems to be healthy, anything can lie around the corner. So don’t ask when you are going to die.
In any case, it is probably better that we should not know what lies ahead. Foreknowledge of a happy future could make us complacent; foreknowledge of unhappiness could rob life of meaning and value.
What then can we do?
Take notice of a discussion between Rabbi Eliezer and his pupils. Rabbi Eliezer said, “Repent one day before your death” (Avot 2:10). His pupils asked, “But who knows when he will die?” “Then,” said the sage, “repent today, lest you die tomorrow” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan, chapter 15).
Too many people forget to think about such things. They say, “I will come to synagogue – when I retire… I will give charity – in my will… I will spend time with my family – when the business is less demanding…”.
What a fool’s paradise! If you have a mitzvah to do, do it now. You’ll find the time. The sages say, mitzvah sheba’ah l’yad’cha al tachmitzenna, “Don’t let the mitzvah become stale!” (M’chilta, Parashat Bo).