“Behold, I have become old”, he said, “I know not the day of my death” (Gen. 27:2). This thought made him anxious to give a blessing to his favourite son Esau.
Of course, as things transpired it was Jacob that got the blessing, and Esau who had to plead with his father to find a blessing for him too.
Sforno explains that before death a person’s mind is able to concentrate because the soul is about to free itself of physical bonds.
We all hope our minds will be clear enough at that moment for the things we want to say to our dear ones and friends.
There is a special Jewish way of summing up these things, in an ethical will.
Yehudah ibn Tibbon’s ethical will was about books. He told his children, “Make bookshelves your pleasure gardens; gather their fruit, pluck their roses and take their spices and myrrh”.
Nachmanides told his children how to pray: “Put all worldly matters from your mind… and think of the prayer before you utter it.”
The Vilna Gaon stressed the importance of education. He said lessons should be given pleasantly, so that the children would be anxious to learn.
Abraham Seidman, a Jew from the Warsaw Ghetto, used the few minutes he had before the transport left for Auschwitz to write a letter to his children taking leave of them forever and asking for their forgiveness if he had ever hurt them.
In a book on ethical wills edited by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer (“So That Your Values Live On”) there is an ethical will by a Jerusalem writer, a former Australian, Dvora Waysman, who is still very much alive.
She writes to her children that had she still been living in Australia, she would have had more material possessions to leave them, but in Israel she will leave them things “more valuable than money in the bank, stocks and bonds and plots of land…
“I am leaving you the fragrance of a Jerusalem morning, unforgettable perfume of thyme, sage, and rosemary that wafts down from the Judean hills. The heartbreaking sunsets – splashes of gold on black velvet darkness.
“I am leaving you an extended family – the whole house of Israel. They are your people. They will celebrate with you in joy, grieve with you in sorrow. I am leaving you pride. This is your country, your birthright. Try to do your share to enhance its image.”
Start thinking what message you would like your own family and friends to receive from you.
And in the meantime, treasure every moment of life, every mitzvah you are able to do. Enjoy the company of family and friends.
Above all: if your life has an unfinished agenda that needs to be completed, start on it now.
If you need to talk to others, to God, to yourself, while you are able to do so, don’t put it off till you have more leisure; as the Perek says, perhaps you will have no leisure.
As the Perek also says, im lo achshav eimatai – “if not now, when?”