If They Were Wise

September 12, 2021

3 min read


Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32 )

Were they wise they would comprehend this, they would discern it from their end” (Deut. 32:29).

No one wants to contemplate their end. Most people act as if they were going to live forever. It has been quipped that we live as if we will never die, and we die as if we never lived. This is a denial of reality, and one cannot possibly have an optimum adjustment to life if one denies reality.

We may verbalize an awareness of our mortality, but our actions betray our feelings. How different our behavior would be if we had an emotional grasp of our mortality.

Both as a rabbi and as a physician, I have attended people in the last days of life when their denial had broken down and they felt that their lives were coming to an end. Many have said, “If I had to do it over again, I would have spent more time with my children. I wish I had gotten to know them better.” No one has ever said, “My one regret is that I did not spend more time at the office.”

Why is it that this wisdom often comes when one can no longer put it to use?

But that is the irony of life: Our wisdom comes too late.

In my rehabilitation center, adolescents are admitted for treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. When an adult patient sees a youngster being admitted, he may say, “I wish I had been that lucky, to have been treated for my addiction when I was 15. Here I am at 49, having gone through two unsuccessful marriages and having no contact with my children from either marriage. Everything I could have had in life was lost as a result of my drinking. I have no family, no home, no job.''

I suggest to this man, “Why don't you speak with this youngster and tell him how fortunate he is to have an opportunity to overcome his addiction?”

A bit later this patient says, “I tried to talk to the kid, but he won't listen. He's here because the judge ordered him here. He's going to go back out and get high. But I wasn't any different than that kid. I didn't listen to people who told me that alcohol was going to destroy me.”

If only we were wise! Moses says that if we were wise, we would contemplate our end when we were young. We would then live so that we would not have anything to regret when we near our end.

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