Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! — Ecclesiastes 9:4
It shouldn’t take a near-death experience to get us to finally live. It shouldn’t take an illness of a loved one, or God forbid, ourselves, to get us to appreciate the precious gift of life. Yet, often it does. Sometimes, it’s only when we are facing death that we understand the power of life.
Professor Randy Pausch became famous after he learned that he had terminal cancer and then delivered an extremely powerful lecture in which he gave soulful and powerful advice for living. Later, Randy was asked to give the graduation address at Carnegie Mellon University where he had taught.
In his opening remarks, Randy explained that he had been given three to six months to live and that now he was on month number nine. When he had mentioned that to a friend, the person said, “Wow, so you’re really beating the Grim Reaper.”
Randy immediately responded by saying, “We don’t beat the Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well and living fully, for the Reaper will come for all of us. The question is what we will do between the time we’re born and the time he shows up, because when he shows up it’s too late to do all the things that you always wanted to get around to.”
Life is so precious and so often taken for granted. Yet the sooner we understand how fragile life is, the sooner we will live life more fully.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon taught this idea when he wrote, “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” The Jewish sages explain that a “live dog” refers to the lowliest of men who is still alive while a “dead lion” refers to the greatest of men who have already died.
Basically, Solomon was teaching that the worst person alive is luckier than the best person who has already passed away. Why? Because being alive means you still have the opportunity to change, to do good, to be good, to choose good, to choose God while His presence is still hidden. That is something only the living can do.
The sages taught that a person should repent one day before their death. However, they also explained that nobody knows when that day is so we need to live every day like it could be our last.
The day to begin living our “last day” is today. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the gift of life. What goodness can we bring to the world today? How can we be a better person today? The time to be the person God placed you here to be is now.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President