Steve Jobs’ Mussar For Yom Kippur
We have heard this thought before, stated pithily by Chazal and amplified upon by many who followed after. There is every indication, however, that Steve Jobs actually lived by this ethic. The words that follow come from his famous commencement address at Stanford in 2005. As we approach Yom Kippur, it might be useful to keep in mind that such an approach is not pie-in-the-sky, but accessible even to someone who did not have the benefit of Torah. It might prove to be a valuable app for our “I”-phones as we call into the Ribbono Shel Olam on this sacred day.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
The message must be linked to a value system on what is important. The person who most famously expressed this notion- Man is a Being unto Death – was none other than Martin Heidegger, one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. He became a member of the Nazi party and never expressed regret. Absent a (TORAH) value system, one can be driven but not in the right direction. Nonetheless, the idea is under-appreciated; I had the opportunity to study Heidegger one semester with the late R.D. Walter Wurzberger ztl and it has had lasting impact.
“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
WADR I have to strongly disagree. While yom kippur is certainly a day to think about our finite awareness (R’YBS’s description of our realization of our own mortality) and connect to the infinite, one’s time horizon obviously impacts how one invests one’s time (simple example – you are alone on an island which has a growing season which is ending- do you harvest food today to put away for the winter?). It’s the constant pull of multiple priorities which is the every day challenge of life. Yom Kippur gives us a great opportunity to reflect on whether our decisions on these priorities are increasing or decreasing our connection to the infinite(HKB”H)
Gmatr Chatimah Tove to all!