The Talmud says that on the day before we die, we should be sure to do “teshuva”—turning your awareness to God.
“How is that possible, since we don’t know what day we’ll die?” I asked Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement.
He laughed. “That’s why we need to do teshuva every day.” He said this can be as simple as, while talking to a friend, watching T.V. or cooking dinner, turning your thoughts to God. “If I’m talking to my friend, there’s the divine in her, and if I remember that, I’m also paying attention to God.”
When you eat dinner, he said, think about how the food and drink come from God.
If you need a reminder, he suggested hanging a bell in your car, so when you hit a bump and it rings, you can say, “I’m aware of you, God,” or “Thank you, God, for a car that carries me where I need to go.” He’s had a bell in his own car for years. “If, God forbid, I should die in a car crash, my last thought would not be, Oh shit, but a prayer to God.”
You could also hang the bell in a doorway in your home, low enough so it rings when you pass. Or you can try other cues: each time you stop for a red light, let it remind you that God created light.
If you make this a habit, Reb Zalman told me, you’ll be sure to fulfill the commandment to do teshuva the day before you die.
As I stood up to leave, he reached in a box and gave me a small brass bell to hang on the rear view mirror of my car. Then, as was his habit, he broke into song: “The bell is ringing, for me and my God.”
The Visiting Scribes series was produced by the Jewish Book Council‘s blog, The Prosen People.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.