Dear Friends:

The scene still haunts me: It was perhaps the most awful moment of

the past year. Against the pale blue sky on a crystal clear Florida

day, the space shuttle challenger exploded before our very eyes.

Seven brave astronauts, who just a few hours before were chatting

with the press, schmoozing with proud relatives and friends, were

suddenly gone.

I bring this to your attention because life and death is a major theme

of Yom Kippur. We read in our Mahzor

Who shall live, and who shall die?

Who shall attain the measure of man’s days and who shall not?

On Rosh Hashanah, it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed.

This is indeed, a time for “Heshbon Hanefesh”. For self-introspection.

The old adage. “Here Today – Gone Tomorrow” is indeed true. Just

ask husbands, whose wives are suddenly taken; who suddenly find

themselves alone. Reaching over to find the other side of the bed

cold and empty. Beloved parents who it seems only yesterday led

and prepared the Seder. Sat next to us in Shul on Yomtov. Are now


We know that death is a door through which everyone of us must

pass: there are no exceptions. Hopefully, when our last day comes,

we might pass away with the grace and dignity of Yaakov Avinu. Of

our Patriarch Jacob.

In our old age, Lying in bed, with our family gathered around us,

having told everyone we needed to tell, our words of love and

concern, free of pain, free of guilt, at peace with God and with our

fellow man. That’s our dream.

But that’s not the way it seems to happen in our time. Therefore,

death frightens us, death is our greatest enemy. Rabbi Harold

Kushner wrote in his new work, “When all you’ve ever wanted isn’t

enough (required reading for all) that perhaps, it is not really death

that frightens us.

Listen to his words:

I believe that it is not dying that people are afraid of.

Something else. Something more unsettling and more

tragic than dying frightens us. We are afraid of never

having lived, of coming to the end of our days, with the

sense, that we were never really alive, that we never

figured out what life was for.

I recall the concluding scene of an old film where honeymooners are

about to depart on a cruise and they tell each other how much they

love each other, how much their lives have been enhanced by having

known each other. That even if they were both to die, those months

they had known, love together had made their lives worthwhile.

There were no regrets.

They get on the ocean liner, and as it leaves port, the name of the

ship is revealed. The Titanic. {It is not how long we live; I suppose,

for the most part, it is how we live each moment, each hour, each


For the seven astronauts on the space shuttle, their days were to be

cut short, but like Moses, they had died climbing.

And yet, there is another part of the Challenger disaster which only

came to light after several months of scientific investigations into the


I believe it is more relevant to the meaning of this holiest of days, A

day on which we shall soon recite Yiskor. AT first, it was though that

all seven astronauts had died immediately, at the moment of the


Now, it was discussed, that death had only come when the capsule

hit the water. For perhaps as much as five minutes, the astronauts

were alive and conscious and yet knew that death was certain.

The thought terrorizes me. Can you imagine knowing that in a few

moments death was imminent? What would we think of? If God

forbid, you and I were in such circumstances? What would go

through our mind? What went through their minds. The seven


Of course, no one will ever know for sure. But I believe in thinking

about this that our Rabbis knew. And they injected three possibilities,

that a man on his death bed might think.

I know it is not pleasant, but I want you to consider on this Yom

Kippur, what If? What if I had five minutes to live?

There are three possible responses. It seems to me and they all

begin with the two words – IF ONLY!!!

First. If only I had known when I said goodbye to my loved ones…the

very last goodbye! I want to read you an except from a beautiful story

of holocaust literature entitled The Kiss by Yaffa Eliach. These are

the Rebbe’s own words.

I had a foreign passport from a South American country. It was a

passport for myself. My rebbetzin, of blessed memory, and for a

young child. But when I received the passport, it was too late. There

was no longer a rebbetzin and my beloved grandson, as well as my

daughter and son-in-law, were all gone too. Upon receiving the

passport, I realized that I had the opportunity to save two Jewish

souls, a middle-aged women and a young child. When this became

known, about forty children were brought to me by their parents.

Little boys crying and begging to be saved. They promised to be

good and not to be a burden to me. How could I choose? I told the

Jewish leaders that I was returning to my apartment and that they

should bring me a child.

Two days later a father came with a small son, aged six, “I am

Perlberger”, he introduced himself. Then he went on: “Rebbe, I am

giving you my child. God should help you so that you should be able

to save my son.” He bent down, kissed the child on his head and

said, “Shraga, from this moment on, this Jew standing here next to

you is your father.”

That kiss I can’t forget. Wherever I go, that kiss follows me all my life.

Before he shut the door behind him, the father took one more

lingering look at his son. Then I heard the echo of his painful steps

as he descended the stairs. God helped us. The boy and I managed

to survive Bergen-Belsen together. Despite many difficulties, I

studied with him every single day in camp, with God’s help, we were

liberated by the American Army on a death train on Rosh Chodesh

Iyar, April 13, 1945.

The Rebbe concludes his story by saying “All the time, the echo of

that kiss that little Shraga received on his forehead resounds in my

ears.” I see before my eyes a father bending and kissing his beloved

son and pointing to me and saying “From now on this man is your


The last line in the story was:

This last kiss of a father to his son, follows me all of my life.

My friends, the father knew this was the last kiss. Can you imagine

the love, the warmth, the tenderness that went into that last kiss.

Maybe in a way he was lucky. He knew. The astronauts could not

have known, if only, if only they knew.

In a very real sense, none of us know the time of our last kiss. My

kids come in and kiss me before they leave for school. I kiss Aviva

before I leave for the Shul. Who knows what lies ahead, what

tomorrow will bring? That one kiss, each kiss, must be with as much love and concern as possible.

Paul Tsongas, the former senator from the state of Massachusetts,

learned this lesson well. In September of 1983, he discovered a lump

in his body while showering. One thing led to another and it was

diagnosed as nodular lymphoma. A form of cancer. It was treatable

but not curable. He could, however, go on for many years.

But Mr. Tsongas decided not to run for re-election. He said:

“My disease forces me to consider my deepest responsibilities and those responsibilities are to my family.”

The words of a friend of Mr. Tsongas had a great impact and influence on his decision. The friend wrote:

No one on his death bed has ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business.

Mr. Tsongas now enjoys his wife and children and cherishes each moment he shares with them. For the first time, he said, I know now that I will not live forever and I’m better off for knowing it.”

Yes, my friends, he knows and he will never have to say – if I only had known. We also must learn the same lesson.

We are not Mr. Tsongas, we are not in the ill-fated space shuttle: But, we can learn and treat our loved ones as if we only had five minutes left.

What would be the second regret which might have gone through the minds of the astronauts?

If I only realized, what I had when I had it.

This I believe would be our regret as well, If death would come our way in five minutes.

One important part of our lives we so often neglect is appreciation of our spouses. Spouses often after years of marriage become such strangers to each other. I am reminded of the play by Ionesco “The Bald Soprano” about a man and a woman who meet on a train as apparent strangers.

In polite conversations, they discover they have an awful lot in common. They both live in the same town, same building, the same apartment. They both have a daughter named Alice, seven years old, with one blue and one green eye. It is not long before they discover

to their astonishment, and the astonishment of the audience that they

are husband and wife and have been married for some fifteen years.


Yes, there is exaggeration here, but there is also “Subtle Truth.” How

many couples live together for years but stop sensing the other’s joy,

the other’s frustrations: They no longer hear the cry of urgency, the

pain – they just go through life day after day, month after month, year

after year. Strangers to each other.

Sometimes, their lives draw to old age and they are still strangers.

How sad. They stopped communicating. They stopped appreciating what the other means.

The years they worked, while we went to school. The years life was

simple, when a small apartment and a couple outfits would suffice.

The flowers, the walks in the park. Kissing in public. We didn’t even care who was looking.

What happened to all of this? Now, we hear “he has outgrown her”.

She, mitindirinin, has to find herself. Of course, sometimes marriages

were mismatched. Our Rabbis would not want us to live out our lives

with emptiness and despair; but I believe, if we had five minutes,

many of us would begin to see blessings that we may have taken for

granted. We would yearn to say those words of appreciation, if we only had the opportunity.

And it is not only our spouses – what about our children? Do we appreciate them? Jonathan, my five year old, takes a ring and drops it down the bathroom sink. Why? He wants to see what the pipe looks like if it is removed? I could have killed him – after I yell, He looks up to me and says, “Don’t be so mad, you should be glad you have me.” You know what? He was right, but I still punished him.

You see our kids are not nachas-producing machines, to be only appreciated when they give us joy. I know they drive us crazy. Little children, little problem, big children, big problems – and if we had five minutes, oh how we would yearn for more time with them, to love them, to appreciate them, to play with them, if only we could.

And what about life itself? Do we appreciate it?

Do we realize that most of us have more. Much more than ever before in the history of our people?

Do we appreciate the fact that we live in America. A bastion of freedom, the greatest country in the history of the world?

And, do we appreciate that we are in Shul this Yom Kippur?

Some who where here last year, are not here this year, and never will be again.

You are here: I know for some its aches and pains, physical and emotional, but you are here. Be grateful for that. I don’t mean to be so blunt, but you are not in a grave, you are not in intensive care, you are not bed-ridden, you are in Shul welcoming in another New Year, and that sounds okay to me, and it should to you.

In short, say to yourself, Boy, I am blessed, with being alive, with having family and friends, with the ability to be in Shul welcoming in a New Year.

In only I appreciated what I had when I had it. . . . .appreciate it now. .

. . my friends, when you have it.

Yes, If only I had known. . . . If only I had realized and appreciated what I had: and as the shuttle falls through the sky, the third possibility: “If only I had other chance, I would do things differently.”

I understand this “If Only” in the following way. Much has been discovered in the field of medicine. The technology of medicine over the last ten years has actually been able to revive the dead.

Organ transplants, dialysis machines and various drugs have not only prolonged life; but sometimes brings one back from the point of death.

In an interesting book, Life After Life, by Dr. Raymond Moody, he interviewed 150 patients who were at the point of death and then miraculously were revived.

They all said similar things: They felt drawn to a bright light, which was beautiful and even exhilarating. They saw dead relatives, and a quick replay of their lives flashed before them. This, by the way, is what Kabbalists told us happened hundreds of years ago.

Afterwards, none were afraid of death: and each said that as they reviewed their lives, there was one aspect they would do over – now that they were given a chance to live again.

They would learn to love more intensely. If only I could do it again, I would love more intensely.

Let us focus on one troublesome phenomenon of our times. In a recent Psychology Today study, 59% of parents over age 65 surveyed felt unloved. The authors conclude that a growing problem in America has been neglect of aging parents.

That sounds like someone else’s problem, not ours. Our tradition has always held a special place of status for our senior citizens, especially our parents.

Of course, we love our parents. But let’s be honest; at times, some of us resent them. Whatever we do is not enough. They are forever telling us how to spend our money – how to raise our kids – they still think we are in primary school – they think they are always right.

What is really going on?

Personally, the past couple of weeks have not been pleasant ones for my family. My mother took ill and for a while the situation was grave.

Indeed. Now, thank G-D, she is doing much better; the critical stage has passed. But, I realized that my beautiful, vivacious mother has had to also succumb to age. My dad, although cheerful and wonderful, also has a myriad of aches and pains and worries. It certainly is beginning to take its toll.

I keep saying to myself. If all of this is clear to me, imagine how they must feel? They can’t do what they used to. It must be so frustrating to them. And although, I can never remember them being a burden to us, they still are trying so hard to hang on.

I believe all of our parents are craving to remain the giant influences in our lives, to feel counted, to feel important. Sometimes they may become overburdening or irritating to us. But that’s when they need our love even more intensely.

So let’s give that love now to our parents so that we will never have to


“If only I could have another chance, I would have moved more intensely.”

And what about our children. I see, sometimes, such communication barriers between children and parents. “Where are you going?” –

Answer, “Out”: “What will you be doing?” – Answer “Nothing”; “What time will you be back?” – Answer – “Later”.

Well, let me tell you, Kinderlach. If you or your parents had five minutes to live, I think you would have a lot more to say to your parents.

And let me tell you something else – your parents are not going to be here forever – so what are you waiting for?

Now listen, I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. Only to tell you the facts of life and. . . . death. I know, they are too possessive, too old-fashioned, you want to do your own thing – express your own independence.

Fine, I want that too. You have to be able to stand on your own two feet: but don’t leave Mom and Dad behind. Share with them. Keep them informed. Let them be part of your life. For you never know when that five minutes might run out.

In short, kids of all ages, husbands, wives, your parents, your spouses – they need your affection. They need to be loved more intensely. Do you recall a couple of years ago on Yom Kippur I asked you to tell your wives, your husbands, your parents those three words

– I love you, I need you, you are beautiful – Do you recall?

This year I want to do something even more difficult. I want you to go home and say those same three words, only this time I want you to really mean it.

If only I realized – Yes, Stop, appreciate the blessings you have.

If only I could do it. It would. You still can – You’ve got today.

My friends. Yizkor beckons: On this day, we pause to remember our

loved ones who are no more –

God, grant us the wisdom to appreciate life to make all our life bound up in the lives of others, who are living, so that after the fullness of my days, others will gather to bless our name, for have given and shared and loved and appreciated.


Soon it will be time for Yizkor and that scene still haunts me – the explosion – and then five minutes. If only I. If only I. . . and then the capsule hits the water, it’s all over. Then you realize it’s all the same – 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 years, 50 years. It’s all the same for it is over before we realize.

Sunrise, Sunset, My beautiful Aviva, 18 Chai years together; My daugher, Avi, A Bat Mitzvah already, swiftly flow the years, and then it’s over.

“If only I knew” – Yes, my friends, it may be the last time.