In the late 1700s, every day rabbinic students crowded to the beth midrash—the house of Jewish religious study—in Anipoli, Ukraine, to learn from the mystical Hasidic rabbi Zusya.
One day, in 1800, Zusya did not appear at the usual hour. The students waited and, finally, rushed to Zusya’s house to check on him.
They found the rabbi in his bed, too ill to get up. He was dying and he was terribly upset.
His students felt confused. “Haven’t you taught us that all living things must die, that it is natural? Why are you upset?”
“Yes, it is natural to die. All living things must die,” he said.
A young student tried to comfort him: “Then you have no need to be upset. You have lived a life with as much faith as Abraham. You have followed the commandments as carefully as Moses.”
The rabbi summoned his strength to answer his students.
“Thank you,” he said. “But that is not why I am upset. If God asks me why I didn’t act more like Abraham, I’ll say because I am not Abraham. If he asks me why I didn’t act more like Moses, I’ll say I am not Moses.”
Then he paused and looked at his students. His eyes filled with tears.
“I am upset because I have been wondering, if God asks me why I didn’t act more like Zusya, what then will I say?”
How do we avoid having those same tears on our own death beds? Every day, give more energy to what is true for you; give less energy to what is not true for you.
This story comes from my book How To Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind Of Happiness That Helps The World. Find out more here.