The Days of Man are Fixed
It is written, “Let me know my end, O L-RD, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am” (Psalms 39:5).
King David turned towards Hashem and implored Him to reveal the day of his death, so he could prepare for it. Hashem refused his request, saying that He does not normally tell the living when they will die. Nevertheless, when David insisted with Hashem, asking to at least know what day of the week he would die on, He told him that it would be Shabbat.
King David was saddened when he heard this. He asked Hashem to let him die a day earlier, on a Friday, because he did not want to die on Shabbat. Hashem refused David’s request, however, telling him that each day in the life of a Jew is precious in His eyes, more precious than the thousand sacrifices that King David’s son Solomon would offer Him in the future. This is why He did not want to advance the day of David’s death, not even by a day.
King David turned to Hashem once again, asking Him to add a day to his life in order for his soul to leave the world on a Sunday, not Shabbat. Hashem again refused his request, telling him that if He prolonged his life, it would shorten King Solomon’s reign by one day, something that Hashem did not want. Hence there was no other way than for David to die on Shabbat.
This exchange between King David and Hashem reveals something astonishing. In fact how are we to understand that Hashem could not diminish the time allotted to Solomon’s reign by even a single day? Hashem can do anything! That being the case, it would be no problem for Him to add an extra day to Solomon’s reign at the end of his life. Why would it be impossible to add a day to David’s life without damaging Solomon’s reign?
It seems that we may answer this question by turning to the words of King David in the Psalms: “Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel was among those who called upon His Name” (Psalms 99:6). This means that David compared the importance of Moses and Aaron to that of the prophet Samuel, and found them equivalent. This verse seems quite astonishing, for how is it possible to say that Samuel, who was but a prophet, had the same importance as Aaron, who was the High Priest, and Moses, who was the origin of all the souls of the Jewish people and whose soul was equal to that of all the people?
I think that Samuel merited this importance because he was among those “who called upon His Name,” meaning that he was among those upon whom Hashem’s Name rested. It is known that the Torah is composed of Hashem’s Names, and from the fact that Samuel diligently studied and traveled from one place to another in order to spread the Torah, Hashem let His Name rest upon him. Since Samuel was among those “who called upon His Name,” his importance was comparable to that of Moses and Aaron. True, Moses and Aaron were exceptional individuals, but they studied Torah in the desert and in complete peace and harmony, without having to go from one place to another. On the other hand, Samuel was unique in that he never established his home in a place of honor. Instead he would travel from one town to another in order to spread Hashem’s Torah among the Jewish people. Since he gave his soul for the Torah, he merited for Hashem’s Name to rest upon him, which is why he was compared to Moses and Aaron.
From all that we have said, we learn that there are no limits or boundaries to the value of the Torah; it is simply the most precious and lofty thing in existence. I can personally testify to the fact that the ability to understand a profound passage from the Talmud – or to resolve a question that has bothered me for a long time – is what gives me the greatest joy.
It is written, “There is a time for everything” and also, “Once the time for a sacrifice has passed, it can no longer be offered.” From these verses we learn that everything in this world has a fixed time. When that time has passed, it no longer has a reason to exist. If someone went to the Beit Hamikdash to offer a sacrifice, and yet the time for offering sacrifices had already expired, his sacrifice would be meaningless because the time to accept it had ended. In the same way, we may say that Hashem has given man a fixed number of years in this world, years that he must use to complete his mission. During his lifetime, he receives special Divine aid in order to help him fulfill his mission. Even if the years of his life are shorter than those of another person, he can still accomplish the mission allotted to him during that time.
Numerous spirituals giants, men such as the Arizal, the Rema, and the Ramchal (may their merit protect us), died while still young. However that did not prevent them from leaving a profound mark on all the generations that followed. This is because they made the best out of the few years they were given, managing to complete their mission in this world. Hashem did not want to remove even a day from David’s life, for just a single day could have allowed him to complete his task. Likewise Hashem did not want to add even a single day to his life either – not because it would have been difficult for Him to add a day to Solomon’s reign – but because the addition of a single day would have been useless, for David did not need it. On the contrary, it could have tarnished the perfection that he had attained in his lifetime.
From here we learn that Hashem has reserved a fixed number of years for each person, a time in which one can elevate himself and fulfill the role for which he came into the world. Once that is done, if a person were to be given more years, they would serve no purpose because he has already fulfilled his task on earth. On the contrary, each extra day could only ruin what he has already accomplished and built through effort and determination.
From here we can derive a lesson about the importance of time. We learn that it is everyone’s responsibility to use each day of his life in the best possible way. A person must not come to the end of his days having failed to fulfill his mission in life. He must realize that this world is a place of action, after which he will no longer have the opportunity to rectify what needs to be rectified. Once a person’s days are over, even if he were to be given many more years to live, he would still be unable to rectify things in the same way that he did before, during the years that Hashem initially gave him.
• King David wanted to know when he would die, and he was told that it would be on Shabbat. He then asked not to die on Shabbat, but either one day earlier or before. Hashem did not agree to shorten his days, since each day of his life was more important than a thousand sacrifices offered by King Solomon. Hashem did not want to lengthen his life by one day either, in order not to reduce the length of Solomon’s reign. It is difficult to understand why Hashem could not add an extra day to Solomon so that the length of his reign would be complete!
• We may say that the Torah is the most important thing in Hashem’s eyes, as it is written: “Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel was among those who called upon His Name.” From the fact that Samuel would travel from one town to another in order to spread the Torah, he was placed at the same level as Moses and Aaron.
• Hashem has allotted a fixed number of years to each person, during which time he can fulfill his calling on earth. This is true even if a person’s allotted time is short, as we have seen with certain great Torah figures, men who became great despite their brief life spans.
• Hashem told David that there was no reason to add an extra day to his life, since he could fulfill his calling during the 69 years that were allotted to him. On the contrary, an extra day could have ruined the perfection that he had already achieved in life. Likewise Hashem refused to reduce David’s life by one day, for each day of David’s Torah study was important and precious in Hashem’s eyes.
• From all that we have said, we learn the importance of using the time allotted to us and fulfilling the mission for which we were brought into the world.