YOLO. It took some context clues and hearing it a few times to figure out what these four letters stand for. At the end of last year, I asked the students to share with me their favorite quotes, movies, books and songs. At least half of the students cited this acronym as their favorite quote. The frequent texter that I am, I’m familiar with LOL, TTFN, FWIW, but this one I had never seen. In a great moment of enlightenment this summer, I figured it out. “You only live once.” It became famous as “YOLO” after the singer Drake (Jewish, BTW) wrote it into his song “The Motto” this past year. While it seems teenagers are using this phrase to excuse or justify risky or inappropriate behavior, this phrase also highlights the importance of this time of year.
We are at Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, two of the “big days” in the Jewish year. This time is set up as a time of reflection and repentance, often calling us to take into account the year that was and make changes for the year to come. In doing so, we are able to see what we’ve done, where we might like to improve, and make the best of the time ahead. Why? YOLO.
It comes as no coincidence then that we also read about Moshe as he enters his final days as both the leader of the Israelite nation and as a living, breathing person. Parshat Vayelech, which we read this Shabbat, describes the steps taken by Moshe as he finishes preparing the Israelites for the future. Moshe knows that he has lived a full life, and sees these final moments as time to teach his Torah, teach the lessons and values that he could not have lived without. Moshe reminds Joshua and the Israelites of the need to come together at least once a year and listen to the words of the Torah. Moshe insists that it not just be the adults, but the children too who will have the experience of learning to live by the code of community.
In Moshe’s final days, his focus is on the life that he has lived and the lives that future Israelites will live. He wants to ensure that he sends the message of living the Mitzvot with love and the idea of “YOLO” into the future for all who are a part of this community.
What does YOLO mean for us as we continue through this, one of our holiest times of the year? You only live once, so we must make sure that we live our lives in a way that continues to build community, not destroy it, just as Moshe taught. You only live once, so our lives should be filled with meaning and purpose, with bringing joy into the world. You only live once, so instead of carrying on destructive behavior or a grudge from the last year, live life with passion, with reflection, and by holding onto only what really matters.
We welcomed in 5773 this week and know that this year holds with it the potential for greatness. Make this year the year that you consciously make an effort to live life to the fullest with your family, friends and community. Don’t waste it . . . YOLO.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Drake may be the most recent famous Jew to support living in the moment, but it was Hillel who first suggested we seize the day. Im lo achshav, ay-matai. If not now, when?