Thursday, 8 April 2010
Counting the Days of Our Lives... Or Making the Days of our Lives Count?
The days between Pesach and Shavuot are celebrated each with their own particular Mitzvah unique to them. Though the Hebrew month of Iyar lacks any particular distinctive Mitzvah to itself, its days are celebrated each with a count to itself… another day, another number.
Counting the Omer is a Mitzvah of the Torah, "You shall count for yourselves from the day following the day of rest, from the day on which you bring the Omer as a wave-offering; [the counting] shall be for seven full weeks. Until the day following the seventh week shall you count fifty days" (Leviticus 23:15-16). Though in today's times, without a Beit HaMikdash (Temple) the issue of the counting being a Torah Mitzvah as opposed to a Rabbinal Mitzvah is much disputed. The essence of the Mitzvah, however, is not lost – whichever way we look at it.
On the first day – we must count that "Today is one day of the Omer". We continue this way until the weeks begin when we add the term "week" on the seventh day, "Today is 7 days, which is one week of the Omer." The Mitzvah is no light matter either. One should do the counting at the closest possible time to nightfall (Tzeitz HaKochavim). One should not even eat before counting – so important is this Mitzvah. One should do everything possible to see to it that one count every single evening until the night (inclusive) preceding the night when Shavuot falls out. Even then, one must wait until complete nightfall before beginning the Maariv (evening prayers) service before praying the Shavuot prayers.
But what is the point of all the counting? Why the excitement in mentioning days and weeks?! If we would at least have the opportunity to blow the Shofar, shake a Lulav, eat Matzah or something tangible – at least this would give us something to really look forward to. What could be accomplished by a simple count?
When Sarah died, the Torah states, "And Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years and seven years – the years of Sarah's life" (Genesis 23:1). Rashi points out, "All of them were equal in goodness." The fact that the Torah breaks her life into segments hints to another lesson – says Rashi. It hints to the fact that no matter what part of her life she was at – everything was good. Each part of her life was fulfilled with something good. Every segment, every century, every decade, every individual year… every single day was filled with meaning and goodness.
King David sets the tone as he sings, "The length of our years are seventy years, and with strength eighty" (Psalms 90:10). And Shmuel Hakatan (the Small One – because of his deep modesty) used to say, "At 5 years of age, the study of scripture (should be begun); at ten – the study of Mishna; at thirteen – the obligation of Mitzvot; at fifteen – the study of Gemara; at eighteen – marriage; at twenty – pursuit of a livelihood; at thirty – full strength (is reached); at forty – understanding; at fifty (the qualification) to give counsel; at sixty – old age; at seventy – ripe old age; at eighty – (a sign of special) strength; at ninety – the body is stooped; at one hundred – it is as if he were dead, passed away and ceased from the world. (Pirkei Avot 5:22)
The Torah takes the theme of the days of one's life a serious matter indeed. Years are important – and crucial to real life growth. The days of one's life are no less important, each impacting, building up and creating our years.
Yet as time passes (only too quickly) we find ourselves lost in a world of a 7-7 daytime (nighttime?) job, exhaustion at the end of the day, the need to eat, take care of our bodies and get a good night's rest (if only we can!) before the next whirlwind of a day begins. And for what? To simply receive the salary check in order to be able to continue our lives… until we leave the world.
Sarah's life was one of meaning. Each day counted. King David felt no less when it came to realizing and calculating just how long one could live for. And Shmuel Hakatan felt the need to clarify for each of us the importance of accomplishing what must be accomplished – when it must be done! Though one may try to run away, the obligations of real life growth stare each of us in the face – day and night!
But are we keeping a count of our days? Have the days of our lives turned more into a soap opera that goes on ad infinitum even when the old characters die? Do we look for substitutes to take the "old roles" when we simply need to keep the program running? Or are the days of our lives real?! Do we fill them with something worthwhile – or have they simply turned into a rut of life filled with nothing greater than eating, drinking, sleeping and working (for someone else who is no less dependent on his boss (Boss!) than we are of him (Him!)?
How are we ever to come to terms with the reality of life if we don't even stop to consider that a day has passed? One more day closer to the final day that each of us leaves this world?! Our Sages teach us that before going to sleep each night – that in addition to the complete Shema with additional Psalms and prayers, every person should make a complete accounting of his life that day. One should go through (whether aloud – ideally – or even in one's own head) everything one did that day. One should consider the interactions one had with others, the good and it's opposite. One should consider how one treated others, and how one grew oneself. One should consider how much time one gave the Giver of all life. It can take hours to do of course… but if we can just offer a few minutes each day to considering our lives that day, what a huge difference this will make in turning us into meaningful living people.
Making the Cheshbon Hanefesh (the soul accounting) each day is a huge task indeed. But it does begin somewhere. It begins by realizing that every day counts. It begins by realizing that each day that goes by is another day with its opportunity for growth – and another day closer to one's finale in this world. It's a special time each night as we consider just where exactly we are in our lives.
We can spend the day contemplating where we are in life in general. For many of us, just to get to that stage in life – of taking it seriously – can take years of work! But for those of us who believe in the simplicity of the Torah, we need only but look at a simple Mitzvah which seems really quite ordinary – counting the Omer. Though it seems like nothing much is accomplished, that count may well bring us to realizing that every part of life counts. Each day counts for something – and we need recognize it as such. Of course, if we're not yet ready for the intensive soul accounting, we can at the very least – each day – before entrusting our souls to our Creator as we go to sleep – turn around and realize that as a start – as a very beginning point, each of us needs to begin counting. To begin realizing that the day gone by has amounted to something (whichever way it went) – and another day will come tomorrow – one more day closer to that final goal.. We must make it count! Once we realize the value of a day, we have opened for ourselves the opportunity for real life growth.