Judaism: Making the Days Count
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Torah portion of “Chayei Sarah” contains the following verse;
"Now, Abraham was old (ZAKEN) and advanced in days (BAH BEYAMIM)…"( Genesis 24:1). This verse mirrors the earlier verse; "Now, Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years" (ibid 18:11). Then again in our haftara we read "Now king David was old (ZAKEN) and advanced in days (BAH BEYAMIM)( I Kings1:1).
In truth, if the Torah tells us that they were old, why must we be told that they were advanced in age as well ? The first half of these verses are meant to tell us the chronological reality of these lives, while the second describes the qualitative essence of those years.
Literally the words "bah bayamim ' translate as "entering his days".
In the world's view,"time" is perceived and experienced as "passing us by”. Shakespeare in his play "Richard the II" writes "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me". We lose time, as time passes us by like a raging river.
In the Jewish understanding the Hebrew word for time , “Zman" is related to the Hebrew word for “Zimun” or invitation. Rabbi Moshe Shapiro explains that time actually beckons us forward towards our destiny. In that forward movement we can come to that destination empty handed and bereft of significant days or we can arrive filled with "days".
The Sfat Emet writes that "bah bayamim" means that Avraham came with “days”. That is to say that he had brought the spiritual illumination from each day forward in his life. Traditionally Jews, then, bless each other with the blessing for "arichat yamim v'shanim ( long days and years).
Rav Tukachinsky explains that we are blessing the other person that his years be many and that those years be truly filled with days (Gesher HaChaim V. 3, Ch. 2).
Avraham, Sarah and King David did not simply count their days, they yearned to and succeeded in making their days count.
As King David says "Hashem, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, (Psalm 39)".
These are important lessons for us in our individual walk of faith. It is so easy to be swept forward. It is so common to become a victim of life, rather than to fashion it. We never take the time to reassess, contemplate and at times to even breathe. Our ancestors teach us the importance for finding the light in each day and the blessing of each moment.
On a national level as well we find ourselves swept forward almost helplessly. In the geek Hellenistic mindset that has dominated the western world, we never have time to experience and savor the journey, because we are so fixated on the destination. We never truly begin to glean wisdom and hope from the process of our lives because we are so focused on the solution. As a result we feel empty and worn.
On an international level, simplistic solutions are imposed on complex issues between nations. This is done without regard for process and development. As a result as we have seen time and time again in the Middle East, those "solutions' simply erupt and create even more pain and suffering.
We must learn the art of our forefathers to "gather the days", fill them with light and then be prepared for all that is yet to come upon us. Otherwise we will find ourselves floundering again and again.
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved