Making Your Days Count

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When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.          

the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Many years ago, a product came on the market called “Death Insurance.” The problem was that no one wanted to buy a “death insurance” policy. It was a huge flop – until someone had the bright idea to change the name from “Death Insurance” to “Life Insurance,” a much happier and more optimistic name (even though it was the same thing). That little change, however, turned that product from a dud into a gazillion-dollar business.

Chayei Sarah begins with the death of our matriarch, Sarah. “Chayei Sarah,” literally means, however, “the Life of Sarah.” So is this a switcheroo, a mere marketing gimmick to uplift us, or is it one of those paradoxical teaching moments?

The Talmud explains how those who are righteous, who fill their days in productive and positive ways, are considered alive when they are dead, while those who bring toxicity and negativity into this world are viewed as dead even while they are alive. So it is quite fitting, that following the death of Sarah, we focus on the meaning and influence of her life, who she was and what she accomplished, even though she is no longer living.

Sarah died at the age of 127, and rather than simply tell us that Sarah was 127 years old when she passed, the Torah describes her lifespan in a curious way: “Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years.” And so, a year is not a year is not a year. (Just think if two hours watching an engrossing show feels the same as two hours sitting through a boring lecture. In one case “time flies,” whereas in the other, “time stands still.”) Time is relative. It is defined more by its quality than its quantity.

Choosing Ultimate Reality

There is a mystical idea that our days on earth will ultimately comprise the garments that clothe our soul after we die. These garments are those of “thought,” “speech” and “action.” The quality of these garments will not be determined by the years of our life, but by the “life in our years.” In other words, we stitch together these holy garments from our good deeds, (our mitzvot), and the moments we create that we endow with the quality of ultimate meaning – and therefore – infinite reality. For example, someone could live to a ripe old age, and yet, sadly, have lived a life of such little significance and substance, that his or her soul could be naked or virtually naked in the next world. As Eleanor Roosevelt said:

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

Each day of our lives presents us with endless possibilities. We constantly stand at the crossroads of choice. How many times have I thought, “Sorry God, I have no time to pray. I am just so darn busy. Catch you later. Maybe tomorrow?” Thinking I am choosing “reality,” you know, “getting stuff done,” I fritter away many moments of time that at the end of the day, evaporate like smoke. It’s like consuming empty calorie junk food instead of nutrient-rich food filled with vitality. I think I am eating, but, nutritionally, I’m not. It’s OK once in a while, but I certainly wouldn’t make a habit of it.

On the other hand, when we consciously embrace our lives moment-by-moment, cognizant of the power and significance of our choices, mindfully aware of our words and deeds, we can weave together holy garments that will wrap us like a hallowed shawl.

Close Versus Connected

The Hebrew word for sacrifice, namely the sacrifices that were brought to the Holy Temple, is “korban.” The root of that word is “makarev” which means “to bring/come close.” Hence, we are to understand that the purpose of bringing a sacrifice is to come closer to God, and we have opportunities every single moment, to actively move towards where we want to be.

The holiest offering which was brought into the Temple, however, was the “ketoret,” the incense offering. The word itself means “to bond” or “to connect.” It represents the weaving together of different elements to form one unified entity that does not come undone. It is here that I recognize how I am inextricably linked and interconnected with God. While I do my part by “coming close” in my “thought,” “speech” and “action,” my soul is already there and bonded.

Leveraging Time

And in so doing – since the soul does not die – it’s as if we don’t truly die. Sarah physically died. That’s the truth. But the opposite was also true. As a woman whose life was alive with the fullness of her choices, Sarah also lived, as death only marked a new form of her life. Sarah embodies the idea that we must not merely count our days, but we must make our days count.  

So make the most of every moment. Make your moments holy. Make your moments endure by weaving into them a sacred reality. By understanding the infinite power and potential of each moment, you can stitch together the fabric of your life so that your spiritual loveliness will be there to embrace and clothe your eternal soul.   Happy weaving!

 

 

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Money Matters in Relationship

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So what’s wrong with materialism, whose fault is it anyway and how can we fix it?  While Madonna made it big with her hit song, “Material Girl,” a nod to Marilyn Monroe’s sultry, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” materialism is by no means a modern phenomenon. Its roots are biblical.

After the proverbial Flood, lone survivors Noah and his family stepped out of the Ark into a pristine world. They were tasked with beginning the story of Man again. And it didn’t go well.

Noah became intoxicated, and while he was laying about naked in a drunken stupor, he was castrated by one of his three sons, Ham. In the first known act of forced population control, Ham robbed Noah of the ability to procreate.  With the entire world – literally – before his feet, Ham was nevertheless driven by the insanely delusional belief that the world was not big enough to accommodate a fourth son.

There is a well-known Jewish adage, “middah keneged middah,” which means, “measure for measure.” As punishment for not understanding the purpose of life, Ham’s descendants were cursed with slavery, a state of existence devoid of that which makes life worth living.

The Money Monster

It’s a given that money issues and financial stress can cause strife in a relationship. Modern life can drive bad decision-making, inducing us to buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have. Mistakenly believing that it is getting whatever we happen to want that will truly make us happy, we enslave ourselves in this futile pursuit, oblivious to the joke that all the rat race is good for is making faster rats.

Being flush, however, doesn’t prevent marital discord. As a matter of fact, studies show that when both spouses in a marriage are highly materialistic, they struggle more emotionally, report more anxiety and depression, and have less life and relationship satisfaction.  One reason is that excess materialism drives couples to externalize their priorities, therefore spending less and less time nurturing their relationship

One antidote is to break the materialistic mindset. Family researcher James Carroll said, “I think it’s about people stepping back and taking an inventory of their values and what is important to them. Are we allowing some of our materialistic ambitions to get in the way of things that, at the core, matter a lot to us?” When we don’t understand the real cost of materialism, sadly, it is our relationships that pay the price.

The Happiness that Money Can Buy

On the other hand, if we spend money on what truly matters, it is possible that money can buy happiness. In the book, “Happy Money, The Science of Happier Spending,” authors Dunn and Norton posit that buying experiences instead of buying things create more long-lasting happiness.

Furthermore, buying experiences with the people we love builds connection and creates an upward spiral of positivity. A good friend of mine plans her family vacations with one goal in mind: “I want to create memories.”

Happiness is not based on money affluence, but rather, time affluence. Before making a purchase ask yourself whether this will change the way you use your time.   Focusing on time rather than money will help you choose activities that focus on well being.  One of the biggest complaints of unhappy couples is that they don’t spend enough time together.  Eventually, failing to invest time makes it impossible to keep a marriage healthy and loving.

The Lesson of the Fourth Son- An Attitude of Gratitude

Our matriarch Leah is the first person in recorded history to express gratitude to God, and she did that when she gave birth to her fourth son, Yehuda, whose very name means “thank you.” Unloved by Jacob, she gave her first three sons names designed to arouse Jacob’s love for her. With her fourth son, however, Leah shifted her attention, and instead of focusing on the negative, she embraced an attitude of gratitude, which opened her up to the positive in her life.  

 This seemingly small shift nevertheless created cosmic consequences. Ham’s warped views prevented the birth of a fourth son, and he unleashed misery into the world.   Leah, on the other hand, opened up the spiritual channel of gratitude and from that act, blessings ensued.   It is from Yehuda, that King David descended, and ultimately it is from Yehuda’s lineage that the Messiah will be born.

Developing an attitude of gratitude can break us free from voluntary servitude to the money monster.  And since our very well being depends on relationships, spending time –  our most valuable currency – on our relationships, measure for measure, yields the greatest return on our investment.