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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Mishpatim – Wholly Love

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

imagesSometimes everything aligns to come together in one perfect moment.

This morning, my daughter had asked me to make her a cup of tea to take to school. I looked in the cabinet. Her favorite brand was right there. Check. Her favorite organic sweetener was right there. Check. I opened another door to search for a disposable travel cup. Right in front were the cups, with the exact corresponding number of lids, and the exact number of cardboard sleeves that slide over the cup to make it easy to hold. Check. I made the tea, looped the string over to the right, snapped the lid into place aligning the opening just right, and looking at this cup of tea; I felt that everything was in order and utterly perfect.

A moment later, my daughter was gagging and spitting out her breakfast. I had made eggs, and I grabbed an unwashed spatula out of the dishwasher, forgetting that I had used that very spatula last night to scoop salmon out of a pan.  Ok, so even though the perfect moment only lasted a moment, it didn’t make it any less perfect. Moments have magic in them, and the mundane is anything but. When we live only for the high points, the grand gesture, and the peak experience, we miss out on where life happens.

And so it is with this week’s Torah portion, “Mishapatim”, which is sandwiched in between two peak experiences. In last week’s Torah portion, “Yitro”, we received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In next week’s Torah portion, “Terumah”, we read about the building of the holy Tabernacle, the Arc of the Covenant, and the indwelling of God’s presence.

In between these spiritual high points lies this week’s Torah portion, “Mishpatim”, which means “Laws,” where we read the seemingly mundane laws of damages and compensation for various types of injuries and losses.   Commentators explain that “these laws” – which are pretty hard to get excited about – nevertheless are part and parcel of the Ten Commandments, no less worthy, no less holy, no less divine.   In fact, the Torah, which is divine, cannot be compartmentalized at all, because it is not the nature of divinity or holiness to be stratified, to be “less than”, or “more than”, “a little” or “a lot.”

Because our minds are linear and compartmentalized, however, we need to learn all of the separate parts of Torah, to come to understand its wholeness.   Unlike the way we view things, Torah doesn’t differentiate between any and all areas of life, or between the so-called “worldly realm” and the sacred realm”, because these realms are inexorably intertwined and connected. Our days and lives are not divided between “God’s time” and “our time”, “God’s domain” and “our personal space”.   It is one holistic connection, regardless of our inability to perceive it as so.

In “Mishpatim,” God tells us what holy looks like – Act responsibly with people and their possessions. If you hurt someone, make it right. Be exceedingly careful and honest in this world… – because our character shows up in how we handle all of the day-to-day things, no matter how small. And while there are many times when we feel especially elevated and close to God, such as the High Holy Days, or the Sabbath, or a peak life experience, it is also through the day-to-day seemingly ordinary and routine behaviors that we are just as connected.  Thus, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

In his famous poem, William Blake writes:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in your hand

And eternity in an hour.

Infinite holiness lies in doing the right thing or the kind thing, even when unnoticed or appreciated.   In the loving comfort of a cup of tea is an eternal heaven. The wholeness that we all seek can be found in a moment of holiness. You just have to notice them.