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Vayigash 5782 - Teach Us to Number Our Days

December 11, 2021 - 7 Tevet, 5782

All week, I have been reflecting on Dorothy Rosenfeld’s 94 years of life, a life jam-packed with rich experiences and generous mitzvot. At her funeral on Tuesday, I mentioned a couple of lines from Psalm 90 that come to mind when I think about her energy and curiosity: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12). From Dorothy’s life, from Psalms, and also, from the theme of eager rushing that repeats itself throughout Genesis, I am reminded of the importance of making the most of the limited time we each have here on this earth.

In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph asks his brothers to “hurry” - מהרו and ומִהרתם- to tell their father that Joseph is alive and thriving (Genesis 45:9, 13). This language of hurrying is the same language that Avraham uses generations earlier to make sure that he performs the mitzvah of hakhnasat orkhim (welcoming guests) with haste and care (18:6-7). In today’s reading, when Jacob hears his sons’ news, he declares: “Enough! My son Joseph is alive! I must go and see him before I die” (45:28). Jacob is aware of his limited lifespan and wants to spend every moment he has left with his long-lost son.

No matter our age, we each have a certain number of days to spend on this earth, a certain amount of time to spend with the people we love, to do the things we enjoy, and to perform mitzvot for the sake of our community and for the sake of God. Now is the time to schedule an extra dinner with friends and family, making the most of the time we have together. Now is the time to ask that person of interest to a movie, jumping on a fleeting opportunity, before one person gets too busy or moves away. And now is the time to resume a relationship with someone we have already avoided for far too long. 

While we are able to do so - while our bodies allow us to play tennis without too much discomfort or while that phenomenal piano teacher still teaches in town - we take on the interests about which we had been on the fence, or we dive deeper into those we have enjoyed for years. We hurry, both to spend time with our loved ones and to do the things that bring us joy, because right now, our circumstances allow us to delve into that joy and care. While we can certainly hope and expect, we can never truly know how long our circumstances will allow us to feel and to share that comfort and excitement.

 Just as we must rush to embrace our own joy, we must rush to replicate that joy for others as well. As our primary method of showing love for God is through our mitzvot, there are only so many mitzvot we can accomplish during our time here. We can show our haste first thing in the morning, by reciting the words of modeh ani l’fanekha (I am thankful to you, God) with our very first breath. The moment we hear someone is ill, we can set up a time to visit, call, or bring food - performing the mitzvah of bikur holim, visiting the ill. And the moment we hear a particular community is in need, we can go online and donate. The minute we learn about a need, we can look at our calendars and schedule time to volunteer. When we wait too long, we run the risk of prioritizing other actions until time has run out, or even, forgetting the need for the mitzvah in the first place. With that mindset of haste, we can pursue the words of the Psalmist - derekh mitzvotekha arutz - I will run to do your mitzvot (Psalms 119:32).

As we have been given this precious gift of time, we have also been given the challenge of apportioning that time with wisdom. We ask God to teach us how to number our days, how to best rush to experiences and people so that we can draw out our time to the utmost of our abilities once we get there. After those experiences and people are gone, whether just for now or for life, we ask God for the wisdom to carry what we have learned from them with us wherever we go. As our beloved rabbi Hillel used to say, according to the words of Pirkei Avot: If I am not for myself who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

When else will I have the opportunities and the relationships I have today? When else will I have this access to this particular joy and enrichment? And when else will I be able to provide the support and compassion for my loved ones and my community that I am able to provide right now? In our awareness of this specific fleeting moment, we rush to embrace our joy and to do what we know is the right and the good. Shabbat Shalom.

Sun, October 2 2022 7 Tishrei 5783