Growing up in France, where anti-Semitism sometimes rears its ugly head, I remember being told, “Jews love counting money.”
I have yet to find a source for that slur, but there is one thing Jews do love to count: time. Every week we count the times when Shabbat enters and when it ends. Every day we count the hours, minutes and seconds of the day, to calculate when we should pray in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening.
And during this period of time, from the second day of Passover until Shavuot, Jewish people count the seven weeks and 49 days until the Shavuot holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, 3,332 years ago.
But if the goal is to count the days leading to Shavuot, why did our Sages not institute a proper “countdown” — as my children are currently doing, to count the days until their summer vacation, or as politicians are doing to count the days until the November election? Why don’t we designate Shavuot as the “Big Day,” and start counting 50, then 49, then 48, etc. until we arrive at the final and exciting Shavuot destination?
The reason is poignant: Judaism does not believe in “countdowns.” In fact, the word “countdown” doesn’t even exist in Hebrew — God’s language. For, in Judaism, every day counts. Every minute is valued. Every moment is treasured. The journey itself is also a destination. And the days that lead us to the “Big Day” are themselves “Big Days.”
Kabbalah further teaches that each of these 49 days must be used for self-refinement, introspection and action so that by the time we reach the 50th day, we shall have amassed 49 segments of time and countless purposeful actions that have brightened and elevated our world.
This lesson holds particularly true during this coronavirus era. As we together face the many unknowns of our future, we too ought to remember that “what matters most” — as my dear mentor, world-scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, says — is “what is now.”
Will the day after look any different? Will the stock market continue to fluctuate so frantically? Will our society have become better and stronger? No one really knows.
Yet, there is one truth that remains forever certain: Every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Every one of us has family members and loved ones who deserve our unreserved love.
So let us throw away our fears, count and value our every day and infuse our every moment, every encounter and every opportunity, with undivided attention, purpose and joy.
To paraphrase Yoni Netanyahu, who sacrificed his life to save his fellow Jews being held hostage by terrorists during the IDF raid on the Entebbe airport in 1976:
“Man does not live forever. He should put the days of his life to the best possible use. He should try to live life to its fullest. How to do this I can’t tell you. I only know that I don’t want to reach a certain age, look around me and suddenly discover that I’ve created nothing. I must feel certain that, not only at the moment of my death shall I be able to account for the time I have lived, I ought to be ready at every moment of my life to confront myself and say — this is what I’ve done.” (“The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu”)
May we each merit to live by these words fully, every single day. JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale.