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Parashat BeHar-BeChukotai 5772 – 05/16/2012

Parashat BeHar-BeChukotai

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

And you shall count for yourself … seven weeks, complete shall they be.  (Parashat Emor, 23:15)

And you shall count for yourself seven Sabbaticals of seven years, 49 years (Parashat beHar, 25:8)

Time is money (Benjamin Franklin)

Time is evolution (Indian saying)

The locution “count for yourself” indicates that the count, even though it is a commandment given to us by Gd, is for our benefit.  (These two commandments were not given by Herman Cain… .)  In the same way, our father Avraham is told to “go for yourself” from your native land to the land which I [Gd] will show you – and there Rashi comments explicitly: “for your benefit.”  In the latter case the benefit to Avraham is that only in the Land of Israel could Gd “make [him] a great nation,” but not in his native land.  What is the benefit to us of counting the Omer (first quote, from Emor) or counting to the Yovel (Jubilee)?

The Artscroll Series Vayikra gives two answers:

   By saying you shall count l’cha, for yourself, the Torah alludes to the Jew’s goal in counting days and years. One does not count money for himself, because no matter how long he lives, his money will eventually go to others. But when someone counts time, he should do it for his own benefit, because he can use his time for the sake of Torah and mitzvos (Tzror HaMor [R. Avraham Sabba 1440-1510]).

   R’ Moshe Leib of Sassov [1745-1807] used to say: A person who does not have even one hour a day to meditate upon his personal standing in this world is not a true person.

The Tzror HaMor, as opposed to Ben Franklin, contrasts time and money.  Paradoxically, money is temporal, time is eternal.  Money is a stand-in for everything in the material world, and everything in the material world changes constantly.  Therefore it is futile to hang our figurative hats on anything material.  It is attachment to the material world, to its objects and its outcomes, that causes us to get stuck in destructive ruts, wasting our lives and accomplishing little or nothing.  Time, on the other hand, while it seems to be more fleeting, can be turned into something of lasting worth.  How so?  Time is in fact fleeting – it’s become a cliché that once a moment is gone it can never be reclaimed.  If we waste time, letting our attention get bound up in the ephemeral (in the case of one of my own vices, for example, devouring the sports pages) then time is our great enemy and we are constantly looking for ways to kill it.  In that case, in the words of the country music song, we might just find that killing time is actually killing us.

How different is the situation when we spend our hours and days and years productively.  Days that are spent in prayer and meditation, and then in positive action in accord with Gd’s Will for us are days that bring us only blessings, both material and spiritual.  Torah alludes to such a life when it says of Avraham Avinu (Bereishit 24:1): And Avraham was old, he came with days (idiomatically, “well advanced in years”).  He came with days full of growth, full of giving, full of bringing himself and others close to Gd.  How do we spend our days?  We have to work to make a living to be sure, but how much time do we spend at work so that we can have material luxuries that we don’t really need?  How could that time be better spent?  Could we be developing ourselves spiritually with that time?  Could we be helping those in need through various volunteer organizations?

In the yeshivot of Europe it used to be the practice that when someone was seriously ill, his friends and colleagues would “donate” a certain amount of their own lives to the ill person.  These donations were taken very seriously, as if we were really in control of how long we live.  [I believe this tradition comes from a Midrash that relates that Adam was originally supposed to live for 1000 years.  When he found out that King David was “scheduled” to die immediately on being born, he “donated” 70 years to King David (see Bereishit 5:5, I Melachim 2:11).]  At one point the Chafetz Chaim was asked for such a donation.  He thought long and hard, and agreed to donate one minute of his life to the ill person.  The story is often told to demonstrate what great value a tzaddik puts on time.  I think we can also look at it as a demonstration of the great value that is given to time by the great tzaddik – he can accomplish more in one minute than most of us can in many days or weeks, because of his more intimate connection with the eternal.

At the beginning of Sefer Shemot Moshe returns to Egypt and inspires the Israelite slaves to begin to dream of, and demand, their freedom.  What did Pharaoh do?  He immediately loaded on the work, forcing us to gather our own straw to make the bricks he demanded of us.  Why did he do this?  He tells us himself – so that we won’t have any leisure time to listen to Moshe Rabbeinu’s inspiration.  Our Rabbis liken this to our own Evil Inclination – it keeps us so busy chasing the illusory “benefits” of the material world that we have no chance to reflect on who we are, where we are going, and what we should be doing here.  It seems almost trivial to say it, but the Evil Inclination succeeds every time we waste our precious time, diverting our life energy away from the infinite, eternal, transcendental basis of life and towards the finite, ephemeral, surface value of life.

The years of a person’s life are threescore years and ten, or, by reason of strength, fourscore, (Psalm 90 – written by Moshe Rabbeinu).  Compared with eternity, we have just a precious few moments on this earth.  But it is only here, in a world of imperfection waiting to be rectified, in a world of challenges and tests, that we can grow to realize our full potential.  As our Sages tell us, today is for action, tomorrow (i.e. in the World to Come) is for receiving the reward.  If we make our every moment count, the reward will be there.

Pirke Avot, Chapter 5

Mishnah 7

Ten miracles were performed for our forebears in the Holy Temple:

… The Omer, the Two Loaves [of Shavuot] and the Showbread were never disqualified.

These three grain offerings all had to be offered at a specific time (the day after Pesach, Shavuot, and every Shabbat respectively); had they been found to be contaminated for any reason (e.g. ritual impurity, wormy flour, etc.) there would not have been time to replace them, with consequences of varying severity.  R. Yisrael Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel) comments:

These miracles occurred to teach our forefathers that one must do all one can to perform the time-related mitzvot – “when a mitzvah comes to your hand, do not neglect it.”  We must not waste our precious time, for “there is nothing as irretrievable as lost time.”

In discussing the commandment to “guard the matzot” our Sages point out that the words matzot and mitzvot are spelled exactly the same.  They thus interpret the command to “guard the mitzvot” – don’t let them become leavened, puffed up, heavy – rather when an opportunity for spiritual advancement comes to hand, seize the time!  Once the moment has passed, once the initial enthusiasm has diminished a little bit, once the inspiration has faded into memory, it is never quite the same.  Rather, keep focused on Gd’s signposts of evolution, every moment of every day, and live a life full of material and spiritual fulfillment.