I recently read the words of an eighty-five-year-old man who learned he was dying.
He writes: “If I had my life to live over again, I’d try to make more mistakes next time. I wouldn’t try to be so perfect.”
He continues: “I’d take more chances, I’d take more trips, I’d climb more mountains, I’d swim more rivers, I’d watch more sunsets, I’d go more places I’ve never been to.”
This now-wise old man then concludes: “You see, I was one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely hour after hour and day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had it to do all over again, I’d have more of those moments. In fact, I’d try to have nothing but beautiful moments —moment by moment by moment.”
I think that old man has something to say to all of us, and it’s a message that we come upon in the Torah this week. In speaking of Shavuot, the festival which we will observe in just a few weeks, the Torah declares:
“And you shall count for yourselves seven complete Sabbaths.You shall count fifty days and proclaim that day as a holy convocation unto you.”
Those with traditional backgrounds know that this commandment to count the days between Passover and Shavuot is taken literally by many. It is during this time that those who attend synagogue services each morning, include a special prayer where each of the days leading up to Shavuot is counted.
The message behind counting these days? To remind us that Exodus from Egypt was not an end unto itself. The higher purpose of liberation and freedom remains: that of standing at our own Mt. Sinai and receiving and embracing the values and ideals of Torah.
I know that most of us do not observe this ritual of Sefriah, the counting of these days. Yet I think that there is great meaning here for us. Yes, counting plays an important part in all our lives. We count calories and drops of medicine; we count our money and our possessions; we count runs and strokes and points. But the thing that we so often fail to count is our days. So true, that for most of us, it’s not getting old and dying that we are afraid of. Rather, we fear that we will never have learned how to live as well and as fully as we could have.
For all of us, during this period of counting days, the message is clear:
It is not how many days we have, but how we fill our days. It is not how many things we do, but rather, what things we do — and how well we try to do them.
I wish you and your loved ones Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Greenberg