Daniel Epstein

How to Live a Long Life

Do you want time to go fast or slow?

Time flies when you are having fun. Dunbar in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 decides he wants his life to be as boring as possible so that he will live a very long time. He engages in activities he dislikes in order to lengthen his life and make time go slower. Slow days, long years. 

This week in Chukat we have a time warp. Last week we finished Korach, which according to most opinions happened in the second year after the Exodus from Egypt. In this week’s Torah portion Miriam dies, which happened in the final year of the 40 year journey

The Torah skips 37 years and makes no mention of any stories during this time. There is a lot to be said about this.

One thing is that The Torah is not just a history book. There is an agenda, it does not just record events that happened. Nothing is recorded from this time period because nothing noteworthy happens. So is time going fast or slow at this point? 

When we say we want a long life we are referring to time in the objective manner. We want a large amount of years. But time is both objective and subjective.

An explanation of the relative nature of time comes from Einstein. He says that when you are courting a girl, one hour seems like a minute. When you are sitting on a hot coal, a minute seems like an hour. It reminds me of the refrain from Sefer Bereshit where Yaakov says that he worked seven years like seven days.

This is the lesson of the Chukat time warp: relative time is more important than objective time. Quality over quantity. Dunbar had it all wrong. The text illustrates this point by not mentioning anything for 37 years.

The Torah values quality of days over quantity of years and communicates this through who is given more space in the Torah. Those with more airtime seem to be more important and we can draw lessons from it. Methuselah has the longest life in Tanakh of 969 years, yet he is only discussed in 3 or 4 pesukim. David HaMelech lived only 70 years, much less than Methuselah, but is mentioned in over 50 chapters of the Tanakh. He lived full days.

That is the final idea I want to talk about. When describing the reward for some of the mitzvot, the Torah speaks about arichat yamim, length of days, but does not discuss arichat shanim, length of years. More important than an objectively long life, length of years, we want relatively long days, full days. Don’t worry about time passing. Fill your days with wonder, with joy, with excitement. Fill them with laughter, friends and family, and you will live a long life.

More important than the years in your life is the life in your years.

Shabbat Shalom.

This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Epstein is the Senior Jewish Educator at GW Hillel, where he serves over 3,000 Jewish students. He previously worked for over 5 years as a financial adviser, until he realized his true calling to teach and learn Torah. Since then he has spread love for Torah in camps, schools, colleges, shuls, hospitals and nursing homes. He prides himself on being a Maggid (professional storyteller) and lover of life.
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