There is one thing that all of humanity, indeed every living organism, has in common. That is that we all grow older, day by day, year by year!
Recently I contacted a pensions consultant in the UK, my former domicile. We were speaking about whether I should retain the relatively small amount of money I had in the fund from my working years there or withdraw it – and then he threw me a question which left me speechless. He asked me “How long, Mr. Ingram, do you plan to live?”
In my shocked state, all I could reply was: Pass!
In the celebrated Unesaneh Tokef prayer we recite on Rosh haShana, we declare: On Rosh haShana it is inscribed above and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: how many will depart from the world and how many will be born; who will live, who will die.
The wisest of all men, King Solomon, voices a sentiment (Proverbs 19:21 which we express daily in our prayers. Many thoughts take root in the heart of a human being but G-D’s plan will prevail! As the famous Yiddish saying goes der mensch trakht un G-tt lakht. Man proposes and G-d disposes. Or, in the words of the late John Lennon, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans!”
We can plan a wedding but not a marriage. We can plan a house but not a home. We can plan a nursery but we can’t plan a baby. We can plan a trip to Houston but we can’t predict hurricanes. We can plan an interstate vacation but we cannot predict a Covid lockdown. We can plan for retirement but we cannot plan how long that retirement will be. Because we are not in control!
“How long do we plan to live?” Take one word away and it becomes the most compelling question we could possibly ask ourselves at Rosh haShana: How do we plan to live?
On the Shabbat immediately prior to Rosh haShana, the Parasha challenges us: “Look, I’m setting before you today a choice:, life and everything that’s good; and death and everything that’s not good!”(Deut 30:15). In quiz-show terms: tonight’s star prize which even millions of bucks couldn’t buy or the booby prize worth zilch. Where is the question?
Yet the Torah goes on to say “and as for you, choose life!” Do we need to be told this? What then would a person choose?
To understand, we need to examine the original Hebrew words: uvacharta ba-chaim, be selective within the realm of life The Torah is urging us to be mindful of how we choose life and what kind of life we are choosing.
How long we plan to live, isn’t in our hands. How we plan to live, most decidedly is!
Sadly we’ve all at some time or other experienced shiva houses as visitors and many of us as mourners too. In English we wish a mourner “long life” – but in Hebrew we say arichut yamim.! We wish the mourner “long days!” How can a day be longer or shorter than 24 hours?
Everyone who is familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ”If” will know the celebrated line “If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds worth of distance run / Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it / And which is more, you’ll be a man, my son!”
If we can fill each unforgiving hour of our waking lives with 60 minutes’ worth of mitsvot, of chesed, of goodness and kindness, of learning, of growing, of appreciating every sunrise, every birdsong, every flower, then ours is the earth and everything in it and which is more we will be true children of the Patriarch Isaac of whom it is said he was zaken,u-seva yamim, satisfied with the quality of his days.
Our patriarchs and matriarchs didn’t measure their lives in years; instead they counted in days and they made every day count! And making every day count is indeed in our hands.
My podiatrist has hanging on his wall a cute tablet which says: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift and that is why it’s called the present!”
Yesterday we can’t change. Tomorrow we cannot know. Today is ours to impact. Eventually every tomorrow becomes today. And every today is a gift. Let’s make the present count!
We pray during the high festivals that G-D inscribe us all in the Book of Life. My suggestion for this year is: let’s return the compliment, let’s inscribe G-D in our Book of Life. Let’s find room for Him, and let’s submit to His master plan.
Whatever it may be!