Making Every Day Count
Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18 )
"Sarah's lifetime was one hundred years, twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah's life." (Bereishit, 23:1)
All of them equal for the good. (Rashi, Bereishit, 23:1: sv.)
The Torah Portion opens with a seemingly straightforward account of the length of the Matriarch, Sarah's life - 127 years. Rashi adds that they were all used in a productive way. A fascinating Midrash expands upon the significance of the length of Sarah's life: The Midrash tells us that the great Rabbi Akiva was delivering a Torah lecture and he noticed that the audience was dozing off. He tried to wake them up by abruptly changing the topic of discussion - he asked: Why was Esther seen fit to rule over 127 provinces? He answered that it was in the merit of her ancestress, Sarah, who lived 127 years.
The commentaries wonder why Rabbi Akiva taught this lesson in particular: The Chiddushei Harim explains that Rabbi Akiva was pointing out that for each one of Sarah's perfect years of service to God, her descendant, Esther, merited to rule over a province. He continues that each day was 'worth' a town and each hour a 'district'. Rabbi Akiva was demonstrating the value of using one's time to its optimum - if Sarah merited such tremendous reward for her descendant then, how is it possible for one to sleep away precious moments during a Torah discourse?! That was Rabbi Akiva's message; he sought to impress upon his audience the importance of every moment of life spent engaged in Torah study and the service of God, for one cannot imagine the outstanding reward that a person (and his descendants) will receive for each and every moment of Torah study.
The theme of the value of using time continues in the Torah Portion. The Torah describes Abraham's old age: "And Abraham was old, and he came with his days." What does it mean to 'come with one's days"? The Anaf Yosef brings a Zohar which explains that when a righteous person enters the Next World, each one of his days proudly comes along with him to His Heavenly Judgment. Each day presents itself before God to be assessed, and to show how its worthy owner spent it properly. Thus, at the end of his long and productive life, the righteous Abraham came to the Heavenly Court, together with all of his days, quite literally.
The Zohar further states, that the days of a wicked person on the other hand do not 'come' with him to his judgment, rather they attempt to hide themselves and avoid any Heavenly scrutiny.
These two ideas in the Torah portion remind us of the immeasurable value of time: Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg once described how the Chofetz Chaim would set aside a special place where he made a calculation of this time usage every day. He would ask himself: "Yisrael Meir, how did you spend your time today"? And if he discovered that he could not account for several minutes on a given day, he wept bitterly." In our generation, Rabbi Scheinberg himself was described as the Chofetz Chaim of our generation.
We have seen how Abraham and Sarah utilized every moment of their lives to their utmost, and how dearly our Torah leaders valued time. Of course, the levels they attained may be beyond us, but they remind us of the importance of treasuring time and striving to avoid wasting time in activities (or non-activities!) that have no vale in our Divine service.
1. This took place when she married Achashverosh and became the Queen of his Empire that consisted of 127 provinces.
2. Bereishit Rabbah, 58:3.
3. He was the first Rebbe of the Chassidic Gur dynasty.
4. See Bereishit Rabbah, 58:1.
5. Quoted by Pnei Menachem, Midrash Rabbah, Kleinman Edition, Lech Lecha -Toldos, p.2. Also quoted by Rabbi Daniel Fine, and Rabbi Moshe Kormornik.
6. Bereishit, 24:1.
7. Anaf Yosef, Bereishit Rabbah, 59:6, quoted in Midrash Rabbah, Kleinman Edition, Lech Lecha -Toldot, p.13.
8. He was of the leading Sages in the previous generation, and was the Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Ore in Jerusalem.
9. Rabbi Yechiel Spero, 'Rav Scheinberg', pp. 197-198.