Thursday, January 5, 2012

PARSHAS VAYECHI 5772

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi

11 Teves 5772/January 6, 2012

The first day of sixth grade. We apprehensively shuffled into our seats, trying to surmise what kind of teacher she was going to be. After introducing herself, our teacher immediately told us that she wasn’t sure if she was going to remain as our teacher. Her first day, and it may very well be her last. Now there’s a vote of confidence!

Besides those endearing opening words, I will never forget something else she told us that day. She was explaining the concept of time zones and the International Date Line. She related that once while on vacation she had traveled across the Date Line. However, instead of returning the way she came, she proceeded forward circling the globe until she arrived home. She then sadly exclaimed, “Isn’t that sad? I lost a day of my life!”

I remember being very intrigued by that comment. Did that mean her life would be one day shorter? How did that make sense? If someone is born on the 30th of Kislev (a date that doesn’t occur every year) or on February 29th he won’t have a birthday every year. Does that mean he won’t age?

It took some time before I concluded that she had not lost a day from her life, but rather she had lost a calendar day.

Now, she is in good company. The weekend came sooner than usual for the tiny South Pacific island nation of Samoa this past week. When the clock struck midnight this past Thursday, the country skipped over Friday and moved 24 hours ahead – straight into Saturday, December 31. The time jump meant that Samoa's 186,000 citizens were the first in the world to ring in the secular New Year, rather than the last.

Samoa aimed to align its time zone with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region by shifting west of the International Date Line. Now they will be on the same day as their neighboring countries of New Zealand and Australia, instead of being a day behind them.

It only took Samoa 119 years to catch up (in 1892 U.S. traders persuaded local Samoans to align their islands' time with nearby U.S.-controlled American Samoa and the U.S. to assist their trading with California). In doing so, they have forfeited Friday December 30, 2011 forever.

In the Psalm of ‘Moshe the man of G-d’ (Tehillim 90), Moshe Rabbeinu asks G-d: “To count our days, so teach us, then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” It’s been said that one should not count his days as much as he should make his days count. There is a reason why the present is so aptly called. Each day of life is a gift, and the one who possesses a wise heart seeks to take advantage of his every day.

During the funeral of the Sefas Emes of Ger, his eldest son, the Imrei Emes turned to his younger brother, Rav Moshe Betzalel, and quipped, “Our father had arichus yamim – lengthy days”. Surprised, Rav Moshe Betzalel replied, “But father wasn’t even sixty years old?” The Imrei Emes responded, “I didn’t say he had lengthy years, but that he had lengthy days. He made every day count.”

The Torah says about Avrohom Avinu that he came with his days (Bereishis 24:1; the same expression is used about Dovid Hamelech – Melachim I 1:1). His every day was utilized to the fullest, and therefore he ‘owned’ every day and took it with him.

What enriched lives we would lead if we could foster that feeling with ourselves.

By the way, our teacher never did come back after that first day. I think she went to search for the day she lost.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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