Albert Einstein, Leonardo DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin all shared something in common. In fact, so did Rashi, the Rambam, and Shlomo Hamelech. Truth is, it is something we too have in common with these illustrious figures of history. The answer is 168. If 168 means something to you then congratulations. You are one of the millions or even billions of people who has chased the ever-illusive secret to time management.
168 is the title of a book by Laura Vanderkam, time management guru. The premise is that there are seven, 24-hour days in a week, a total of 168 hours allotted to each and every one of us. How you use that time is up to you, but “you have more time than you think”. Granted, we may not all have the intelligence or wisdom or talents of some of these individuals, but the sheer volume of their body of work would indicate something beyond simply innate talent. The manner in which they used their time created a legacy that endures way beyond their mortal lives.
Parashat Chayei Sarah tells of the passing of Sarah Imenu: “And the years of Sarah’s life were a hundred years and twenty years and seven years, the years of Sarah’s life” (Bereishit 23:1). As there are no extraneous words or letters in the Torah, one wonders at the repetition of the word “years” in this passuk. Rashi comments that all of them, all 127, were equally good. By “good” Rashi means “productive”. In fact, her life was so well spent that her descendants continued to benefit from her merit.
There is a famous midrash that tells the story of Rabbi Akiva’s reaction to a student who fell asleep in a shiur. The Rabbi switched gears from the topic at hand and asked if anyone knew why Esther was worthy of ruling over 127 provinces? He answers that Esther, a descendent of Sarah, merited a province for each of Sarah’s years of life. His message to the sleeping student was that how one spends the moments of one’s life has repercussions on generations to come. Consequently, one should give careful consideration to the moments one squanders.
The Talmud teaches that one who is righteous, who fills their days in productive and positive ways, is considered alive when they are dead. Conversely, one who squanders their time on earth with negativity is considered dead when they are alive. The influence of Sarah’s life far exceeds her 127 years. The accounting of the length of her life is to highlight the importance she gave each of her days such that her descendants continued to benefit in her merit for generations. As Rabbi Frand writes “one may live many years without having the days add up”. For Sarah Imenu, 100 years, plus 20 years, plus seven years did indeed add up!
Further in the Parasha we read “Abraham was old, came along with the days, and God blessed Abraham with everything” (Bereshit 24:1). Not only is the phrasing redundant, the wording is strange. Rabbi A. Twerski, a doctor and Rabbi, has sat with many people towards the end of their lives. As one might expect, many conversations began with “if only…” Be it to correct a wrong, to erase something that happened, or to have made time for the “important things”, most people would give anything for a chance to turn back the clock. Rabbi Twerski explains that when Abraham Avinu grew old and “came along with the days” means that he had no regrets. He had lived a good and meaningful life and had used every day to the fullest. “Abraham died at a good old age, mature and content” (Bereishit 25:8). Can there be a greater blessing than to live a life one can look back upon with contentment and without regret?
“Came along in days” does not necessarily imply that every day was filled with ground-breaking discoveries, events, miracles or occurrences. So long as one is growing, improving and moving the needle in a positive direction, the days are “coming along”. In a recent Dvar Torah, Rabbi E. Greenbaum suggests that people waste time because they are not convinced that what they do matters. He suggests that this is a lack in appreciation of our mission in life. Hashem is not asking us to be the next Einstein or the next Rambam. We are asked to live to our full potential and make the most of the gifts we are given.
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, considered by some to be the Chofetz Chaim of our generation, would take a moment each day to reflect back on how he spent his time. If the account fell short, he would weep bitterly. Would that we all did the same and wept at time wasted in the moment rather than when we grow old. Each day, each moment presents us with a unique opportunity (Zohar 121). Consequently, we must seize every moment and live it to the fullest.
Abraham and Sarah are an example of the power of a life well lived! It is not a question of managing time, it is a question of identifying priorities and making the moments count. May we all be zocheh to live full, contented lives without regret.
Dr. Laura Segall
Head of School