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Beetle Bailey and Ki Tissa

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Here are a couple of interesting numbers:

14, 981

17, 896

23, 746

Any idea what they represent?  These are the number of days that each of us has been alive- Cantor Wolman, the youngest- 14,981.  Rabbi Mari- 17,896, and I, who just celebrated my 65th birthday, 23, 746.  By the way, we are all Pisces and our birthdays are within a week of each other’s- Feb. 29, Mar. 1, and March 6th.  I’m wondering if the rabbi search committee is keeping this in mind?

I was inspired to check into these calculations by a recent Beetle Bailey cartoon.  Beetle asks his battle buddy, Zero, how old he is.  Zero replies, 8,667 days.  “You don’t count in years?” Beetle asks.  “I like to live my life one day at a time.”

It’s important to plan ahead, to set goals, to work towards achieving them.  AND, it is also important to enjoy the time we have, as we are promised nothing.  As our friend Frank Blake reminds us, “Every day is a bonus day.”  Or, every day is a gift- that’s why we call it the present.

The secret of wisdom, as always, is finding the balance between preparing for the future and making the most of the present.  Truly, Psalm 90 verse 12 got it right- “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Are we making wise use of our limited days?

14,981; 17,896; 23,746- that’s how many days we’ve been blessed with.  But how many do we have remaining?  That’s the great unknown and essentially unknowable number.  Rabbi Rami Shapiro imagined a watch that, instead of telling us the time at the moment, counted down our lives and told us the time remaining.  He challenged us to consider if we might do anything differently if we had that acute awareness of the hours and minutes passing by?  He imagined looking at that watch, seeing how much time he had left, and saying- “thank you.”

Our Torah portion, Ki Tissa, begins with counting each person, reminding us that each and every person counts.  The Torah prescribes that each person contributes half a shekel, and those half shekels are counted in order to determine the census of the community.  The phrase that is used is powerful- “kofer nafsho, a ransom for their soul.”

Every person is due the honor of being treated as a holy image of God; every person has something to offer, something to contribute.   And each of us, in turn, repays the blessed gift of life by making the most of our time.  Rabbi Chernow, Cantor Wolman, and I, are all celebrating birthdays this week.  It’s a natural time to reflect on where we are and where we are going, and to remind ourselves not to take for granted the time that we have.  Perhaps it seems depressing, and yet, it can also spur a heightened appreciation of the opportunity in each new day.

I’ll conclude with these words, written in 2007 by our own senior rabbi, Rabbi Mari Chernow.  She is commenting on these words in the Torah-  “I will let you enjoy the full count of your days.”  “One of God’s greatest blessings,” she writes,  “is the ability to fill our days, or to live each day fully.  It might just be that our relationship with God (whether based on following laws or other means of connection) changes not the content of our days, per se, but rather the ways in which we live with whatever content is ours.”  She suggests that, “leading a spiritually rich life might help us experience the true length of our days and our minutes.  By delving fully into the here and now, we have the ability to elongate our time here on earth – to enjoy the full count of our days.  May we partner with God in making it so!”


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