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“Borrowed,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

May 19, 2023 | 28 Iyyar 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

We live in borrowed time. Our lives are only lent to us by the universe, divine or otherwise. We may imagine we can live forever, but we know we actually cannot. That is why it is borrowed time.

So, while we are here, we count the days.

Counting is awareness, a way of paying attention to what we have and what we are yet to achieve. The Psalmist understood the power of counting.

Teach us to number our days rightly so that we may obtain a wise heart. (90:12)

We count humans too. Jewish tradition says that the ancient Israelites took a census because each person was precious. To be counted among is to be considered of value. It is the way we see another and are seen by others as well. It says you and you and you matter. The Book of Numbers opens this week as our Torah portion with counting of the Israelite community by tribes.  Rashi commented that because of God’s love for the people, God continually counted them. God counted them at the time of the Exodus; again after so many died at the time of the Golden Calf incident. God counted them to find out how many were left; and now when God was going to be present among them, God counted them again.  Counting shows love.

We count the days between Passover and Shavuot, too. In ancient times, the land and its seeds were vulnerable. They regarded the crops precious for sustenance. They counted as each day moved to the next so plants could grow stronger and more viable. In the days between these holidays, we also count from the time of our freedom from slavery, z’man cheiruteinu, toward the ascension and uplifting possibility of Torah, z’man matan Torateinu, as we prepare to celebrate Shavuot.   Freedom is the counterpart to the laws of life the Torah offers. It teaches all humanity is created in the image of the Divine. Everyone counts.

We count the land by feet and acres, which actually doesn’t really belong to us, except perhaps for the grave that will receive us into eternity and even then, we return to the earth and the dust from which we were created.

Counting reminds us that we are on loan to one another. Borrowed for a brief time to inspire, to befriend, and to share this journey of life. What remains is a beautiful and wonderful sense of gratitude that we did indeed have this time together.

Shabbat Shalom

Originally shared June 7, 2019.

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher