Certain verses guide us in life. One of mine, as I pointed out last week, is based on the biblical teaching, “Teach us to number our days… so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalms 90:10
What does this powerful verse mean? It seems simple on the surface.
Teach us to number our days is God’s way of telling us to make each day count…to find meaning and holiness every day and not take our days for granted. That’s easier said than done.
A Lesson from Steve Martin
Recall a great scene from the film LA Story: The weatherman, played by Steve Martin, is delivering his typical forecast. As he throws little yellow magnets on the map, he yells “Sun! Sun! Sun! Sun!” He seems exasperated that warm and sunny days are all he gets to predict.
Of course, the next days see tremendous downpours of rain. That reminds me of an old Jewish folk saying: “Man plans. God laughs.”
But it also conveys deeper wisdom: When we have too much of a good thing, we often begin to take it for granted. We assume the sun will always shine because it has done so for the last seven days.
We assume we will always be healthy because we have never gotten sick. We assume our job will always be there for us because we have never experienced otherwise.
But as I mentioned in the article—7 biblical verses you should know by heart—time and chance befall us all. We need faith to equip us to live through the inevitable. We need a guide to “teach us to number days” in the hope that we gain a heart of wisdom.
How to Follow an Ancient Tradition
Jewish tradition has a particular practice dedicated to counting our days. People of all faiths can adopt it. It’s called counting the omer.
Omer means barley, and it is a custom rooted in the Jewish people’s agrarian past.
The counting begins the day after Passover. For fifty days, between the second day of Passover and the beginning of the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost), we count each day by saying a special blessing and saying the particular day of Omer.
So if today were the seventh day, we would say, “Blessed are You, Eternal God, who has commanded us to count the Omer. Today is the seventh day, which is one week, of the Omer.”
During this period, I also our verse from Psalms 90:12: “Teach us to number our days so that we maygain a heart of wisdom.” To me that verse defines the purpose of this period of counting.
We count in order to grow. We count each day so that we can make each day count.
Each day we can learn a new skill, make a new friend, make a small difference in another person’s life. Each day is an opportunity to explore and enjoy the mysteries of creation. Each day we can move a little closer to the person we seek to become. “Teach us to number our days so we may gain a heart of wisdom” is an ongoing commitment.
What is Hard is Worthwhile
It is easier said than done. We often fall into what feels easy and convenient. Rabbi David Wolpe recalled a quote his father shared with him. It came from a newpaper clipping from the 1950s that his father had kept in his files. It came from an article by James Hodgon of Salt Lake City. Hodgon recalls a scene from his childhood:
“I was lounging in front of the TV watching a second-run Western when Dad came in from shoveling snow. He looked at me quizzically and said, ‘In 24 hours you won’t even remember what you’re looking at now. How about doing something for the next 20 minutes that you’ll remember 20 years from now and enjoy every time you think about it?’”
That’s a good criterion. What will we do that we will be proud of doing 20 years from now?
I would add another criterion. What can we celebrate today?
I once visited a member of my synagogue in the hospital. He was in his mid-nineties and close to death. When arrived, he looked up, and the minute he saw me, he said, “‘Rabbi, what can we celebrate today?’
Even in his time of sadness, he pulled me in what wanted to celebrate. Teach us to number our days, Oh God. In other words, remind me, as that dying man did, what it means to make each day count.
How Do You Make Each Day Count?