Published in the Long Island Jewish World/ Manhattan Jewish Sentinel
On the Perfection of God and Life: A Message for New Years’ 2009
by Howard Teich
Kabbalist, mystical Jewish thinking finds a link between the Hebrew language, its letters, and the numbers that it represents in the Torah, seen as the hidden message of Hashem, God. It is called Gematria, a tool used by Kabbalists that is mentioned and endorsed by the legalists of the Talmud. Numerology in the secular world finds meaning in the numbers themselves, how they are formulated, and their message.
Miracles happen in our daily lives, and messages are given to us in our daily lives, often when we are least expecting them, and always when we are open to them. So it was for me on a Thursday noon this past August when I detoured from returning directly to my office to stop by Bryant Park, knowing that they have Broadway entertainment during Summer lunchtimes on Thursdays. I specifically remember making the decision based on my sense that the enjoyment I would obtain at Bryant Park would far outweigh anything I would accomplish at the office during that hour.
A cast member from the long-running Broadway show Rent was just being introduced, and after singing the first two songs, the larger cast sang “Seasons of Love”, with the recurring theme of 525,600 minutes in a year. In the way my mind works, I made a quick calculation, and then a knowing smile, actually a knowing grin overtook my face and my body. At that moment, I recognized that God was giving me a sign, and had been giving us a sign, a message for all-time that mostly goes unseen and unnoticed.
Life, a full life to God, could be achieved, including happiness, achievement, and fulfillment among so many other things, by taking advantage of every minute of the year every year. The renewal for recreating that possibility every year became obvious to me. And God had given us that secret message, and I hadn’t seen it exactly in this way in all my three-score and one years. So, I give you this riddle, this quiz, of what light bulb went off for me at that moment, what did I see? (Take a minute to think about it before continuing).
The answer is that the sum total of 525,600, the number of minutes in a normal year according to the song, is 18 (5+2+5+6), which is CHAI in Jewish meaning, the Hebrew word for” life.” To me this was not coincidental, clearly God had given me a message, which is that we need to utilize every minute in this year, to bring to us our fullest life. That’s how God envisioned it on Earth and that’s how he created it. Take away even one minute, and no longer does it total CHAI.
Incredibly, this can be taken to the next level of confirmation, by bringing it to seconds in the year, multiplying 525,600 by 60, and the result is 31,536,000 seconds in a year, also with a sum total of 18 (3+1+5+3+6). The message is reinforced, taking it down to the level of a second, that even every second is precious and important in creating a full life, a complete life (it works for leap years of 366 days as well, and you can do the calculations).
Is that too much to ask? Does that make life too challenging? Has the bar been put too high? I do not think so. The message is that the optimum unity of life is in taking advantage of even every second of this gift of life that we have been given. We certainly can exist on a lesser standard as most of us are doing. Just as some Jews look to the Mosheach, strive to the day of redemption as the day of perfection on Earth, of God’s world on Earth, so we have been given a message for life, the importance of every minute and every second in seeking the goal of the unity of life potential in each and every year.
There is another interpretation as well, on a larger scale, and with a reverse perspective. The entirety of the year is the unity as perfect, composed of a unique number of minutes and seconds. Since the world is perfect and could only be created that way by God, and since we as humans are not perfect, and cannot be perfect, there will be minutes and seconds during the year which may seem to have been wasted, or not put to good purpose in each one of our lives. It does not take away from the importance of every minute and every second. These imperfections together with the moments of highest intention will create our full life, because God never expected human perfection on Earth.
Just as I was polishing this article for publication, I was asked by a colleague to explain how this year’s “leap second”, with one second being added to synchronize world time at 12:59:59 PM just prior to midnight of the New Year 2009, fits in. I turned by telephone to Mendy Halberstam, one of the most thoughtful young Jewish men I know, who now lives in Florida and grew up in Crown Heights’ Lubavitch community. He commented to me that since every second is important, and every second makes a difference in our year, in our life, to ourselves and to others, then particularly in this year’s “leap second”, which stands alone as part of this year, we must see the message that, “ life – chai – ultimately boils down to, or builds up to, every individual second, depending on your perspective: Will you let this “extra” second simply pass you by, or will you see it as an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to better yourself and the world around you, an opportunity to enrich the “chai” that precedes and follows this second.”
Mendy told me a wonderful story that I relate to you. A Rabbi comes to an inn and wakes up in the morning. He excitedly asks the innkeeper where he got his clock from. The innkeeper says what’s the big deal, it’s just a plain old clock. The Rabbi persists. After an investigation, they find out the clock once belonged to a certain great sage. “Aha,” says the Rabbi, “I knew it. “ You see, he explains, all other clocks strike a mournful note at the start of each new hour, as if to say, “you are one hour closer to the grave,” but this clock, since it came from a great sage, it is a joyous clock, and when it struck its chord every hour, it was saying, “you are one hour closer to redemption and the perfection of the world.”
We have been given the parameters for thinking about the great possibilities for our life, and striving towards them. It must be our goal, and our mission, to use every minute and every second that has been given to us, to create our fullest and best life.