In Psalm 90 there is a verse “Limnot yameinu, ken hoda, v’navi l’vav chochmah” – “teach us to assess our days so that we may bring to the heart some wisdom” This verse is a powerful reminder of what we can do in order to make more of our lives.
The psalmist is reminding us to assess each day, to really appreciate and to treasure every one of them, and make them count.
Many of us are so busy just getting through each day, so many different events and activities to juggle, that we forget just how much of a gift each new day really is. Others of us try to fill the acres of time that stretch ahead of us as we get up, wondering how best to get through the day. Almost all of us rarely find the time to treasure our days, or to make them count. Looking back at the end of a week that has been frantic with activity we can rarely feel satisfied that we used the time well.
The morning prayer that traditional Jews say upon waking, before even getting out of bed is “Modeh Ani lefanecha, melech chai v’kayam, she’he’chezarta bi nishmati b’chemlah, Rabbah Emunatecha.“I Gratefully Thank You, living and eternal Sovereign, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion –great is your faith”
While Jewish prayer does not on the whole expect us to explicitly state any belief in God, it does have a dominant mode of gratitude and of thanksgiving. The tradition gives us the words to appreciate our lives, to be grateful for what we already have rather than to always be the petitioner for what we do not have but would like. That is not to say that our prayer does not include us appealing to God for things, but that this pleading is circumscribed and is far less frequent than the prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude. And on Shabbat the petitionary prayers disappear entirely, giving God (and ourselves) the day off from listening to our demands.
In the prayer Modeh Ani, we begin the day by being aware of our good fortune and appreciating it – we are alive, it is a time for fresh possibilities, anything can happen in this new day. And we end the prayer not by declaring our faith in God, but by asserting God’s faith in us. We make a statement of extraordinary power. Whether we believe in God is almost immaterial, for God believes in us.
Just as we do not consider the air which we breathe, yet breathe nevertheless; just as fish presumably are unaware of the water in which they swim, Jewish prayer assumes the faith of God in us is a given, the environment in which we operate. All we are reminded to do is to appreciate each day, to be grateful for what we do have, and to use our time wisely in order to become our best selves, to build our best world.
Psalm 90, a psalm about the eternity of God and the fragility and mortality of humankind, asks God to help us to do the one thing we can really do to make our lives meaningful – teach us to treasure each day, to make every day we live in this world count for something. As we travel through Elul and contemplate the upcoming New Year, with days that may be filled with activity or that may stretch emptily out ahead of us, let this be our motto – to think about and to treasure each day, and to do something each day to give that day meaning and to make it count.