By Rabbi Adam J. Rosenbaum
The musical satirist Tom Lehrer liked to tell self-deprecating stories about his bad luck. After one particularly tragic anecdote, he observed, “It’s moments like these when you realize how little you’ve accomplished. For example, it is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”
I mention this not to encourage you to think so despondently. Rather, Lehrer’s remark reflects thoughts we’ve probably all had: What have I done with my days that prevented me from achieving even more?
A section of a Midrash collection known as Leviticus Rabbah discusses how quickly time goes by. This anecdote discusses the sixth day of Creation, and claims that a staggering amount of things occurred on that day. In the first hour of the day, God created humanity. In Hours 2-8, God takes additional steps to complete this act of creation: gathering the dust from which Adam was made, kneading and shaping his body, breathing life into him, and placing him inside the Garden of Eden. The next hour, the midrash continues, God warns Adam not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam disobeys the command the following hour; he is then judged during the 11th hour, and pardoned during the 12th hour.
What might we learn from this story? We tend to assume that stories from the Bible happen over a long time period. By compressing the events of Adam’s life in this story, the rabbis teach us something important about how we spend our time: Even if it may seem strange for an entire life’s experiences to be crammed into one day, we still can have days that allow us to do a life’s worth of good. Just as it takes us but a moment to make a mistake, it also takes just a moment to ask for forgiveness, and to resolve to do better.
But as we remember this, let’s not look at our past only with regret for missed opportunities, like Tom Lehrer did. Let us instead consider the opportunities that await us every hour.
Adam J. Rosenbaum, is Rabbi of Temple Beth Tzedek and a member of the LiNK Jewish Buffalo team.