“Summertime. Make the days count.” ran the ad. I know it was specifically about using the time away from formal schooling to work on specific learning issues. But it makes me think.

Do I make the summertime days count? Or do I have too much of a “vacation” attitude? We all have an almost intuitive emotional response to the sunny days of July. The air alone is evocative. It means school’s over and the lazy days of summer are here. And even though school was actually over many years ago, the emotional reaction remains. The expectation is the same. This is my time off.

This is not exactly a Jewish attitude. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, zt”l, used to tell the story of the time he met his father at the train station. As he disembarked, his father queried, “What are you doing here?”

“It’s our break from learning,” a young Noah Weinberg replied.

“There’s no break from learning for Jews,” responded his father. “Get back on the train and go back to yeshiva.”

I’m not sure most of us could quite live like that but it does give perspective. A short vacation is good to clear the mind, to refocus and to re-energize. But certainly not three months of poolside “hanging out.” Not for a someone whose goal is spiritual growth.

The truth is that we need to make the days count also in the winter, spring and fall. But summer is a greater challenge because no one else seems to feel like we do. All cocktail party conversations begin with “What are you doing this summer? Where are you going?” The underlying assumption is clear. Summer is time for doing something different, for leaving our familiar environs for extended and often extravagant trips.

I’m not against vacations (I’m taking one myself!) or family trips (I’m taking one of those as well!). Not only do vacations serve the aforementioned purpose of rejuvenation but family trips are always important bonding experiences, creating long-lasting family memories (even if some of them are of a particularly big fight you had with your brother or a uniquely boring tourist spot you visited).

They’re just not the goal – of summer or any other time in our life. A friend recently confided that she doesn’t really enjoy her job and that she lives for her vacations. That made me very sad. She’s certainly not making her days count and it’s a tremendous waste of her talent and potential.

It isn’t easy making the days count. Jobs can be tedious and mind-numbing, marriages can be challenging and parenting even more so.

But we need to try. We must look at the opportunity of every day (not just the oceanside ones!) and try to make the most of them. Amidst all of life’s difficulties, our job is to find joy and meaning in each moment.

We can’t wait for vacation. We can’t rely on sand and sun. We need to look within to find the resources and the strength to focus on what’s important, to deepen our relationship with our Creator, to rise to our unique personal and national challenges.

The ad is correct. It just doesn’t mention how much work is involved. But it is summertime and we do need to make the days count.

Just as soon as I finish my pina colada…