The gift of life is experienced by all of us in segments of years, months, weeks, days and, ultimately, moments. Every moment is to be treasured as an entity onto itself. Hence, there is great value in being "in the moment" -- relishing, savoring and appreciating the now, regardless of what preceded it or what might follow it. A little boy, in a cartoon I once saw, observed that yesterday was the past, tomorrow is the future, but today is a gift, so we call it the present.
To separate the present from a painful past or from anxieties about the future is a formidable challenge for anyone. Many of us have witnessed the phenomenon of survivors -- of the Holocaust or of other losses (widows, widowers, children, parents, etc.) -- who find it almost impossible to take joy in the present because of the lingering shadows of the past. In many instances, they feel that it would be a betrayal of the memories of their loved ones if they would take joy in their present lives.
Survivors often feel that they would be betraying the memories of their loved ones by taking joy in their present lives.
The Torah gives us wonderful insight into this dilemma. In Genesis, we read the tragic account of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. They see him as a usurper of power and judge him guilty of treason, a capital offense. Rather than execute him, they choose the alternative of selling him into slavery, turning him over to a caravan of merchants traveling to Egypt. The text tells us that the caravan, into whose care Joseph was committed, carried a cargo of aromatic spices for trade in Egypt.
The Midrash says this is noteworthy since most caravans of this nature carried foul-smelling merchandise, such as animal hides etc. The question arises as to why the Almighty would orchestrate events so that a caravan with aromatic spices would appear at this particular time and place. Our Sages respond that the Almighty didn't want Joseph to be subjected to an offensive odor for the duration of his journey to Egypt.
This begs an obvious question. Having suffered the horrific trauma of betrayal by his brothers, could Joseph really have cared about such a seemingly insignificant detail as the smell of the caravan? It reminds one of: "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"
The message, however, is a very important one. Despite all the painful events that had transpired, God wanted Joseph to know that He still cared about him and was concerned with every miniscule detail of his life. God wanted Joseph, all his suffering notwithstanding, to grasp and appreciate the blessings of the moment, not allowing the darkness of the past to obscure the light of the present.
My mother, of blessed memory, was a wife whose devotion was of legendary proportions. During one of my father's hospitalizations, I had occasion to be with her. As we left my father's side to go to our place of residence, we passed a mall. A beautiful sweater in a store window caught my mother's attention and she remarked "I wonder if they would have it in my size." Although I was taken aback, I was eager for her to have a distraction, and suggested that we check it out; indeed, she purchased the sweater.
Buying a nice sweater represented my mother's vote of confidence in life, in Divine providence and His benevolence.
When I shared this incident with my sister, she thought it inconsistent with my mother's self-sacrificing devotion that she should care about a sweater at such a time. Upon reflection, I realized, however, that there was absolutely no contradiction. My mother was a woman of faith who understood that life comes from the Almighty with a mandate to live every moment to its fullest. Buying the sweater, on my mother's part, was a vote of confidence in life, in Divine providence and His benevolence. It was for her an echo of Joseph's "aromatic spices" in her journey through her personal "Egypt."
Every moment of life is a gift, an embrace of the Almighty. Too many of us are bogged down by what was and too obsessed with what will be. In the process, we lose sight of the present.
This season of "counting the Omer" invites us to stop and take notice and make every moment count for us.