“Time and tide wait for no man” is an adage that becomes ever more relevant as we mature (the more politically-correct terminology being “move into our golden years”). On a recent plane trip, my husband and I sat across from a couple with a little girl who appeared to be about two years old. Unquestionably, traveling with a fidgeting youngster is no fun, but the two parents seemed unusually annoyed, as if the child was an intrusion on their lives. As I was observing them, I had a flashback to 25 years earlier, when my youngest was that age. She too was an adorable little girl with long, light brown hair and a spirited personality. Likewise, she was also no picnic on lengthy airplane journeys. For a long nostalgic moment I was transported back in time, wondering if I had sufficiently delighted in a season that had passed so quickly. Now, a quarter of a century later, my little girl with the long, light brown hair is married, baruch Hashem, with a light brown sheitel and children of her own, ka”h, and is building her own family in far-off Eretz Yisrael, where I have far fewer opportunities to enjoy her company. Overcome by these reminiscences, I couldn’t resist the urge to say something, and as the couple deplaned I remarked to the mother, “Enjoy your darling child. Before you know it she will be all grown up and independent.” Hindsight can be very instructive. As someone aptly observed, “Scars remind us where we have been, but they don’t have to dictate where we are going.” The lesson to be learned going forward is that every day dawns with new opportunities to embrace life and all that it has to offer. Our Sages teach that every moment of the day is an independent entity, separate from all those that came before it and all that will follow. As such, every moment pleads with us to invest it with purpose and meaning, as it is unique and will be in existence just this one time.
What, then, constitutes purpose and meaning? In the Hebrew language, lashon hakodesh, words and their roots are nuanced in such a way that they transmit voluminous insights.
A case in point is the word “netzach,” which means eternal and forever. Sharing the same root is the word “nitzachon,” meaning victory or triumph. The etymological intimation is that victory only inheres in that which is eternal and forever. In considering how we should invest the precious moments of our lives, it behooves us to ask the question: “Is what I am about to do of a short-lived, transient nature, or am I making an acquisition in eternity?” Clearly it is preferable to opt for that which is netzach, a segment of time captured forever. Consider Chana,* who grew up in a dysfunctional home. Her mother suffered from chronic depression and was seldom there for her. Her father was a bitter, frustrated person who lashed out in a verbally abusive manner. Chana’s upbringing left much to be desired, with many lingering “scars” with which to contend. Chana, however, made a conscious decision that she would not allow her past to determine her future. She sought out and surrounded herself with positive and emotionally healthy people. She willfully and consciously created a happy environment for her husband and children. Chana viewed every moment as an opportunity to celebrate. Cooking, baking and even cleaning filled her with joy. She thanked G-d for the privilege of being able to fulfill tasks and discharge responsibilities that others might have deemed menial and mundane. What many women considered pedestrian and burdensome chores, Chana saw as Divine gifts, all part of a seamless tapestry that would create positive memories for her family, something that she herself had never enjoyed. In so doing, she gave every moment eternal life. It is essential to note that even moments that strictly speaking cannot be defined as “enjoyable” or “pleasant” can nonetheless be meaningful. An example of this would be Mindel,* a middle-aged European woman who came to my attention recently. Mindel, I learned, had a young, newly-married daughter, Chavi,* who had suffered a brain aneurysm, r”l, that put her into a coma for over a year. The family rallied around her in shifts around the clock.The hospital staff commented that they had never seen such an outpouring of love and devotion. Mindel, in particular, virtually never left her bedside.
Throughout it all, despite the dire prognosis of the doctors, Mindel fully expected a miracle. She envisioned the great kiddush Hashem it would generate for both believers and nonbelievers alike. Alas, such was not the intention of the Master of the World, and young Chavi succumbed to her illness. Though shattered and heartbroken, Mindel was determined that the kiddush Hashem would still take place. She continued visiting the hospital on a regular basis, providing comfort, encouragement and solace to families dealing with similar challenges. Mindel became a virtual legend. Her broken heart became the catalyst for alleviating the pain and sorrow of others, and she dedicated her every act of chesed to the memory of her beloved daughter. Indeed, she captured all those moments for eternity, refusing to allow the scars of the past to determine her path in the future. A wise man once said, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.” Whether with ecstatic joy or, chas v’shalom, in great pain, the neshamah of a Jew has the transformative power to convert an ephemeral moment to something so precious that the Creator deposits it into a vault of His greatest treasures. Rather than having to look back wistfully at time unwisely spent, let us seize the opportunity to invest our limited moments with a consciousness that preserves them forever with the nitzachon of netzach.