Dvar Torah: Bereishit
Why does the Torah not count correctly?
In Psalm 90 we are taught ‘limnot yamenu kein hoda’ah, vnavi levav chochma – ‘teach us Hashem, to number our days correctly so we should become wise hearted’. Now, in the biblical account of creation, right at the beginning of Parashat Bereishit, at the end of day one, the Torah says, ‘vayehi erev vayehi voker Yom echad – there was evening and there was morning, one day’. But after that it says, ‘vayehi erev vayehi voker’ – there was yom sheni, the second day, third day, fourth day, etc. So therefore at the end of day one, the Torah should have said, ‘yom rishon’ – the first day, instead it says ‘yom echad’ – one day.
Rashi presents an explanation which is given in Bereishit Raba, where the Midrash tells us that on the first day of creation, Hashem was the one and only spiritual being in existence because the angels were only created by him at a later stage. Therefore the Torah is implying ‘Yom Echad’ – was the day on which God was the one and only. Indeed to this day, He is ‘Hashem Echad’ – the one and only God.
I’d like to add to this, and to suggest that here the Torah is highlighting the significance of every single day of our lives. Now it is correct that we should be responsible enough to see each and every day of our lives as part of a sequence, part of the journey of life and we must understand that today, we must invest in tomorrow – and in all the future months and years that, please God, we will have in our lives. At the same time, the Torah wants us to know that we should view each day as being important – as being significant in its own right.
The Ethics of the Fathers teaches us ‘shuv yom echad lifnei mitatcha’ – ‘repent the day before your death’. Now obviously we can’t predict the day we die, (God forbid) and therefore Chazal are teaching us to see every day as if it is our last. That is to say, appreciate every breath of life. Acknowledge how extraordinary Hashem is for providing us with the opportunities to achieve so much within a single day.
When it comes to bereavement there are various greetings that we use when we speak to mourners. The one I advocate using is, offering wishes for ‘arichut yamim’ – ‘length of days’. Within Anglo-Jewish circles people often say, ‘chayim aruchim’ – wishes for ‘a long life’, but that isn’t always appropriate. When we are lamenting the loss of someone whose life was cut short, we’re not thinking about ourselves and how long our own lives will be. However when we say ‘arichut yamim’ – the implication is that the mourner should take the fond memories of the deceased and use them to make the most of every single day. So that each day will be long and productive, full of success and attainment. That is what the torah wants us to know when it says ‘Yom Echad’. Every day should be like that original day of creation – one special and remarkable day in your life. It is in this sprit that we pray, “Baruch Hashem Yom Yom” – May Hashem bless us on each and every day of our lives.