The Day Is Short

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it The Day Is Shortwith all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. — Ecclesiastes 9:10

The Talmud, Judaism’s Oral Law teaches: “The day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master of the house presses.”

This pretty much sums up the average life. There is so much spiritual work to be done both in the world and within ourselves. Yet most people are content to let someone else take care of the world’s problems, and we easily become overly complacent with our spiritual selves. Our lethargy stems from the fact that we don’t realize “the day is short,” that our lives have an expiration date. As one person put it, we live like we will never die and then die having never lived.

Yet, as the teaching goes on to explain, the reward for the work we might do while living is greater than we can ever imagine. Moreover, the “Master of the house,” God Himself, presses us to do the work and make something of our lives. Sometimes He sends us gentle encouragement, other times difficult situations, all in an attempt to wake us up and get us moving while we have still have the opportunity.

Similarly, we are taught in Ecclesiastes: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going . . . ” Whatever opportunities we are presented with to do good and become better people, we must work with all our might, because the opportunity won’t last forever.

The Jewish sages provide the following analogy. Once there was a king who wanted to reward a loyal subject who had done a great service for him. The king said, “I am opening my treasure house to you for three hours. Whatever you can carry out during that time is yours to keep.” Now, of course, that lucky man made the most of his time in the treasure house. He didn’t daydream or doze off. He didn’t stop to check Facebook, the latest scores, or the stock market. He probably didn’t mind all of the hard work of carrying large golden vessels either. He was focused on his goal and excited to make it a reality.

This is the type of enthusiasm that we should bring to each day we are given. While we also need to make space to breathe and unwind, we must never lose sight of our ultimate goal or the shortness of time that we have to achieve it. As Leonardo da Vinci once observed: “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” Let’s spend our time well; work hard and keep our eyes focused on the goal.

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