Measuring Up: Self-Reflection On My Birthday
She had been in my life since I was a young bride and had helped me make Shabbos almost every week. But then last Friday – without warning – she gave out. And by “she,” I mean my black plastic measuring cup whose handle suddenly snapped off while I was scooping flour.
Of course it is completely melodramatic to speak about a piece of plastic in terms of life and death, but I was really struck as I stood there at the kitchen counter. The measuring cup had given no signs that it was weakening with age: it was working perfectly one moment, then gone the next. Most of my possessions either get lost, broken, or outdated when they go into disuse. But I literally measured with this cup until it could measure no more. Until it met its end. Which reminded me that everything in this world has an end. (And sometimes that end comes with no warning.)
I turned thirty-three last week…
What does thirty-three look like in the mirror? The beginning of fine lines forming on my forehead interspersed with minor acne. Adolescence hasn’t quite ended, yet somehow, old age is beginning to set in. The physical world, in which we are surrounded, is constantly breaking, constantly wearing down. I see this in my own body, which thank God, is still quite young and healthy, but I know that with every passing moment, it is slowly deteriorating, like all physical things around me.
But the soul within me? Why that is only getting stronger!
My God, the soul You have placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it. You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will take it from me, and restore it to me in Time to Come. As long as the soul is within me, I gratefully thank You, LORD, my God and the God of my forefathers, Master of all works, Lord of all souls. Blessed are You, LORD, who restores souls to all. (Morning Prayers)
While my body is slowly breaking down, my soul is growing stronger over time. But only because I am working hard to strengthen it. To train myself to be more altruistic and kind and sensitive and honest than I started off when that soul was breathed into me thirty-three years ago. It’s an uphill battle so much of the time, to turn myself into the person I want to be, to actualize my full potential.
What do we spend most of our time measuring in life? Our bank accounts. Our bills. Our number of vacation days. Our wardrobes. Our career satisfaction. Our popularity, intelligence, weight, attractiveness, our relationships . Our pain. Our pleasure. Our children. And of course, we can’t help comparing all these things to the people around us. But which of these things will last when we leave this world?
The word for “measure” in Hebrew is “midah.” It occurred to me today that this word “midah” doesn’t only mean measure – it also means character trait. It’s common for people to talk about someone’s midos (that’s the plural) and whether they’re good or not. But what’s the connection? In Hebrew, lashon hakodesh (the holy tongue), when two words are the same or share the same root, it’s not a coincidence. It’s an indication that the concepts are related. So I wracked my brain. What does a character trait possibly have to do to with the word “measure?”
And then it hit me: when we say “midah” we don’t just mean “a measure,” we mean “to measure” or “to gauge.” So how does this relate to character traits? Because these are the things in life by which we will be gauged. These are the only entities that will come with us when this world ends.
On my birthday, many people wished me the customary Jewish birthday blessing: “until 120!” And, of course, I did the math.
87 years left. (Best case scenario.)
It’s supposed to be a blessing for longevity, but perhaps the essence of the blessing is that we should not only have a long life, but more importantly, we should have a life in which we are cognizant of how finite our time here is. Will – in that short window – that God grants me, I fill myself up with enough goodness and kindness to measure up to God’s vision for me? Now that is my birthday wish..