“Hayom” Finding Meaning in Each and Every Day

Not long ago, after her husband’s untimely death, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg described how she got through the difficult sheloshim period. Among other beautiful thoughts, she wrote, “When I hear How are you today? I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”

Sheryl Sandberg built up strength and resilience through each day. We learn a similar lesson in parshat NItzavim, where the word היום (hayom) is repeated numerous times. After being rebuked and warned about all the terrible things that may happen to bnei Yisrael if they don’t keep the mitzvot, Moshe says to them you will still endure, you will continue to stand up this day as a people:

אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י ה׳ אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם…

You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God… (Devarim 29:9)

לְמַ֣עַן הָקִֽים־אֹתְךָ֩ הַיּ֨וֹם ׀ ל֜וֹ לְעָ֗ם…

to the end that He may establish you this day as His people…(Devarim 29:12)

Hayom is also a central theme in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. This is just one of several connections between parshat Nitzavim (which we read each year on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah) and the period of the month of Elul, when we are focused on teshuva and self-improvement. We pray that on this day (Rosh Hashanah) we will be judged favorably:

הַיּוֹם הֲרַת עוֹלָם

הַיּוֹם יַעֲמִיד בַּמִּשְׁפָּט כָּל יְצוּרֵי עוֹלָמִים

Today is the birthday of the world.

Today all creatures of the world stand in judgement

What does the emphasis on “today” teach us? Rashi explains that the word “today” is emphasized to teach us that just as a 24 hour day consists darkness and light, so too we will endure as a nation through difficult times as well as peaceful times.[1] This imagery is central to Rosh Hashanah, the day on which we pray for life, for favorable judgement and for the strength to endure through good times and bad.[2]

We learn about the strength of a day from two other sources. First, from the shema, where it states:

וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ

And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.

The midrash Sifrei comments on this verse: These words should not be like an antiquated edict but rather should be new to us each day, so that we are eager to read them. Today is about the opportunity to wake up each day anew and press refresh. Don’t linger on what was we did wrong yesterday but rather on what we can do even better today.

This lesson about each day representing a new opportunity is seen as well in one final source, in the story of Hannah, the haftorah portion read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. There we read about how Hannah, who is childless, goes up to Jerusalem every year with her husband and his other wife and their children. Every year they go through the same motions until one year something changes and Hannah gets terribly upset and decides to take action, to pray. This change is marked through the words ויהי היום, “On that day.”[3] A new day brought Hannah a new chance and her prayers were answered.

May we all find the strength to find meaning through the mitzvot we do each day this year. Shana tovah.

[1] Rashi on Devarim 29:12.

[2] Rashi also interprets “hayom” as referring to Rosh Hashana in the story of Iyov 1:6.

[3] Rav Amnon Bazak, http://etzion.org.il/he/%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%A7-%D7%90-%D7%93%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%AA%D7%94-%D7%A9%D7%9C-%D7%97%D7%A0%D7%94-%D7%90