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The Million-Dollar Minute

Sep 5, 2023

Beautiful sunrise over Masada (

כִּ֤י אֶ֪לֶף שָׁנִ֡ים בְּֽעֵינֶ֗יךָ כְּי֣וֹם אֶ֭תְמוֹל כִּ֣י יַֽעֲבֹ֑ר וְאַשְׁמוּרָ֥ה בַלָּֽיְלָה׃

For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch of the night.

ki e-LEF sha-NEEM b'-ay-NE-kha k'-YOM et-MOL ki ya-a-VOR v'-ash-mu-RAH ba-la-y'-LAH

Psalms 90:4

A poor but righteous man fervently prayed one morning, asking: “God, what is one million years to You?” Remarkably, a voice from heaven responded: “One million years is like one minute to Me.”

The poor man continued: “what is one million dollars to You?”

“Mine is the gold and silver,” God replied. “One million dollars to me is but a tiny speck of gold in My eyes; it is virtually worthless.”

“So, if that’s true,” the poor man said, “could You kindly give me one million dollars?”

“Of course,” the divine voice responded. “I will send it to you… in just one minute.”

This joke has been told a million times, but its essence could be traced back to the Psalms. The verse in Psalm 90 states:

“Before the mountains came into being, before You brought forth the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity You are Hashem. You return man to dust; You decreed, ‘Return, you mortals!’ For in Your sight, a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch of the night” (Psalms 90:2-4).

One sign of human greatness is our ability to imagine something greater than ourselves. The Psalm acknowledges the inevitable death of every human being as a consequence of birth. Yet, our Creator has instilled within our finite bodies a spark of the infinite. Although the body decays, the soul is free to return to its source.

The sages teach that sleep is one-sixtieth of death (Brachot 57b). Similarly, the Psalmist observes that each morning when we awaken, we experience a form of resurrection: “You engulf men in sleep; at daybreak, they are like grass that renews itself” (Psalms 90:5).

Upon waking every morning, Jews recite the following prayer: “I give thanks unto You, living and enduring king, that, in mercy, You have restored my soul within me. Great is Your faithfulness.”

Humans are essentially caught between two worlds: we have a physical body with a spiritual core. Our experiences of suffering and pleasure are also dual in nature. While physical pain is finite and ends with our lifetime, spiritual suffering can be eternal, affecting our relationship with God. Similarly, spiritual pleasure transcends and enriches our bodily experiences.

The Psalm goes on to say:

“Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart” (Psalms 90:12).

By dedicating our physical lives to God, we attach ourselves to the divine spark within us. We bless our food, recognizing it as a gift from our Creator that not only gives us pleasure but also provides the strength to perform His work in the world.

Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the Rabbi of Piasetzna, wrote that when a teacher looks at a student, they should see a piece of the patriarch Abraham within that student’s body. This suggests that even our physicality can be elevated to reflect our divine origins and eternal nature.

While we are finite beings bound by mortality, we possess the potential to elevate even our physical existence by recognizing and honoring the divine spark within us.

Related Names and Places:

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 90

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