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I have long noted that when one speaks to small children and asks them their age they will often answer in terms of half birthdays. They will say that they are four and a half or five and a half years old. This is because when we are very young we are anxious to become older and to possess the enticing fruit of privileges granted to children as they advance in years. This idea of half birthdays begins to wane when children come close to the age of adolescence and by the time they become young adults it seemingly disappears completely.

However, subliminally this concept continues to lurk within us during our active years of life. It begins to emerge once more as we reach our so-called golden years. It is then that we count time far differently than we did in our earlier decades. We are very cognizant then of the importance of every passing day and we realize how precious time really is. We begin to once again mark in our minds the passing of half birthdays.
 I recently marked such as birthday in my own life and this is what occasioned this reflection. King David advises us to count our days to cultivate a heart of wisdom. I think that he may have had the concept of half birthdays in mind. Half birthdays are gifts to us if we view them as such and treat them with the respect and contemplation that they so deserve.
When we are young, our birthdays mark our view of the future. We look forward to being old enough to drive an automobile, to vote, to marry and raise a family and to make our way in life. We are very anxious to get started and we think in terms of years and even decades and not in terms of days.
Later in life, birthdays bring about a flood of memories about the past. They remind us of where we have been, of our successes and shortcomings, of those who we loved and of the enormous challenges and vicissitudes that life has brought upon us. We no longer think in grandiose sections of time but rather realize how fleeting and elusive time itself really is.
In the prayer services of this past great month of Tishrei, we recited memorial prayers twice for those who are no longer with us. Even as we prayed for the benefits and blessings of the coming good year, we were compelled not only by custom but also by the emotions that dwell within us, to look back and mark what has passed and irretrievable. We were forced to count the days that were, not only to mark the days that are coming upon us. The concept of half birthdays suddenly reemerged in our consciousness and beings. And in that sense we became young children once again.
We live in a culture that glorifies youth. All the commercial enterprises devote advertisements to attracting a young crowd. The culture in music, drama and the media overwhelmingly emphasize the youth market. Perhaps we older people would like to have the physical stamina and abilities that we once had in our youth. However, overall, I think there are very few people who would choose to repeat their years of uncertainty and adolescence.
The great wise men of Israel, when celebrating the drawing of the water for the Temple service on Succot, said that they were satisfied and happy that their later lives and actions were able to atone for the follies of their youth. In order to achieve such an attitude I believe that one must be able to begin to count half birthdays once more. It helps give an immediacy of time and purpose to the regularity of every day life.
Judaism teaches us that we should always look forward to a better future. But it implores us to, at the very same time, look back at the road that we have traversed and the life that we have led. Without the past, the future will have little meaning and purpose. All the stages of life have their own importance and message for us. By marking our half birthdays, it will become easier to give correct definition to our days. And that is a great blessing that everyone can and should appreciate.
Shabbat shalom,
Berel Wein

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