By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
From Where I Stand
I intended procrastinating, but I never got around to it.
Whether you consider the above quotation wise, witty, or silly, it can actually be quite a sobering thought. How many of us can truly say we don’t put off important things we know we should have done yesterday? Don’t you just go green with envy when you meet those super-efficient types who are so punctual, organized, and always put together? Don’t they infuriate you . . . with yourself?
From my own experience, I now know that if something is important, I’d better attend to it immediately; otherwise, I simply don’t trust myself to “get around to it.” I know I could benefit from a time-management course. I once signed up for one but I never made it there. No time. There are still so many new ideas, projects, and plans I’d like to get around to. I know that with better personal discipline, they might actually materialize.
You might be surprised to learn that effective time management is not only professionally effective, but is also a religious imperative. The Torah (Parashas Emor) details the Jewish festivals where between Pesach and Shavuot we read about the Counting of the Omer. Just as the Israelites counted the days after the Exodus in eager anticipation to receive the Torah, so do we count these 49 days annually.
But why count time? Time marches on inexorably, whether we take note of it or not. What value is there in counting the days? We count these 49 days to make us more sensitive to the value of a day, an hour, a moment. As Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch once said, “A summer’s day and a winter’s night is a year.”
I heard a classic analogy on this theme in the name of the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838–1933). Life is like a picture postcard, he said. Ever had the experience of being on vacation and sending a picture postcard home or to a friend? We start writing with a large scrawl and then we suddenly think of new things to say and before we know it we’re at the end of the card and there’s no more room. So what do we do? We start writing smaller and then when we’re out of space we start winding our words around the edges of the card to get it all in. Before we know it, we’re turning the card upside down to squeeze in the last few vital words of our message.
Sound familiar? Isn’t life like that? We start off young and reckless without a worry in the world, and as we get older we realize that life is short. So we start cramming and trying to squeeze in all those important things we never got around to. Sometimes our attempts are quite desperate, even pathetic, as we seek to put some meaning into our lives before it’s too late. (Maybe that’s what a midlife crisis is all about.)
So the Torah tells us to count our days—because they are numbered. We each have an allotted number of days and years in which to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Hopefully, by counting time we will appreciate it better.
Whatever it is that is important for each of us to get done, please G‑d, we will all get around to it before it is too late. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.