Making the Most of Our Time


Chag Sameach! A Quick survey: How many people in the congregation regularly wear a wristwatch?
{Ask for a show of hands of those who use another device to tell time and the youngsters will happily pull out their cell phones (be advised that you may lose them for a minute while they check their Snapchat account).}

Regardless of what timepiece you carry, it’s clear that we live in a world obsessed with time.
Rarely does anyone sidle up to you in the grocery store anymore and ask, “Do you have the time?” because everyone has it attached to their body in some way.
We have multiple apps for tracking our calendars, managing our deadlines and even timing our walk to the office. We have time staring at us from the corner of our computer screens, from the dashboard of the car and from the digital clock on the bank sign down the street. I can always look at the old Marshall Fields clock down my street.

In some cities, in fact, telling time is literally a big deal. If you’re in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for example, you can’t help but see the Abraj Al Bait Towers clock just about anywhere you go. Its clock face is 43 meters in diameter, roughly the size of a luxury yacht, built on a tower that’s 601 meters (almost 2,000 feet) tall. By comparison, Big Ben, arguably the most famous clock in the world, is just over 6 meters in diameter on a 96-meter-high tower on the bank of the Thames.

Other cities around the world have similar “big time” clocks to help residents and visitors track the time, some even assisting with chimes or bells when the clock strikes the hour.

You’d think that the plethora of clocks in our world would make us better at managing our time, but the truth is that time management is one of the biggest stressors in our culture. We work too many hours, we have too many distractions, and we’re trying to squeeze in more work in less time.

Procrastination is often the result of being so overwhelmed with tasks that we keep putting things off, only to find that we’re now even more squeezed for time.
True story: The first-grader asked his mother why Daddy brought home a briefcase full of papers every evening.

She explained, “It’s because Daddy has so much to do he can’t finish at the office and has to work nights.”

“Well, then,” said the child, “why don’t they just put him in a slower group?”
One of the iconic images of the silent-film era is that of funny-man Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a giant clock on the side of a big-city building, many stories above the street. The scene is from the 1923 comedy, Safety Last.

The man in the picture is Lloyd himself. There is no safety net. In those early days of cinema, stunt doubles were only just emerging as a specialty, and CGI effects were completely unheard of.

Perhaps the reason that scene is so memorable is that a man dangling precariously from the hands of a giant clock seems to capture our ambiguous relationship with time.
As we prepare for Yizkor it is hard not to be aware of that relentless ticking of time.

The relentless ticking of the clock (or, in their case, the movement of the shadow around the sundial) is what the ancient Greeks referred to as Chronos time, from which we get “chronological” time.

If you buy an expensive watch today (either to actually tell time or to make a fashion statement), the jewelry store will likely refer to it as a “chronograph.” It keeps the time that we’re always tracking, managing and running out of.

Another kind of time is Kairos.
Kairos is the brand of time most often mentioned in the New Testament, but there is nothing particular un-Jewish about it. You won’t find it on the hands of the dial or the digital numbers on a screen. Instead, kairos refers more to a decisive time — the right time, the appropriate time.

The writers of the New Testament seem to understand kairos in relation to the moment when God intervenes or is about to intervene in human history.

Life in the Spirit is life in kairos time, and religious people set their watches and calendars by that standard.

These days we might have atomic clocks in our homes that are accurate to the second because they synchronize automatically by radio frequency with the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. The watch on our wrist or the clock in the bell tower might be fast or slow, but the NIST F-2 clock is always right.
But knowing the time is not the same as how we use our time.
How we “make the most of the time” is thus a function of how well we use our chronos to focus on the kairos. How does your calendar reflect time spent cultivating your relationship with God? Does your daily rhythm include time dedicated to the spirit?

Rather than just letting time tick away, what would it be like to endow our time with more spiritual uses?
If you regularly carry a timepiece of some sort, be it analog or digital, consider the practice of saying a short prayer every time you check the time. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, pray for whatever is happening or whomever you’re with at that moment. Coupled with a disciplined and regular spiritual life, it’s a practice that makes the most of the time in a way that allows the spiritual to work in us and through us.

Yizkor is about memory but it’s also about seizing each day as an opportunity for deep and real experiential living. It’s about being 9n 6he moment because that’s all we actually have.

A friend once came to Harold Kushner, author of the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and said to him: “Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life I went to the funeral of a man my own age. I didn’t know him well, but we worked together, talked to each other from time to time, had kids about the same age. He died suddenly over the weekend. A bunch of us went to the funeral, each of us thinking, ‘It could just as easily have been me.’
That was two weeks ago. They have already replaced him at the office. I hear his wife is moving out of state to live with her parents. Two weeks ago he was working fifty feet away from me, and now it’s as if he never existed.
It’s like a rock falling into a pool of water. For a few seconds, it makes ripples in the water, and then the water is the same as it was before, but the rock isn’t there anymore.
Rabbi, I’ve hardly slept at all since then. I can’t stop thinking that it could happen to me, that one day it will happen to me, and a few days later I will be forgotten as if I had never lived. Shouldn’t a man’s life be more than that?” (When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, p. 20. )

A story that comes from Rabbi Eli Schochet. It is a childhood memory of his.
Rabbi Schochet grew up in Chicago. His father and grandfather were rabbis there. And Eli tells this story:
One Shabbas afternoon, when he was about 8 or 9 years old, he was at his grandfather’s house, when a Cadillac pulled up,–on Shabbas!
3 burly guards got out. You could see that they had holsters in their inside coat pockets. And then the back door of the Cadillac opened, and a famous Jewish gangster got out. He walked up the stairs to the porch, took out an envelope, laid it down on the table next to Eli’s grandfather, and said, “Nem far de yeshiva kinder, iz mein mama’s Yahrzeit.”
Take this for the yeshiva kids, its my mother’s yahrzeit”.
With that, he turned around and walked down the stairs.
Eli said, ” At first, I was angry, that a man would dare bring money to my Zeidi on Shabbas. That a gangster would dare bring money with which to salve his conscience? And that my grandfather would take it”?
He didn’t know if he was angrier with the man or with his grand-father.
Eli kept that anger, that shame, that embarrassment inside him for many years, and never told anyone about it. And then, one year, when he was much older, the-incident somehow came up in the conversation when he was talking to his grandfather.
He said to him: “Zeyde, how could you have done such a thing? How could you have let him get away with such a thing? How could you have let a gangster give you money for charity on Shabbas?
His Zeyde answered him: “Don’t you understand what happened that day? Here was a man who had lived a certain way all his life, who lived in an ugly, criminal, wrong way. And then, one day, he happened to look at a calendar, and he realized that it was his mother’s Yahrzeit, and he remembered the dreams that she had once for him, the dream that he would grow up to be a mentsch, the dream that he would grow up to be a Jew, and for one brief minute, he wants to live up to that dream, for one brief minute, he wants her memory to live within him, and so he did what he did. That’s not hypocrisy. That is a moment of truth, and whether it lasted or not doesn’t matter. It was a sacred moment”.

We could say chronos became kairos.
The right moment was realized.
I challenge — actually Yizkor challenges us — to do the same.
Chag sameach.
It’s later than you think.

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