| Parshah |

Once upon a Time

Contemporary man has no time for himself — and thus, no life


“Make the work heavy on the men… so they don’t speak about false matters.” (Shemos 5:9)


Pharaoh’s purpose was to deprive Bnei Yisrael of any opportunity for reflection.
The Ramchal in Mesillas Yesharim writes that one of the tactics of the yetzer hara is to impose strenuous tasks upon people so that they have no time left to notice where they’re going — for if they paid any attention to their conduct, they’d change their behavior instantly. (Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, OU Torah)

Cars age less gracefully than people, and our poor van needed the mechanic. I don’t like going to the mechanic. Something about all those power tools reminds me of the dentist. I pulled the car onto the lift and tried to ignore the sighing of its engine as I abandoned it to the mercy of the mechanical crew.

Not wanting to hang around and watch the torture, I left the garage and found a bus stop with a bench across the street. I’d come prepared for this waiting time with a list of phone calls I needed to make:  my son’s morah, my cousin, a friend… I’d be busy for the hour while the car got its cavities cleaned.

Settling myself down in the early winter dusk I pulled out my phone to get started. Then stared at the screen. It was dead. No battery. Gornisht. I tried turning it off, on — no go. The poor thing was in worse shape than the car.

There were two old men who couldn’t have been more different from each other, yet each taught me the identical life lesson: the importance of time management. Neither of these two elderly gentlemen used that relatively recent term, yet their words, while far fewer than those in the numerous contemporary popular books on the subject, made a lifelong impression upon me.
The first, Dr. McHugh, was a master psychotherapist who taught in my postgraduate training program.  He was convinced he had a foolproof method of understanding the human core.
“Tell me how the patient uses his time, how he organizes his daily schedule, and I’ll tell you the secret foundation of his soul.” He’d then make his lesson personal by making eye contact and asking, “How do you busy yourself?”

Now what? The garage was located in a dark industrial neighborhood behind Har Nof. I wasn’t traipsing around there, especially without my phone. I didn’t even have the pocket siddur and Tehillim I usually keep in the glove compartment. I was stuck — nowhere to go and nothing to do.

For a while I did just that. Nothing. I wiggled a bit on the seat, said a few kapitlach I knew by heart (amazing how memory fails you when you need it the most), and then stared into space. The minutes ticked by slowly, and slowly, without realizing it, I began to relax.

I noticed there was a soft breeze blowing carrying the scents of pine from nearby Yaar Yerushalayim. I let my brain slide from its constant what-to-do-next mode into what-do-I-think-about-that-mode. Who has time to think on the average day? My thoughts slid from one idea to another, to feelings and dreams. I lost track of time and place, the small metal bus stop transporting me to uncharted territory.

Following that postgraduate course, I had the rare opportunity of hearing the mussar shmuessen of the revered Rav Elya Lopian. He too spoke of the fundamental importance of one’s use of time. He began his remarks almost in a whisper. Gradually his voice reached its crescendo, and he uttered the words I’ll never forget: “The world says that time is money,” he said in Yiddish, “but I say time is life!”
To have no time, that’s slavery. How prescient were Rav Lopian’s words. And how germane his teachings for contemporary man, who despite the “time-saving” technological devices of today, is even busier than ever. Contemporary man has no time for himself — and thus, no life.

It was a shock when I glanced at my watch and realized the time. Reluctantly I stood and stretched. I hadn’t felt this energized in ages. I looked back at the bench; it seemed an unlikely venue for a vacation. But that’s what it had been — a break from life’s demands — forced upon me because I’d never do it otherwise.

Sliding into the driver’s seat of my tuned-up Toyota, I wistfully wondered when I’d need the mechanic again.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 773)

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