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Jewish Time

January 14, 2016 | by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

If time is more precious than money, why do we treat is so cavalierly?

The Powerball lottery and its record $1.5 billion jackpot has engendered great conversation about what we would do with the money if we won. Money is a tremendous commodity, yet there is an even more precious commodity that we waste all too often.

When it comes to money, if we run low, there are ways in which we can try to replenish. If we work harder maybe we can always earn more and, therefore, have more money to spend. But when it comes to time there is nothing we can do to earn more. If it is wasted, it cannot be made up. There is a limited amount of it allocated to each one of us and with every passing second we come closer to emptying our account.

Despite its preciousness and irreplaceability, we tend to bring a casual attitude towards it, wasting it, and some even choosing to kill it.

Urban Dictionary, a web site dedicated to cataloging modern phrases and idioms, defines “Jewish time” as follows:

Not perfectly on time; possibly somewhat late, but no harm is done as a result. The implication is that there is no need to be exactly on time, and starting a little late is acceptable.

When an event is schedule to take place at 2:00 Jewish time, it could be at 2:15 or even 2:35, and everyone is satisfied.

“The wedding will start at 6:00 PM Jewish time.”

Of all people, we are to have an acute time awareness and profound appreciation for the value of time.

Indeed, the very first mitzvah of the Torah, the first commandment that we received as a people, is to value time.God said to Moshe and Aharon – This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.” With this commandment comes the privilege and responsibility to control the Jewish calendar through testimony of the new moon and the determination of the human court of when the month begins and consequently when our holidays fall.

For two hundred and ten years, as slaves in Egypt, our people had no control over their own time or their own destiny. Our taskmasters and oppressors determined how we spent every single moment. It is specifically at that point, when the Jewish people are on the cusp of attaining freedom that we are given the commandment about time. At the core of freedom is the ability to be the arbiters and determiners of our own time. Freedom and time are intertwined.

Time awareness is at the core of our humanity and is the responsibility of freedom. Being relaxed about punctuality, running late, and having a casual attitude towards start times, is not Jewish time; it is the antithesis of the Jewish notion of time. Wasting time is tantamount to burning money, and killing time murders possibility and potential.

Being Late is Self-Centered

In a fantastic article in Forbes, “5 Minutes Early Is On Time; On Time Is Late; Late Is Unacceptable,” Brent Beshore shows how disrespectful, inefficient, and self-centered it is to run late. He writes:

  • Disrespectful: Being on time is about respect. It signals that you value and appreciate the other person. If you don’t respect the meeting’s participants, why are you meeting with them in the first place?

  • Big-Timing: Intentionally being late is about power. It’s showing the other person, or people that you’re a “big deal” and have the upper-hand in the relationship.

  • Incredible: No, not in the good way. When you miss meeting times or deadlines, your credibility takes the trajectory of a lead balloon. If you can’t be counted on to be on time, how could you possibly have credibility around far tougher tasks?

  • Unprofitable: Let’s consider a scenario where five people are holding a meeting at 2 p.m. Your sauntering in ten minutes late just wasted 40 minutes of other peoples’ time. Let’s say the organization bills $200/hour. Are you paying the $133 bill? Someone certainly is.

  • Disorganized: If you can’t keep your calendar, what other parts of your life are teetering on the edge of complete disaster? Being late signals at best that you’re barely hanging on and probably not someone I want to associate with.

  • Flaky: Apparently some people just “flake out,” which seems to mean that they arbitrarily decided not to do the thing they committed to at the very last minute. Seriously? That’s ridiculous.

  • Megalomaniacal: While most grow out of this by the age of eight, some genuinely believe they are the center of the universe. It’s not attractive.

Beshore concludes: “Paying attention to punctuality is not about being “judgy,” or stressed. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It makes room for the caring, considerate, thoughtful people I want in my life, whether that’s friends or colleagues. Think of how relaxing your life would be if everyone just did what they said they’d do, when they said they’d do it? A good place to start is with yourself and a great motto is something I was taught as a child: ‘5 minutes early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.’” 

Of course being late will happen. We run into emergencies and unexpected, uncontrollable circumstances. But is being late an exception or the rule? Are we ashamed when we are late and do we apologize and take responsibility, or have we become so habituated to not being on time that we no longer even notice?

While we can’t expand or slow down time, we can make the most of it and value each moment. By learning to manage this most precious commodity, we will in fact have won much more than the lottery.

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