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Some Sobering Thoughts for Procrastinators (All of Us)

January 17, 2022 | by Emuna Braverman

Is the clock ticking faster or slower than you think?

“The days are short and the task is great” begins one of Rabbi Tarfon’s pithy sayings in Ethics of Our Fathers. What does it mean? Sometimes the last thing these days seem to be is short (especially when we have many young children home from school due to Covid or a snow day!). In fact, people more often say that the days are long but the years are short. Some days seem to never end but the years seem to fly by.

My husband and I were recently discussing his 5th grade teacher and we realized we were discussing an event from 52 years ago! Those years have certainly gone by so fast.

One of our favorite Shabbat afternoon activities is to look at albums of our children as infants and toddlers. It gives the kids a chance to make fun of us over the way we dressed them, cut their hair, you name it. But beyond the fun is a reflection of the swift passage of time. It doesn’t seem so long ago that the mothers of toddlers were toddlers themselves!

With “the days are short and the task is great,” I think Rabbi Tarfon is suggesting that a person’s life goes by faster than we realize. We think we have all the time in the world and we turn around and we’re… 64! If this came so quickly, presumably the others will as well. We’ll turn around and, with the grace of God, we’ll be 74 and 84. Yikes!

It’s a little intimidating. It’s a little overwhelming. And on top of that, the task is great. There’s a lot to do.

So if we haven’t already, we need to get started – now! As in yesterday. There is literally no time to waste.

Whatever learning we want to do, whatever growing we want to do, whatever connection with family and friends and the Almighty we want to make, the time is now.

That’s a sobering thought. Especially if we’re procrastinators. And we all are in some areas. Especially the complicated ones. The challenging ones. The more effortful ones.

“The task is great.” We’ll never get it all done – not all the learning, not all the growing, not all the changing. It’s tempting to not bother trying.

Rabbi Tarfon seems to anticipate this reaction for in his next statement in Ethics of the Fathers where he reminds us that it’s not up to us to complete the task, only to start it. Instead of worrying that we’ll never finish and therefore why bother even starting, we should just begin. Put in the effort and just try.

There is a risk at looking at the vastness of the task and becoming paralyzed. But that would be a waste, actually a tragedy. It’s not in our power to ensure the end of our project, to necessarily realize our goals. But it is in our power to begin, to act, to make the effort.

Time’s a wastin’. The days are actually fleeting. And there is a big task ahead. We don’t get to coast; we don’t want to coast. It’s never too late to learn, to grow, to connect. As Hillel says, “If not now, when?”

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