Wasting Time

August 21, 2011

3 min read


I live in New York City and spend two hours each day commuting. Plus another good chunk of my day waiting in line - at the bank, supermarket, doctor's office. I wish my time were more productive. Any ideas?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

We each have a limited amount of time on this earth. And that makes every moment precious. As the saying goes, "Time is money." But ask yourself: Given the choice, which is really more important: five minutes or five dollars?

It's obvious that time is more precious than money. The older we get, the clearer that becomes. When we're young, we may feel we'll live forever. Legend has it that on her deathbed, the Queen of England said, "I'd give up all my fame and riches for just one more hour of life."

One of the biggest human tragedies is to waste time. Because that is literally throwing away a precious piece of life. Of course there are the obvious ways we waste time: Gossiping. Listening to moronic jokes. Watching sitcoms on TV. Playing backgammon for hours every day. That's "Killing time... and vise versa."

But there's a more subtle way of wasting time as well. I recall seeing a poster in a department store advertising clothes "to fit your busy lifestyle." The poster was appealing to our human desire to be busy. If we're busy, we feel important. But what are we busy with? What are we really accomplishing? Would you be proud of a tombstone that reads: "He ran a lot of errands?" Isn't there more to life than just "being busy?"

Now you're probably thinking, "Oh, this all sounds nice in theory, but I need time to relax!" Of course, everyone needs time for recreation and relaxation; a time to recharge and refresh. But when Western society says "relax," that usually means "space out." I recall seeing an enormous billboard for a popular entertainment/retail promenade. The message read: "The place to go when you've got nothing to do."

Judaism says don't waste a minute. This doesn't mean having a book in front of you 24 hours a day. (We have to sleep, right?) Rather, the Jewish idea of "relaxing" means to tune into another aspect of living. It should be purposeful and directed. When you sleep, it should be for the purpose of resting your body so that it will have the strength to do something truly meaningful. In this way, the sleep itself becomes meaningful.

Similarly, if you're visiting with a friend, rather than spend the time chattering about news, sports and weather, why not brainstorm ways to assist the community, or talk about the weekly Torah portion. Or take a walk through nature. Even though you change gears, it's not quitting. It's growth.

If you're daydreaming while commuting or waiting in line, then you're throwing money right out the window. Instead, learn something! There are endless Judaism classes available on audio. Set yourself a goal. Learn Hebrew. Go through a series on Jewish history. Listen to tapes on the upcoming Jewish holiday. (see aishaudio.com) There is no shortage of opportunities, if we truly desire to make it a reality.

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