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Yitro


  • Time Management

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    Do you struggle with time management? Are you stressing out over all the things you have to do? Are you finding it difficult to juggle all your responsibilities? Would you like to accomplish more?

    Many of us are accustomed to starting are s'machot-happy occasions latter then the scheduled time. It has becoming quite ordinary to be fashionably late. However, perhaps no one realized how the person feels on the other side, the one who follows the invitation time literally. I came across an article by the great Rabbi Berel Wein which I found interesting and I would like to share an excerpt with my beloved readers.

    "All of us have experienced the discomfort of arriving at a wedding/chupah called for 6:30 PM and not having the actual ceremony begin till after 8PM or sometimes even later. I have never been able to fathom what it is within us that allows us to so abuse the time and patience of others. The fact that 'everyone does it' and that this is a common social malady in our circles in no way serves to justify this behavior. The wedding was called for 6:30 so I arrived at 6:10 to complete the necessary documents and prepare for the wedding ceremony. Imagine my consternation when I arrived at the hall and discovered that I was there before the bride and groom and their respective families, the photographer, the band and the catering staff! The wedding ceremony took place at 8:30 and I was vastly disturbed that no one thought that this was somehow not really acceptable behavior. Since then I try to avoid being the first person to arrive at the wedding hall though no matter how hard I try I always seem to come too early."

    My partner Aharon Ambalu and I were spearheading a rather formidable youth group, which was part of our Synagogue, back in the early 1990s in Queens. One of our first "breakout" events was a lecture by the pioneer of the lecture speaking circuit, Rabbi Berel Wein. This style, although now seems ancient, was innovative and very different. He was the first, the lone ranger in this new field and It was a first time such a powerhouse speaker was brought in to the Sephardic community in Queens.

    As Aharon and I were preparing before the crowd arrives, I noticed a lone car outside the shul. "It's not time for anybody to arrive," I said, scratching my head as my curiosity took the better of me. I approached the car, something that is dangerous to do in New York. Lo and behold, it was Rabbi Wein. "Rabbi you're early," I said. "Yes, I know" he answered back. "Why didn't you come in?" I said as a curtesy, offering my hospitality. He said "No, I'll just stay here till 7:00 if you don't mind." I was taken a back. Why does he want to wait in his car? I heard an incredible answer. Once, someone went for an interview to the Bryors Rav in Manhattan. The German Jews are very meticulous about punctuality. He was a few minutes early. Interestingly the Rav addressed the soon to be guest by sayings "a few minutes early is also not on time".

    We Orthodox Jews are regulated by time. There is an interesting story told by a Baalat teshuva-someone who became observant which I found. "I'll never forget the first time I was invited to a Shabbat meal in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was told to be there no later than 6 PM. Well, as I am slightly time-challenged, I took "6 PM prompt" a bit figuratively, and showed up at 6:15, which was the most on-time I had ever been at that point. I noticed the Shabbat candles beautifully dancing, apologized for being late, and asked if I too could light the candles. "Better late than never," I said with a smile, reaching for the matches. To which I was told, "I'm so sorry, but you can't. It's too late." It's too late? What? But it was only 6:15. Really? That was it. Over. Done. I was so used to second chances, extended deadlines, one more opportunity . . . but this time there was no discussion. I wasn't going to get to light. Now, it wasn't as if I had lit candles for however many years prior to that. But being told I couldn't really bothered me. So much so that it prompted my decision to check out more about Judaism, and why being so on time in this particular situation actually mattered. It's been over 20 years since that one Friday night, and I have been lighting my Shabbat candles, on time."

    Lighting Shabbat candles at a very specific time teaches us how important it is to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. And sometimes, being ready just a tad too late, or even too early, is not really helpful at all. In this week's parsha, the children of Yisrael came to Mt. Sinai. There, Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, joined the nation. Yitro observed that Moshe was overwhelmed by his leadership responsibilities. Yitro asked Moshe to explain his various responsibilities. Moshe replied that he has three basic tasks. First, the people come to him to seek Hashem. Second, he judges between the people. Third, he reveals to the nation the laws of Hashem. Yitro advised Moshe to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates and judges to assist him in the task of governing and administering justice to the people.

    We are often overwhelmed with tasks that can easily be allocated to other people. Furthermore, there is "time spent" on project and jobs that can be utilized in a more efficient and productive matter. Time is of the essence. We often neglect it, abuse it, or are not economical without time. We have to approach it shrewdly. Rabbi Bilus asks, "Where do you find the 25th hour? Get up an hour early!"

    We read three times daily the paragraph in the Amida called Modim Anachnu lach a prayer that acknowledges our appreciation towards G-d. In that prayer there is a phrase "for Your miracles that are with us every day and for Your wondrous deeds and favors at all times: evening, morning and noon". The Sages hint that if we carry that mindset of "At all times" we will have a great deal of success in building our lives. What exactly may that mindset be? How can we attain that mindset?

    There is a Gemarah where the great Sage Hillel was dancing in front of the Chattan and Kallah and he said, "All of me is here". If one reads the statement at face value, one might think Hillel is battling the evil inclination regarding an inflated ego. But we know the great Sage would never mean that or feel that. What exactly did he mean? Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1080-1164) quotes: "The past is gone, the future is yet to be, and the present is only a split second. Adopting this philosophy leaves no room to worry." Learning to control our mind to be fully focused on the now is the most precious gift that we can give ourselves, our children and our loved ones. This is what Hillel meant. He is implying that you, Chattan and Kallah have my full attention. You have my dedication and devotion.

    What does the Torah say? What has been the secret of our great leaders and their ability to do so much in such a short amount of time. Here are just 2 examples. The Rambam, Maimonides, a royal doctor, a great scholar and writer, teacher, mentor, spiritual leader and family person. Published many books and all that before there were computers or internet. Or Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, known as the Rashba (1235 - 1310). He became a successful banker and leader of Spanish Jewry of his time. He served as rabbi of the Main Synagogue of Barcelona for 50 years.
    The Rashba was considered an outstanding rabbinic authority, and more than 3,000 of his responsa are known to be extant. Questions were addressed to him from Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, and even from Asia Minor. His responsa, which cover the entire gamut of Jewish life, are concise and widely quoted by halakhic authorities.
    He also was a doctor, gave 3 lectures each day and managed to take a walk every day for health and relaxation.
    How did they do it? How did they manage their time? What is the secret?

    The very first mitzvah of the Torah, the first commandment that we received as a people, is to value time. "Ha'chodesh ha'zeh lachem.... G-d 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, explains the Sforno, 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. Rabbi Soloveitchik saw the freedom to control time as the very definition of a human being and the very essence of consciousness. The only creature that can experience time, that feels its passage and senses its movement, is man.

    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, bitul z'man, is tantamount to burning money, and killing time murders possibility and potential. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once asked what time a certain event would begin. He was told around 10:00 or 10:15. He asked which one it was, for he explained that there was an incredible amount that he could accomplish in fifteen minutes.

    It is so easy and so cliché to say that we should use our time well
    and take advantage of every day. But it is true. For what a shame and
    waste that a twenty-four-hour period can pass, and we might feel that
    during our day we did "nothing." All the more so if we let that day
    turn into a week, or even longer. Steve Jobs has been famously quoted
    as saying: "Live each day as if it is your last. One day you will be
    right." We can't live in the past, and we don't know what tomorrow
    brings, but we can determine how we want today to be.

    Rabbi Elya Lapian teaches us an amazing insight of the mindset one should be in. "The world says that time is money. But I say time is life! He went on to say that we all allow ourselves to become busy, and busyness detracts from life.

    Referring to the teaching by the 18th century mystic, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, known by the initials of his name as the Ramchal, said in his name no one knew this powerful method none other than the Pharaoh, king of Egypt himself.

    In the second chapter of his widely studied ethical treatise, Mesillat Yesharim, Path of the Upright, Ramchal writes of the tactics of the yetzer, the evil urge of man which is buried within each of us:

    "A man who goes through life without taking the time to consider his ways-to reflect on his life is like a blind man who walks along the edge of a river... This is, in fact, one of the cunning weapons of the evil yetzer, who always imposes upon men such strenuous tasks that they have no time left to note wither they are drifting. For he knows that, if they would pay the least attention to their conduct, they would change their ways instantly...

    "This ingenuity is somewhat like that of Pharaoh, who commanded, 'Let the heavier work be laid upon the men, that they may labor therein, and let them not regard lying words' (Exodus 5:9). For Pharaoh's purpose was not only to prevent the Israelites from having any leisure to make plans or take counsel against him, but by subjecting them to relentless never ending work, to deprive them also of the opportunity to reflect." For if one reflects long enough he will discover and appreciate G-d and the love-family -his own skills that are occurring morning afternoon and evening.

    To become so busy and have no time to reflect, no time to really live, is bondage. Ramchal's insight into Pharaoh's scheme epitomizes the essential nature of our years of exile in Egypt. Incredibly, our ancestors problems is currently and alarmingly ours! To have no time, that is slavery. He proposes to take a deep breath. One should not get sucked into a system where we are similar to "horses riding without paying attention of their travels, not looking to their left or right". One should have a diary, as the Ramchal suggests, where he can reflect of what transpired throughout the day. This process will help him organizing the future. Then, he will devote full attention to the events and people in his life

    How farsighted were the words of Rav Elya Lapian. Time is life. And how applicable is his teaching for contemporary man, who despite the "time-saving" technological devices which surround him is even busier than those who came before him. Contemporary man has no time for himself, certainly no quality time, no quality time for his love ones and thus no life.
    Time is life.

    Millennia ago, an Egyptian tyrant knew this secret.....and perhaps Rabbi Wein knew it too.

    Rabbi Avi Matmon


    This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi's Berel Wein, Yissachar Frand, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Bernie Fox, Zalman Marcus, Yaacov Lieder and Sarah Esther Crispe

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  • The Bond of Loyalty and Love


    by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    In the course of any life there are moments of awe and amazement when, with a full heart, you thank God shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazeman hazeh, “who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day.”

    Two that particularly stand out in my own memory were separated by almost ten years. The first was the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury in 2008. The conference is the gathering, every ten years, of the bishops of the Anglican Communion – that is, not just the Church of England but the entire worldwide structure, much of it based in America and Africa. It is the key event that brings this global network of churches together to deliberate on directions for the future. That year I became, I believe, the first rabbi to address a plenary session of the conference. The second, much more recent, took place in October 2017 in Washington when I addressed the friends and supporters of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the world’s great economic think tanks.

    The two gatherings could not have been less alike. One was religious, Christian, and concerned with theology. The other was secular, American, and concerned with economics and politics. Both of them, though, were experiencing some kind of crisis. In the case of the Anglican Church it had to do with gay bishops.[1] Could the Church accommodate such people? The question was tearing the Church apart, with many of the American bishops in favour and most of the African ones against. There was a real sense, before the conference, that the communion was in danger of being irreparably split.

    In Washington in 2017 the issue at the forefront of people’s minds was quite different. A year earlier there had been a sharply divisive American Presidential election. New phrases had been coined to describe some of the factors involved – post-truth, fake news, flyover states, alt-right, identity politics, competitive victimhood, whatever – as well as the resurfacing of an old one: populism. It all added up to what I termed the politics of anger. Was there a way of knitting together the unravelling strands of American society?

    The reason these two events are connected in my mind is that on both occasions I spoke about the same concept – the one that is central to this week’s parsha, and to biblical Judaism as a whole, namely brit, covenant. This was, in the seventeenth century especially, a key concept in the emerging free societies of the West, especially in Calvinist or Puritanical circles.

    To grossly simplify a complex process, the Reformation developed in different directions in different countries, depending on whether Luther or Calvin was the primary influence. For Luther the key text was the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul. For Calvin and his followers, however, the Hebrew Bible was the primary text, especially in relation to political and social structures. That is why covenant played a large part in the (Calvinist) post-Reformation politics of Geneva, Holland, Scotland, England under Cromwell, and especially the Pilgrim Fathers, the first European settlers in North America. It lay at the heart of the Mayflower Compact (1620) and John Winthrop’s famous “City upon a Hill” speech aboard the Arbella in 1630.

    Over time however, and under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the word “covenant” was gradually supplanted by the phrase “social contract.” Clearly there is something similar between the two, but they are not the same thing at all. In fact, they operate on different logics and they create different relationships and institutions.[2]

    In a contract, two or more people come together, each pursuing their self-interest, to make a mutually advantageous exchange. In a covenant, two or more people, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, come together in a bond of loyalty and trust to do together what neither can achieve alone.[3] It isn’t an exchange; it’s a moral commitment. It is more like a marriage than a commercial transaction. Contracts are about interests; covenants are about identity. Contracts benefit; covenants transform. Contracts are about “Me” and “You”; covenants are about “Us.”

    What makes the Hebrew Bible revolutionary in political terms is that it contains not one founding moment but two. One is set out in 1 Samuel 8, when the people come to the prophet Samuel and ask for a king. God tells Samuel to warn the people what will be the consequences. The king will take the people’s sons to ride with his chariots and their daughters to work in his kitchens. He will take their property as taxation, and so on. Nonetheless, the people insist that they still want a king, so Samuel appoints Saul.

    Commentators have long been puzzled by this chapter. Does it represent approval or disapproval of monarchy? The best answer ever given was provided by Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes, who explained that what Samuel was doing at God’s behest was proposing a social contract precisely on the lines set out by Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan. People are willing to give up certain of their rights, transferring them to a central power – a king or a government – who undertakes in return to ensure the defence of the realm externally and the rule of law within.[4] The book of Samuel thus contains the first recorded instance of a social contract.

    However, this was the second founding moment of Israel as a nation, not the first. The first took place in our parsha, on Mount Sinai, several centuries earlier, when the people made with God, not a contract but a covenant. What happened in the days of Samuel was the birth of Israel as a kingdom. What happened in the days of Moses – long before they had even entered the land – was the birth of Israel as a nation under the sovereignty of God.

    The two central institutions of modern Western liberal democracies are both contractual. There are commercial contracts that create the market; and there is the social contract that creates the state. The market is about the creation and distribution of wealth. The state is about the creation and distribution of power. But a covenant is about neither wealth nor power, but rather about the bonds of belonging and collective responsibility. As I put it in The Politics of Hope, a social contract creates a state. A social covenant creates a society. A society is the totality of relationships that do not depend on exchanges of wealth and power, namely marriages, families, congregations, communities, charities and voluntary associations. The market and the state are arenas of competition. Society is an arena of co–operation. And we need both.

    The reason that the concept of covenant proved helpful to the Anglican bishops on the one hand, and the American Enterprise Institute on the other, is that it is the supreme example of a bond that brings together, in a single co-operative enterprise, individuals and groups that are profoundly different. They could not be more different than the parties at Mount Sinai: God and the children of Israel, the one Infinite and eternal, the other, finite and mortal.

    In fact the very first human relationship, between the first man and the first woman, contains a two-word definition of covenant: ezer ke-negdo, meaning on the one hand “a helper” but on the other, someone “over-and-against.”[5] In a marriage, neither husband nor wife sacrifice their distinctive identities. At Sinai, God remained God and the Israelites remained human. A symbol of covenant is the havdalah candle: multiple wicks that stay separate but produce a single flame.

    So covenant allowed the Anglican Communion to stay together despite the deep differences between the American and African churches. The American covenant held the nation together despite, in Lincoln’s day, a civil war, and at other times, civil and economic strife, and its renewal will do likewise in the future. In Moses’ day it allowed the Israelites to become “one nation under God” despite their division into twelve tribes. Covenants create unity without uniformity. They value diversity but, rather than allowing a group to split into competing factions, they ask each to contribute something uniquely theirs to the common good. Out of multiple Me’s they create an overarching Us.

    What made these two experiences in Canterbury and Washington so moving to me was that they showed how prophetic Moses’ words were when he told the Israelites that the Torah and its commands “will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deut. 4:6). Torah continues to inspire not only Jews but all who seek guidance in hard times.

    So, if you find yourself in a situation of conflict that threatens to break something apart, whether a marriage, a family, a business, a community, a political party or an organisation, framing a covenant will help keep people together, without any side claiming victory or defeat. All it needs is recognition that there are certain things we can do together that none of us can do alone.

    Covenant lifts our horizon from self-interest to the common good. There is nothing wrong with self-interest. It drives economics and politics, the market and the state. But there are certain things that cannot be achieved on the basis of self-interest alone, among them trust, friendship, loyalty and love. Covenant really is a life- and world-changing idea.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

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