Lessons from Rav Chaim

When I first learned of the death of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, I was oddly unmoved. The stories told about him spoke of miraculous events such as the grasshopper that landed in his study just as he was investigating the kashrut of its flesh. To me, it all sounded too remote, too unrelatable, more Catholic than Jewish. Rav Chaim seemed more angel than human.

But while listening to Rabbi Moshe Taragin’s eulogy on YU Torah I arrived at a new appreciation of the man who was called the Sar HaTorah. As a rabbi in the national religious camp, Rabbi Taragin might appear an unlikely eulogist. To his great credit, Rabbi Taragin is broad-minded enough to appreciate rabbis who don’t share his politics and as Rabbi Taragin pointed out there Rav Chaim’s life offered a lesson that even I could take in.

Rather than honing in on the supernatural, Rabbi Taragin focused on Rav Chaim’s use of time — Rav Chaim famously followed an extreme schedule that included a yearly completion of the Babylonian,  Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud,  Tosefta, the Zohar, and several other works. Whew. Rav Chaim was also known for his shortcuts, the most famous of which was his neologism BUA, a shortening of Bracha Ve”Hatzlacha blessings and success, his usual greeting to his many visitors. By truncating the phrase from six syllables to three Rav Chaim calculated that he’d conserve a few seconds which he’d use for his most prized endeavor, Torah study. Many successful CEOs have made similar calculations regarding money — Rav Chaim is the only one I’ve heard of who applied the same sort of cost-benefit analysis to his time.

That was brilliant. Unlike money which comes and goes time only goes. It’s the only resource we have that is forever being depleted and never renewed. Rav Chaim lived with an acute awareness of this.  His value of time and his refusal to waste even seconds is a model to emulate. The internet has turned me into a veritable Ph.D. in time-wasting. I’m not talking about the evil internet of porn or gambling or even gaming just supposedly kosher uses like news, recipe research, fashion vlogs, and shopping.

Back in the 80s, a lifetime ago when I first entered the Haredi world one of the features about it that amazed and pleased me was the absence of television. Back then almost no one had TVs, Yes of course there were exceptions but the small minority of Haredi TV watchers concealed their habits and their sets, sometimes behind their seforim shanks.

These days the internet is almost everywhere often in filtered form. Thankfully my filter blocks my access to the internet’s worst neighborhoods but I can still see quite a lot and like TV, it’s addictive.  Going cold turkey isn’t realistic — like most people, I need the internet but not all of it.

In Rav Chaim’s memory, I’ve dropped what I consider my worst habit — early morning YouTube binges on my iPad.  For the past few months, my first move after opening my eyes and mumbling a quick modeh ani has been to turn on my iPad. That’s not illogical. Without knowing the weather how could I get dressed, it seldom stopped at that?  Then came all of the videos that begged to be watched, eBay auctions to bid on,, news to follow, recipes and housekeeping tips to explore until six turned to seven and seven turned to eight.

But after hearing Rabbi Taragin’s eulogy  I understood that the Tzaddik had a real-life lesson even for me. In his memory, I would try to waste less time. and so my iPad is now in “jail”  locked up in the basement.

I’m two days in. Like anyone who is trying to kick a much-loved addiction, yes we love our addictions, it’s not easy. I miss my YouTube faves, Trevor Noah and Desi Lydic and Beth Djalali and Kristy Rice, and others who have come to feel like friends.

I miss them, but I’m not sure they deserve the large gift of life energy I have given them. Now they are gone. Without the iPad, I  get out of bed as soon as I wake rather than lingering under the covers.

This morning, I got up early, dressed, davened, and exercised, all before 9 am. I even settled back into bed for a short nap and now I’m writing this blog post. What can I say other than thank you Rav Chaim for saving my precious moments of life?  May this cause you holy soul further elevation.

About the Author
Carol Ungar is a prize-winning author who writes from the Judean Hills.
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