William Hamilton

Taking attendance and making time

Childhood classroom memories bring us back to the teacher opening class by taking attendance. Lately, I’m wondering about retooling this rote exercise. Perhaps taking attendance can take the form of asking ourselves: “Am I attentive to what’s in front of me? Am I fully present to what I’m facing?” Maybe taking attendance can alert us to make time for what matters.  

Time is more precious than money. How do you spend it? Where you put your heart, where you place your attention, says a lot about who you are. 

Wherever you put your attention, you discover a surplus of meaning. When you fixate on a painting or on an interaction, you tap added content. This is common with surprising coincidences. But it’s less common with ordinary things. A majestic sunrise can be breathtaking. But the reliability of it seems too ordinary to be interesting. 

In this week’s portion of Torah, Moses opens his Torah-concluding poem by appealing to the morning dew-droplets. “Let my lesson flow down as showers, my speech distill as the dew, like droplets on grass and herbs” (Deut. 32:2). Talk about something we take for granted. The wetness of a lawn is something lots of us tiptoe to avoid. But this doesn’t keep it from being a nourishing symbol.

Our first President, George Washington, wrote, in response to the Savannah, Georgia Jewish community’s congratulatory letter following his inauguration: “May the same wonder-making Deity who, long-since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, whose Providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of heaven.” He was linking the yearning to be free with the same dews from heaven invoked by Moses.

We see similar struggles for freedom around the world today. In Ukraine. In Darfur. And most recently among the freedom-seeking women of Iran. They deserve our attentive support. Their courageous determination will go much further than some unenforceable arms agreements will. 

Being attentive matters. This is why Moses follows his poem by urging us to pay attention: simu l’vav’chem (Deut. 32:46). Time flies. Time crawls when you’re staring at a ceiling fan waiting for sleep. 

Make time for what matters in the New Year. And, in so doing, may you encourage freedom for others and discover it within yourself.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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