The Value of Time

This past summer, It seemed like everyone I knew was baking and cooking and curing—perhaps more than ever before. Many were first-timers—previously overwhelmed by the idea of the planning and hands-on preparation. But those same beleaguered would-be amateur chefs were no longer overwhelmed the same way, because now they were home, ostensibly, indefinitely. And the key ingredient to such foodstuffs is time.

Though shepherding our children through distance-learning has also reset our universe, for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has given us what feels like more time—time at home, time with family, time for “projects.” And yet this addition of time is an illusion. Because when we, the seemingly healthy, reflect on our “additional” time, we forget that the coronavirus disease has already robbed over 1 Million Americans of time.

For the “lucky” portion of that million, that robbed time was spent recovering. And for those deeply affected, that time translated into years shaved off their life leading to an untimely death. In addition, social-distancing (and appropriately required) has robbed our seniors of time with their grandchildren, with their friends. It has robbed children of formative summers at sleepaway camp. It has robbed students of graduations, internships, first jobs. It has robbed businesses of a future.

My father always taught me that time is the only thing we possess of true value—it is the only thing we can never get back once we’ve spent it. I think only now am I understanding what he meant—especially as I reflect on Parashat Bereshit and the forces of creativity and creation.

As much as I want the pandemic to be behind us, I am now trying not to push through it mentally, luxuriating in the time I have with my family. I am welcoming opportunities to connect and reconnect with friends and family I haven’t heard from in decades. I am writing more. I am teaching more. I am listening more. I am paying attention—and pausing to watch sunrises and sunsets.

There are indeed things I am not doing (and am not able to do)—but this is what I am doing.

This health crisis challenges us to ask ourselves: what was missing from our life, long before this pandemic began? Is now the opportunity to fill that void and we are only now realizing it?

The first commandment God commanded of the Israelites as a people (once they left Egypt) was to keep a calendar (Exodus 12:2). But it is not enough simply to mark days and weeks and months. God charged the Jewish people with making time sacred. And that is a principle imparted to the whole world.

Millennia later, we are intentionally asking the question: how do we and how should we spend our time? Because though it may seem like we do, we don’t actually have any more time than we had before. We just feel less pressure to occupy it in ways dictated by others.

We are doing our best to get through this crisis—and we are finding new ways to work on ourselves and engage our families. But we need to make the changes to our life and to our world to make these efforts stick. This has to become part of the new normal—else, we’ve spent our time in vain.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Olitzky is a senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. He graduated from the Joint Program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2003 where he was awarded a BA in Sociology and a BA in Talmud and Rabbinics. Rabbi Olitzky went on to receive an MA in Midrash in October 2007 and his ordination as a rabbi from JTS in May 2008.
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