William Hamilton

Time affluence

“How are you?” I asked a friend yesterday.  “Not so well. I’m feeling disappointed in myself. I’m not using my time very well right now and I’m feeling frustrated as the days and weeks continue to crawl on.”

Now is as good a time as any to revisit our rapport with time. Even though our time-pieces still measure time the same way they always have, the intensity and uncertainty caused by the complete upheaval of our lives since mid-March has altered our ways of relating to moments and hours of the day.

Business School professor Ashley Whillans teaches about concepts she calls ‘time affluence’ and ‘time poverty’. Happier people feel more ‘time affluent’.  And this has nothing to do with their stock portfolio or savings balance.  Rather they treat time as the precious resource it is and feel more satisfied with how they’re filling it. 

Judaism has a lot to offer on this matter. Not merely because we find ourselves at a New Moon as we enter this Shabbat, but because the subject of this week’s portions of Torah could not be more timely.  Detailed passages lead us on a guided tour through Judaism’s ritual purity norms, discussing contagions, quarantines, tests, treatments, healing, and re-integration.  A careful learner will sense the role of time itself in restoring wellness.

Interestingly, the source for ritual purity within all of us is our soul.  Upon waking each morning, tradition invites us to affirm, “My God, the soul You placed within me is pure.  You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me and You guard it while it’s within me.” 

The purity of the soul, however, doesn’t come with guarantees.  Rabbi David Wolpe reminds us that although souls are hearty, they are also fragile.  Dismissing them can silence them.  Ignoring them will chill them.  By contrast, we nourish them by furnishing our inner lives.  Moments of stillness are important soul-nutriments.  Although unintelligible in spacial terms, souls are fluent in time.  Souls thrive in moments, memories, relationships, and experiences. 

Appreciating the soul’s divinity, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel notes:  “Monuments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never pass away.”

We yearn to fill our days with purpose and productivity.  The poet Christian Wiman pictures a faithful experience ‘as a motion of the soul toward God”.  May such a motion stir positive emotions within us all.

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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