One of the great challenges of our generation is our need to be constantly connected and multi-tasking. While it used to be that news from abroad would take time to reach us, today it is instantly transmitted. When issues come up in our extended family, the first question is: “Didn’t you see it on the family chat?”
While I am not personally on WhatsApp, it appears to me that the comments back and forth can be very time consuming. This is certainly true of all social media, and surveys show that people check their social media up to fourteen times daily.
Enter Alexa and many of the other home automation devices that we use to automate our families. A cousin of Tzippy’s, whose home is automated, shared with us that private information discussed in their home mysteriously began to appear online in their search recommendations, making them feel that their private conversations were being tracked. I recently read an article stating that Millennials are aware that their privacy is being invaded but have just given in that this is a new normal. In the past few weeks, we have seen the tremendous power and control that social media has over us, as well as the potential invasion of our privacy and the consumption of our precious time.
When the evil prophet Bilom tries to curse the Jewish people, he says, Ma tovu oholecha Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisroel. Bilom was impressed by the level of privacy and modesty that he felt was exhibited by Klal Yisroel. Aside from the dangers of too much connectivity to the Internet and social media is the waste of time entailed.
Rabbi Label Lam discusses the concept of slavery and states that “a slave, by definition, has nothing. His time is not his own. At this moment, the Jewish people are empowered to take back control of their time and participate in creating a calendar. Controlling one’s own schedule is the first great step of freedom.”
One of the six questions we are asked after 120 years is, “Did you fix times for Torah?” (Shabbos 31) The Maharal explains that since the intellect is the supreme function of humans, the question tests not whether or not we learned as much as whether or not we had fixed appointments to learn. The ability to create goals, set aside times, and climb deliberately through the gauntlet of daily needs and urges testifies that one’s spirit had succeeded to rule over his earthly tendencies.
Sefer Cheshbon Hanefesh writes, “The animal spirit has a short attention span. It observes the world with material eyes, seeing only that which is close, obvious, and immediate…The intellectual human spirit is in constant danger of itself being swallowed up by the desires of the animal spirit.
The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah) demonstrates anecdotally that the word for “fixed” – keva – as in “fixing times for Torah” also means “to steal.” How are the concepts of “fixing” and “stealing” compatible?
To “fix” times for Torah one has to “steal” from other competing interests. While waiting for the bus or an important phone call, there are thousands of hours that are at risk of falling by the wayside waiting to be retrieved or “stolen back” and fixed as times for Torah learning. The Mishnah in Avos reminds us, “Don’t say, ‘When I’ll be free, I’ll learn.’ Maybe you’ll never be free.” Some present need will always be there to push out learning if it is not locked away in your sacred appointments.
I want to close with a story I heard from the Rosh Yeshivah. Rav Bengis z”tl, a venerable sage, was known to make a Siyum Hashas each year at the same time. One year, he made a siyum outside of his normal schedule. When asked, he explained that the siyum he was making was from a few minutes of studying while waiting for a chasunah to start. Every minute in his life was precious and special, and the accumulation of these minutes was enough time to make a special siyum.
Each of us needs to assess the degree to which we need to busy ourselves constantly with the challenges of technology. Setting a time for limud haTorah daily can be the best time-management tool that we can employ to live a more fulfilling life.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman