|One of the great consequences of the Jews being liberated from Egypt was that they would now be able to make decisions. A slave’s life is dictated by his master-when to eat, sleep, work, where to work, and everything else in the day is determined by the master. The Hebrew month of Nissan, the month the Jews were freed, was to be the first month for all future generations because this is truly when they started living; this is when they could make their own decisions.This month shall be for you the beginning of the months; the first of the months of the year. (Ex. 12:2)Sforno (1475-1550; Italy) comments that during the Egyptian slavery, “your time did not belong to you, rather you worked for others, to fulfill their will and therefore (in this month) your existence as a people of (free) choice began.” The message is, you are your own master. The reason why this month is called the first of the months of the year is was the first time these formally Jewish slaves truly lived.It would be pointless to give moral responsibilities to people who have no control over their time. Being kind, helping the stranger and other ethical directives expected of us cannot be accomplished if someone is standing over us day and night telling us what to do. These mitzvot(directives) only have meaning if we are responsible for the content of our day. Each of us must face the reality of how our lives will be led. Will I be passive and let life happen or will I be conscientious-will I be a player? As such, it behooves every thinking person to use whatever tools are available to help us to use our time wisely. The Chofetz Chaim (1839-1933) once remarked, “some people think that our task on earth is to be pious. The truth is that our task is to be wise.” Here are some words or wisdom from two wonderful books about the importance of using your time to live your life to the fullest.In Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry writes, “Empty space wants to be filled, and where there is an absence of purposeful activity and meaningful progress, any activity that brings the ping of immediate productivity will fill the void. (p. 19).Being busy but mindless fills valuable time-i.e. it wastes valuable time- needed for your best work. The sooner in life we figure out what we consider purposeful, the more personal fulfillment we will have. I have heard the following sad observation from many people, “I’m always busy but I’m not getting anywhere.” (i.e. I don’t have a sense of accomplishment.) My experience has been that when people misuse time in this way (i.e. being busy without purpose), they start doubting themselves and ultimately ask what meaning their life has. They feel as though they are on a timeless treadmill and can’t get off. What advice might we offer them? The following book offers a solution-oriented methodology.In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, we learn that we need to give ourselves permission “to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone,” because only then “can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” When one is on life’s “treadmill” (s)he is fatigued because (s)he isn’t setting aside time to ask the difficult question, “what really matters to me?” If career is the most important thing in one’s life, then (s)he won’t have second thoughts about remaining single but if one seeks a meaningful and committed relationship, his or her decisions will be different.The word “decide” comes from the Latin “cis” or “cid,” literally meaning “to kill” (e.g. suicide, homicide, infanticide). Are you willing to move for the sake of your relationship-i.e kill your options in the place you are for the other person. I know a man who had graduated from an Ivy League university and was planning on getting a Ph.D.; he decided to get it in Canada because the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with was going to school there. She ultimately went to medical school but when he finished his Ph.D. and got a job at an American university, she decided to follow him and do her residency in the States. Each of them chose the relationship, everything else followed. Every time one makes a decision, (s)he kills a different option. The only way to make decisions you will be able to live with is if you have clarity about what is really important to you. We are the only ones who take away our ability to make meaningful life choices that actually matter. “The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away-it can only be forgotten.” (ibid. p. 36).What choices do you make? How happy (or perhaps, effective) are you with how you spend your days?Some Syrian Jews have a custom to sing the following Hebrew poem at a brit milah (circumcision). Its message is not limited merely to the infant who recently entered the covenant, it’s for all those assembled-and us too.A man worries about his wealth being, but not about his days fleeing (Odam doeg al ibud domov v’einu doeg al ibud yomov)Money will not help his yearning; the days that pass will not be returning. (Damov einum ozrim, yomav einum chozrim).May we all get the clarity we need to make decisions that allow us to use our time in a way that will bring us fulfillment and peace of mind. (Sources: Sforno 12:2; Atarah LaMelech by Rav Avraham Pam; Midrash Rabbah Shemos 15:2 (Artscroll, Kleinman Edition)
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