As we approach the conclusion of the counting of the Omer, it is an opportune time to reflect on the importance of time in our lives, and how the Torah teaches us to cultivate a proper attitude towards living with it.
My four-year-old grandson was so excited about an event his teacher told him would be happening the next day in school that when he woke up he immediately asked, “Is today tomorrow?” His remark was obviously adorable, but the more I thought about it the more profound it became. In addition to the fact that he was learning about time, he also gave great advice about how to live life.
Time, as we know, is past, present, and future. The past and future may influence the present, but they don’t exist in it. Too often we allow their influence to become greater than it deserves. We could carry a past event in our lives into our ongoing present to the point of being paralyzed by it, or plan or worry about an upcoming event to the point of being consumed by it. Of course, there are exceptions to this, and every situation is different, but the challenge is striking a healthy balance between the three dimensions of time that we live daily.
The Torah has an incredibly focused way of pointing us in the right direction to establish that healthy balance. To understand this, we need to understand first that we live in the realm of thought, speech, and action. Our thoughts can most easily distract us, worry us, and consume our time. They can travel to distant worlds, events, possibilities, fears, or dreams. They can potentially, even without our intent, distort our past and future and steal our present with or without our consent. Our thoughts have great potential for wonderful productivity, but can also be like a wild monkey hard to control.
Our speech is much more focused and usually deals with more practical topics. However, as we know, we can speak about anything that comes to mind, or about other people and meaningless things. Our speech is a great gift when used properly but can also be a stumbling block to building relationships and achieving goals.
On the other hand, action connects us to the present in a way that thought and speech can’t possibly accomplish. Action ties us into the present by creating an active relationship with something that exists in the present. We may be using it, eating it, making it, building it, or destroying it, but we are engaged and connected.
The Torah teaches us that when you have an opportunity to do a mitzvah, don’t delay! The deed is the main thing! Be involved with the world on the level of action. It connects you to time in a healthy manner. As important as the learning of Torah is, the reason that the study of Torah is greater than the performance of a mitzvah is because it teaches and leads to the performance of a mitzvah.
The Chassidic saying goes, “One good deed is greater than a thousand sighs.” It is too easy in life to take the easy way out and avoid an action we need to take, or get absorbed or distracted or over-involved in the world of thought and speech. Even when it is for a good purpose, it does not always connect us to the present and to reality the way action does.
In the introduction to Me’am Loez there is a disagreement between three rabbis as to the most important sentence in the Torah. One says it is: “In the beginning, G-d created heavens and earth.” The second says it is: “I am the L-rd your G-d.” The third says it is: “Bring the sacrifice of the lamb in the morning and in the afternoon.” The first two rabbis are shocked and ask the third for an explanation. He explains their quotes are important, of course, for the world of thought and belief, but Torah is about action and using our time wisely and consistently doing mitzvos. They end up agreeing with him.
So a four-year-old teaches us that today is defined by an event, not a thought or talk. In order to live in the present, we, too, need to make sure our days are filled with “events.” So as we conclude the Omer, let’s make sure that every day counts.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.