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Home » Pinchas

Pinchas: The Critical Moment

Submitted by on July 8, 2017 – 11:40 pmNo Comment | 2,391 views

What’s in a Moment?

Many will tell you a moment is a unit of time; passing, fleeting and infinitesimal. It is preceded by an endless parade of moments, and followed by another endless parade. A single moment in the span of eternity, is meaningless.

Others will tell you different. Each moment is of infinite potential. A moment can change a life. If you smile to a child at a critical moment, you impact the rest of his or her life. If you make a difference to someone at a critical moment, you can change their entire day. If you let that moment pass, the opportunity will never appear again.

Surely you can smile to the child a moment later, but if the critical opportunity has passed and the child did not receive the reassurance he or she needed in that moment, the damage in that child’s psyche will already have begun, and you will need to work harder to undo it. If you let the old lady cross the street without helping her, she will already have crossed by the time the moment has passed.

The Offering Moment

The Torah tells us about all kinds of offerings that our ancestors were required to bring in the Temple. There were daily offerings and festive offerings and personal offerings. There were offerings of gratitude and offerings of penitence. There were all kinds of offerings.

Many of these offerings came with attached time contingencies. The pascal offering could only be brought in the afternoon of the day before Passover. If you offered it a moment earlier or a moment later, it was no longer a pascal offering. The daily offering had to be brought every morning and evening. If you offered it too early or too late, it was not an appropriate offering.

This led our sages to coin a phrase that has since become part of the Talmudic lingo. “Avar zmano batel karbano.”[1] when the time has passed, the offering is null. A Rosh Hashanah offering on Yom Kippur is not a Rosh Hashanah offering. A Yom Kippur offering in the middle of December is not a Yom Kippur offering. Applying this to the modern day, if you eat Matzah on Chanukah, you will enjoy a crunchy cracker, but it won’t be a mitzvah. If you light Chanukah candles in July, it will be a nice candle, but not a Mitzvah.

Growing up, I remember my mother making frequent use of this phrase. Sometimes she would call my name, but by the time I would appear, she would say, “Never mind; Avar zmano batel karbano.” She might have needed me to hold a hot pot, but the moment had passed, and with it, so did the need. She wasn’t only telling me that she didn’t need my help anymore. She was ingraining a teaching that never left me. Grab the opportunity in the moment because when the moment passes, so will the opportunity.

The Moment’s Mandate

The Torah takes a powerful perspective of time. “Kol Yoma V’yoma Avid Avidetei.[2] Each moment has its own mandate. When we arrange our schedule for the day, we usually assign a time slot to each entry. To our minds, this is a convenient and efficient way of arranging our day. From the Torah’s perspective, each task falls in the time slot designed precisely for that task.

If my schedule requires that I wake up at 6:00 am, it is not only a convenient time to wake up. It is actually the mandate of the 6:00 am moment. If I sleep in, I will not only have to rush to catch up with my schedule, I will have neglected the mandate of that moment. I was meant to accomplish a task in that moment, and that moment has now passed. I failed its mandate. Surely, I can wake up five minutes later, but I can no longer wake up when I was meant to wake up.

There is a time slot each morning when we are required to chant the Shema prayer. If that time slot passes, we can recite the Shema all day long, but that time slot, will forever be bereft of its mandate. You can’t take that moment back. We need to grab it, when it is here.

Conversely, this teaching also tells us that when this moment comes, we can fulfill its mandate irrespective of what we did a moment earlier and what we will do a moment later. Some people will tell you that if they are in the midst of doing something sinful, they don’t feel worthy of performing a mitzvah and will thus let the mitzvah opportunity pass. If they were thinking lustful thoughts and someone offers them the opportunity to don teffilin (phylacteries) they will turn down the opportunity because they are not worthy of this mitzvah in this moment.

The Torah teaches us that the opposite is true. Each moment has its own mandate and stands independently of all other moments. If you committed a sin a moment earlier, you have no reason to commit another sin a moment later. Worthy or not, your mandate in this moment is to do a mitzvah. So, grab the moment and the mitzvah that comes with it.

Urgent and Important

Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower is said to have organized his life according to this principle and it has since come to be known as the Eisenhower principle.

Important tasks are usually ones that help us reach our goals. Urgent tasks are usually ones that resolve obstacles on the way toward reaching our goals. If we spend our time taking care of urgent matters, we won’t have time for the important matters and won’t reach your goals. A friend recently put it this way, “if we are always busy with urgent matters, we are probably neglecting our important matters because matters only become urgent after they were important and neglected.”

We have a hard time fulfilling the mandate of each moment and keeping to the timeslots in our schedule is because we are not diligent about taking care of things in the right order at the right time. The best approach is to lay out our schedule based on the Eisenhower principle. The urgent and important receive top priority. Then comes the important, but not urgent. Then the urgent, but not important. And only then do we assign time the not urgent and not important.

Sometimes we reverse this priority and busy ourselves with silly matters first. We then fall behind and spend the rest of the day making up for lost time. We use the each moment to make up for the previous moment and the backlog continues to grow.  Taking care of the important matters in the right time slot, helps us stay on schedule and reach our goals in a timely manner.

Success in Time

The Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM related that he once saw his father in law and predecessor concentrating on a complex Torah concept, mere moments before rushing to catch a train for a complicated and important meeting that would determine the fate of Russian Jewry. Surprised at his father in law’s sanguine ability to concentrate at such a hectic moment, he asked how he managed this?

The former Rebbe replied: Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aderes was a great rabbi in Spain, who passed way at a relatively young age. In his short lifespan, he accomplished many things. He was a leader of Spanish Jewry, he served as rabbi in the main synagogue of Barcelona, he was a successful banker, he led a famed rabbinic academy in which he offered multiple lectures daily, and he penned thousands of responsa to halachic queries that arrived from Jewish communities the world over. How did he accomplish that?

The answer is, continued the former Rebbe, that he had success with time. To him, each time slot was designated exclusively for the task at hand. When he performed one task, he concentrated on that task only, and emptied his mind of all the other urgent tasks that awaited his attention. This way, he got through each task efficiently and was able to devote his next moment to the next task.

When we are blessed with long days, it means not only that we will live many days, but that each day is long and full. If we use each moment fully and completely, never relying on the next moment for tasks that belong to this moment, our days will be long, our lives will be productive, our time will be sacred, and each moment will last an eternity.

[1] A variation offered by Tosafos on the Talmudic phrase (Brachot 26a) the day has passed, the offering is null.

[2] Zohar III, 94b.