I have learned a few things as I have gotten a little older. One is that among the most important gifts that a person can give another is the gift of time. Being present, listening, and simply sharing moments is a very significant dimension to a meaningful relationship. If you have time for another, you value that person.
I also know that the way we use our time is an indicator of our values. If we truly believe in a cause, then we spend time with it. If you love your work, time working is not a burden. On these days we take note of time as we literally count the days between the second night of Passover and Shavuot. This tradition called Spirat HaOmer hearkens back to a time when every day was counted by bringing a measure of barley to the Temple for an offering. Today we say a brachah and count each and every night. Of all the different ways to interpret the practice, one that is meaningful states that as we count the days, it should serve as a reminder that we should make our days count.
In their response to the Passover story, the rabbis defined what it meant to be a slave. They categorized slavery in a few ways. And one of the ways they said people are enslaved is when they lose control of their time. I thought a lot about this over Passover because I believe that I am enslaved to the electronic messaging devices of our time. Email and texts and tweets and Facebook — their presence in my pocket, in my car, at my desk, in my study and besides my bed have created a type of enslavement. We know there is a dimension of addiction and dependency that has come into play with the availability of all these messages and our electronic devices. Anyone who has been to a service or a funeral that I have officiated at over the last few years probably knows that there has rarely been one where a cell phone has not rung. No matter what I announce or what sign is posted, the presence of disruptive cell phones is pervasive. People lose control of them. A doctor I know tells me that patients will regularly be interrupted in the middle of examinations and procedures when their phones ring! And they will say: ”Wait a minute, doctor!” And this, is in spite of a posted sign: ”No cell phones in the examination room!” We need a code of conduct. We need a conversation to teach people how to use them and when to use them…and when not to use them.
Please take a look at the photos below.
I ask myself: How do I free myself of it? How do I create much needed space? I know for sure the discipline of Shabbat has helped. But I think that daily there must be a regiment which allows one to stay away from checking these devices. The preciousness and the quality of time that I want calls for me to do something.
The counting of the Omer reminds us that after the liberation on Passover we look forward to the reception of a law of Shavuot. There needed to be a structure, a Torah, that would preserve our freedom. And similarly, I think that is true with the way we handle this.
I’m working on it…and I hope you too will consider the implications.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt