The first commandant [that the Jewish people] were given in Egypt…was to mark time. This is because the slave lacks time-awareness…no matter how hard he may try to be productive in time, he will not reap the harvest of his work…He lacks the great excitement of opportunities knocking at the door, of challenges summoning him to action, of tense expectations, and fears of failure.
…to live in time and feel its rhythm, one must also move from the memory of the past to the unreality of the future. One must go from things and events that were and no longer, toward that which will be real someday, even though it is not real yet – from reminiscing to anticipating. To live in time means to be committed to a great past and to an unborn future. (R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, “Festival of Freedom, pp. 37-42).
Free time. In “about us” blurbs, dating profiles, and Shabbat meal icebreaker, we’re expected to have answer for how we use this unstructured, empty space between periods of being busy. Now, over time, mot of us realize it’s admirable to say things like “well, if I had free time then I’d…” or similar expressions of absolute occupation. After all, no one with a life has free time. Am I right? Anyone who’s a someone has waaay too much going on to think about how they’d spend their time in an ideal world.
And it’s in that assumption that many people lose their lives. Not to sickness, to an accident, not to an unlucky twist of fate, but from day after day after day of not thinking about what we’re actually here for.
In Parashat Bo, God gives the Jewish people the ultimate gift – Freedom – but before He let’s His people go, He gives them a container for this prized possession: Rosh Chodesh. You see, they’re not only losing the slave labor and living conditions…they’re also losing the infrastructure that stood in the place of their free will. Free will can be measured in several ways, and perhaps the most common one is through time. How is our time spent? What do we will it with? How seriously do we take it?
Hachodesh Hazeh yehiyeh lachem. This commandment is for us, to give us, as R. Soloveitchik calls it, time-awareness.
Being accountable for our time, every day, is scary. Quite petrifying, actually. So petrifying that we’ll do just about anything else to bar us from thinking too deeply about if we need to make any changes, and how challenging it will be. It’s much easier to accept the certainty of the past, than to work toward an ideal but uncertain future.
Yet, when we step into the moment and all its uncertainty, we put ourselves in a position to reap, create, and enjoy a future that is beyond what we can even dream of. The real test of time is looking at our present and all it’s crevices of “free time” and saying, “I can use this time 100% well.” It means knowing what matters most to us, and cutting out the enslaving junk that stands in its way. It might just look like 20 minutes here and 10 minutes there at the outset, yet in reality it’s much more than that…time is “the stuff that life is made of.” (Thank you Ben Franklin!).