Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Having the Time of Your Life
"This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Shemos 12:2).
Seforno explains that Nissan ranks as the first month because our moral-spiritual existence began in Nissan. A slave's time is not his own, thus he can not live as he sees fit. Bondage is not merely a physical blight, but a spiritual one as well.
We thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu daily for the gift of freedom ("shelo asani aved - that You didn't create me as a slave") because the gift of freedom is the gift of life. The equation is threefold: freedom = time = life. On the one hand, the truth of this equation is so much so that it seems almost superfluous to mention it. And yet, we lose sight of the practical corollaries to this existential equation. Since we correctly, instinctively, cherish life and freedom, then we ought to equally cherish time. Since we appropriately zealously safeguard life and freedom, then we ought to be equally zealous in safeguarding time. Since we accurately experience loss of life as tragic, how can we be so complacent, at times even sanguine, about waste of time?
In a much quoted passage the Zohar Hakadosh explains "Avraham zakein bo bayamim" - conventionally understood to mean that Avraham was elderly, getting along in days - that Avraham was elderly, coming with days, that he had not squandered a single day of his life. In a similar vein the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh quotes the Arizal that our neshamas are an aggregate of many nitzotzos (sparks), the number of nitzotzos corresponding to the number of days apportioned to us. Every day is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perfect the corresponding nitzos of our neshama. A day well spent perfects a part pf our neshama, a day squandered means that the corresponding nitzos of our neshama remains unperfected.
The great Reb Yisroel Salanter drew inspiration from the shoemaker in Vilna who, to candlelight, worked well into the night. And even when the candle, almost totally spent, flickered on the verge of becoming extinguished, he relentlessly tried to accomplish a little more. So too, said Reb Yisroel, out neshama is likened to a candle ("ner Hashem nishmas adam"). As long as the candle, albeit on the verge of becoming extinguished in this world, yet flickers, we have to persist in our avodas Hashem.
Yakrus hazeman (the valuableness of time) is a fundamental concept in Yahadus. By contrast, Western society values "free time". Free time is when one is not beholden to another (an employer, et al.), and hence one is free to do anything he/she pleases. Or, one is free to do nothing as he pleases - to lounge around, to sleep endlessly, to banter pointlessly, etc. Yakrus, on the other hand, teaches a credo of "hayom katser v'hamelacha meruba." One's avodas Hashem is never complete, there is always more to do, and, accordingly, time is forever a scarce commodity. Surely we rest and relax as needed to rejuvenate ourselves, but "free time", in the Western society sense, does not exist.
The forum of a weekly dvar Torah does not accommodate a lengthy cheshbon hanefesh concerning how we use our time. Instead with your permission I would like to focus on a single instance wherein our Torah society has institutionalized the waste of time. I refer to the manner in which we celebrate semachot. Undoubtedly, celebrating a simcha is a miztva, and, as such, excellent use of time. It is, for instance, a great mizta to be misameach chassan v'kalah. The two hours or so, however, that often elapse between the scheduled start of the kabbalas panim and the late start of the chuppah do not contribute to simchas chassan v'kalah. These long stretches of down time are simply bitul zman (waste of time) - no more, no less. As such these long stretches also foster a sense of bitul (disregard, contempt) for zman (time). When hundreds of guests wait interminably for chassan and kallah to enter the dining hall after the chuppah, this is both bitul zman and bitul for people's zman. Taking pictures, thereby generating momentos of a simcha, is worthwhile, but it does not justify bitul zman for hundreds of people.
An appropriate auspicious celebration of a simcha must reflect the Torah's teachings regarding yakrus hazman. There are many eitzos tovos that can be implemented: schedule the chuppah at a realistic time and keep to the schedule, take pictures after the wedding when the guests have departed, etc. Whatever combination of strategies we choose, we must ensure that we do not compromise on our simcha by institutionalizing bitul zman.