That Sacred Phone Reminder
Take Your Time
One of the oft-repeated lines of the last 22 months has been some form of “what day is it anyway?” With quarantines, seclusions, and generalized chaos reigning in the world, one day would blur into the next, and that is/was a pretty unnerving feeling. We want to feel some control and find a sense of normalcy when it comes to our time. Sometimes though, the world turns and we lose that control.
A noticeable this way this manifested for me was the Sunday morning reminder from my phone that I spent “x” amount of time on my phone this past week, a “x” percentage higher or lower than the last week. I would celebrate the weeks it was lower and rue the weeks it showed a higher usage. Some weeks, my phone was a joyous friend raising me up, others it was that downer friend who you don’t really want to spend time with.
In the early day, I would come to fear this reminder, but not I try to let it serve as a wake up call to me. In a therapeutic manner, my phone was asking me to reflect, “how did you use your time this week, Adir? Even on those less than great weeks, when my usage would skyrocket, I tried to remind myself that it was just one week. I had not lost this battle in perpetuity. Even amid the scattered flow of the world, we can shake ourselves free.
Time and the intention behind how we use it is sacred. This is not solely because we know we have a limited supply of it but because the Torah portion this week elucidates that holiness. In essence, Parshat Bo carries within it the first communal commandment to the Jewish people. In Exodus 12:2, we are told that “this month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.”
That month the Torah is talking about is Nisan, the month of Passover and our people’s redemption. So here we have it. The first big mitzvah...to count our months?! Much ink has been spilled by Biblical commentators over the years about the how and the why of the mitzvah of counting time.
My favorite commentary comes from the Italian commentator Sforno who shares the following
“From here on out the months will be yours, for you to do with them as you wish. In the days of slavery, your days were not your own. You had to work for others and do their will. That is why this will be the first of the months of the year for you: because in it, you began your liberated existence.”
Recognizing the power of what it means to come out of slavery, the Sfornounderstands that for this people, the whole notion of time had not actualized until this moment. Before this, they had always been operating under the time of their overseers or Pharoah.
Now, they own their time. With that ownership comes responsibility. We see in the later narratives what they do with it, some bad, some middling, and much of it sacred. It was their own exceedingly human experience.
This week, the first one of the secular New Year, asked us in so many different ways; what are we doing with our time? Then, on this Shabbat, we get a further, not so subtle reminder to do the same. It is your time. Do with it as only you desire.
As the verse highlights, this time is לכם–for you. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Chiddushei Ha’Rim notes,
“if a person really understood how much capability they have in their hands with their time, they wouldn’t waste a moment.”
Our time is no one else’s, no matter what our culture or our work tells us. When you look at your clock, watch, or phone to check the time next, do not just see a number. See a blinking message from the Divine that is flashing at you: own it, act on it, and make it holy.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!
Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno-Italy-15/16 century