Killing Time: You Are the Victim

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london-olympics-2012By Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

There are countless lessons to extract from the Olympics in London, England. The tenacity, resolve, grit, discipline, drive, and sense of teamwork of each athlete is simply inspiring and can serve to motivate each one of us to pursue our dreams relentlessly. Olympians serve as models of being extraordinarily focused and determined to realize the goals they have set for themselves. They are not satisfied with anything less than putting forth their very best effort and achieving the best results. Watching them obligates each one of us to identify at least one dream or goal for ourselves and to pursue it with everything that we have.

But there is another lesson that strikes me during this Olympic season and it too is applicable to our lives. Most of us tend to devalue time. Young people think that they will live forever and have endless days before them. Older people sometimes feel that the prime of their lives is over and spend the days trying to pass the remainder. Contemporary society has even developed an idiom, “killing time.” Technology has made this task easier as we can pass the hours mindlessly surfing the web, playing on our smart phones or flipping the channels.

There is no place that we see the value of every second more sharply than the Olympics. Athletes train their entire lives building up to this moment. Whether diving into a pool or pushing off the starting line of the track, everything they have worked for comes down to this. Races are often decided in the fraction of a second. The difference between qualifying or staying home, winning a medal or simply showing, being celebrated or a forgotten can be a millisecond.

From a Jewish perspective, killing time is a crime tantamount to murder-only when you do it, you are both the perpetrator and the victim simultaneously. Time is among the most precious commodities that we have. Once it has passed, it cannot be recovered. If it is wasted, it cannot be made up. There is a limited amount of it allocated to each one of us and with every passing second we come closer to emptying our account. As badly as we would like to slow it down sometimes, or speed it up at others, we cannot control time. It moves along at a steady pace entirely beyond our manipulation.

Each moment of our lives is precious and pregnant with possibility. We have the choice to fill our time with noble pursuits like helping others, improving ourselves, challenging our minds, developing our souls, caring for our bodies or connecting with family and friends. Or, G-d forbid, we can allow time to pass without anything meaningful, squandered, wasted and unused.

Not only must we make every day in our lives count-every hour, every minute and as the Olympics teaches us, every millisecond matters. It can make or break us. If we combine all those milliseconds that we waste, we can find the time we think we don’t have, to pursue noble endeavors and to achieve our goals, aspirations and dreams.

A Jew once asked Rav Yisroel Salanter, “If I only have 15 minutes a day to learn, what should I learn: Chumash (Bible), Gemara (Talmud), Navi (Prophets) or Halacha (Law)?” Rav Yisroel answered: “Learn Mussar, character development, and you will realize that you have much more than 15 minutes a day to learn.”

I read a poem that demonstrates this idea beautifully:

Every Moment Is Precious (Author Anonymous)

To realize the value of ONE YEAR
Ask a student who has failed his exam.

To realize the value of ONE MONTH
Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

To realize the value of ONE WEEK
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value of ONE DAY
Ask a daily wage laborer who has 10 kids to feed.

To realize the value of ONE HOUR
Ask those waiting for a loved one in surgery.

To realize the value of ONE MINUTE
Ask the person who missed the train.

To realize the value of ONE SECOND
Ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND
Ask the person who won a “silver” medal in the Olympics.

Take advantage of every moment and be a champion at whatever you aspire to do.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) in Boca Raton, Florida. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Va’ad Ha’Kashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah.


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  1. This article is precious of course, but to be quite frank from a guy who is a little older and has gone through the years and learned a few lessons, the issue is not “killing time”. The issue is Not trusting in your G-d. True it looks like we live forever when we are 19 or 20. But really who cares of the details of the 19 to 20 year olds life in so much as he must realize them to be when he is 50 or 40. Either way, G-d is in control and no matter what we waste or do not appreciate in our youth, G-d will surely make us see the errors of our dignity and time in the later years. If not, you are probably not on the greatest course of existence and perhaps you are just plain wicked. Either or, we aim to be trusted by our G-d as we trust in G-d and we aim to keep our world in a state of improvement and healing. So good for this article and how bland it really is. I am sure that G-d keeps us making mistakes for the very reason that he likes to see us improve and hold faster to Torah as we get older. The value of 1 second? Its about as valuable as 10 minutes too in some sense too depending on what was on your mind.

  2. excellent article

    I don’t know about everyone else here, how often we think about our life, most people make an account of their life once a year-before Yom Kippur- Tzaddikim make an account once a month-before Yom kippur Kotton. I know a person that makes a account of his life almost everyday of his life. He told me this is the final last thing he thinks about almost every night AFTER saying Krias Shma al Hamita he makes an account thinking did i learn today, daven, give tzedaka, help another yid etc… is Hashem going to say to his Malachim i have Charata (pity) i gave this yid an extra day to live. How precious life is. Hashem doesn’t just say this yid will live to 98 this one to 108 & this one to 110, every day & hour is a gift from Hashem, U’vacharta B’chaim-you should choose life-lets learn this now while we are still young.

  3. the age of 60 is the year when a person starts to look back at his 40 years of Adulthood (from 20 to 60). Statistics say that 90 percent of people feel bad that they’re time was not spent wisely-a person promises Hashem, if you turn me back into a twenty year old (if he gets back his 40 years) i promise i will spend my time more wisely-NOW THATS BAD NEWS. How precious life is & every hour is a gift from Hashem.

    LET US WAKE UP NOW & START TO LIVE A REAL LIFE BEFORE ITS TOO LATE. A day gone is gone forever & cannot be made up. Anything pushed away or delayed because of laziness is too late to make up for.


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