This week, I listened to two interesting talks referring to sha’ah, an hour. The first was by Rebbetzin Esther Baila Schwartz. It is on torahanytime.com and is called “The Avoda of Cheshbon Hanefesh.” She speaks about the verse in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) “There is no person (adam) who does not have his hour.” The simple explanation is that each person has his/her own importance, his/her own place in this world and in the “orchestra” Hashem puts together with all of our contributions.
After this, she goes on to give a different interpretation. A person needs time to think and be introspective, to do a cheshbon hanefesh (daily reckoning), as it were. Pharaoh in Egypt reasoned that if he intensified the work that the Jewish slaves had to complete, they would have no time to think about going to serve Hashem, etc.
This minimizing of contemplation by being busy is perhaps the greatest tool of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) in our time. Our cell phones are always present. (Luckily, for those of us who observe Shabbos, it is only 24/6, not 24/7). There is pressure to text back as soon as a message comes in. We can be reached anywhere and at any time. Even when used for listening to talks or lectures, that time is not used for thinking about our lives. The verse in Pirkei Avos suggests this interpretation. There is no “adam” – no perfection of the individual, no realization of our potential to grow and nurture – unless we take the sha’ah, the time to contemplate, to think about our lives, and to mold our behavior accordingly. One can similarly interpret the saying that a person can acquire his olam haba (share in the World to Come) in one hour. A person can use an hour to think about how to shape his life and set out on the path of teshuva (repentance).
The second talk I listened to (also on torahanytime.com, entitled “The Essence of Life – How the Chofetz Chaim Viewed the World”) was by Rabbi Paysach Krohn about the Chofetz Chaim’s life. He told the story that when the Chofetz Chaim was a young man in Volozhin, there was someone who tried to persuade the best and brightest students there to leave the yeshiva and pursue secular studies and interests. The Chofetz Chaim ran away, so as to not be influenced by that person. Rabbi Krohn refers to Rav Tzadok HaCohen, who says that the first instance of a word in the Torah reflects its essence. The first time the word sha’ah appears in the Torah is in the story of the offerings of Cain and Abel. Bereishis 4:4-5 states: “…Hashem turned (vayisha) to Abel and his offering. But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn (lo sha’ah).” So sha’ah has its most intrinsic meaning as the process of turning. Rabbi Krohn goes on to interpret the verses with sha’ah discussed above from this vantage point. There is no adam without his being aware and turning as needed to improve his deeds and thoughts. A person can acquire the world to come in one sha’ah, by turning himself and his direction in life.
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus presents a beautiful mashal (parable) for understanding the power of a small turning, a small change in direction. The Jewish people are compared to the moon; they reflect Hashem’s light, much as the moon reflects the sun’s light. The moon acts like a mirror, and a mirror has an interesting property. Sometimes all it takes to brighten the reflection is to turn the mirror by only a few degrees. A major rotation is not necessary most of the time. Similarly, he says, for the Jewish people, a small correction in our life’s trajectory can afford us an intense increase in our quality of life and in our way of life. The time of Elul, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, is a time to take seriously the direction of our lives, and make small corrections.
The impact of taking time to understand ourselves better and of making corrections in our behavior applies to every part of our lives, and certainly to eating, as well. One of the obstacles in combating compulsive eating is that a sense of time is lost. If one can oversee one’s behavior for a short interval, it will improve the behavior for the next interval of time. If we can turn in the right direction, we can improve our relationship to food and to our bodies, and enhance our lives as people created in the image of G-d.
Janet Sunness is medical director of the Richard E. Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She gives lectures on Tanach, Judaism and women, and other topics in the Baltimore area, especially at Cong Shomrei Emunah and the Women’s Institute of Torah. She welcomes your feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org). Some of the earlier articles in this series are available at wherewhatwhen.com © Janet Sunness 2015