Tonight we celebrate Time.
Because we, the Jewish people, know that there is nothing more sacred than time. We know this, because we are reminded every Friday night, as we recite the Kiddush, that the first thing God made holy in this world was not a human or a top of a mountain. It wasn’t light or darkness, water or land - It was time.
Va’yekadesh Adonai et Yom Ha’shabbat - and God sanctified the Sabbath day.
In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time… There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.”
So, I got curious and I wanted to know, how do we spend our time?
And I want to thank my dear colleague and true friend, Rabbi Michael Resnick who gave me the inspiration and idea to examine this question in such a creative way.
So let’s begin - There are 8,760 hours in a year.
How do we spend them? The one activity that consumes most of our life is…SLEEP.
The data on how much we sleep in unclear, but it points more or less to the fact that the average American sleeps about 8 hours a day. (And my heart goes to all the young parents, or people suffering from insomnia, who sometimes get 8 hours a week…but remember - it’s an average.)
8 x 365 = 2,920 hours of sleep a year
We are left with only 5,840 in which we are awake.
Some of us work, some of us are retired, but on average we can subtract 1,307 hours a year in the “work” category.
We are left with 4,533
Now comes ...TELEVISION
According to the Nielsen media ratings company, Americans spend 4.7 hours a day watching television.
I’m going to underestimate and say we watch only 3 hours a day.
365 x 3 = 1,095 hours a year.
We are left with 3,438
And those disappear very fast... as the average American spends:
2.5 hours a day on social media, surfing the web, reading and sending emails, texting, and playing video games,
427 hours on eating, and
270 on shopping
285 hours a year on Personal Care - in other words - in the bathroom.
(BTW, that’s almost 12 days a year -if you live to be 90, you will have spent 3 years in the bathroom!)
When we add one activity after the other, we basically end up
this number: 0
We use up all of our hours.
And we know that life in not a cellular plan in which unused hours roll over to the next year. In life, each hour is finite.
And we realize, as we reset the clock tonight, and start counting 8,760 hours all over again - that the choice of how we spend our hours is in our hands, it is ours alone.
We realize that it is our responsibility to use these 8,760 hours wisely. To devote them to the things that truly matter. To the things that are core and important. And not all things are.
We must ask ourselves tonight - as we start planning how we will spend our time this year - how much of what we do, how much precious time do we waste on what I want to call Distractions?
As children we were all taught that “yesterday is the past, and tomorrow is the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.”
If we know that right now is all we really have, if we know that right now is a present - Then I think it behooves us to rethink how we use – and misuse – our time.
Because what we call distractions can kill us. They can kill us spiritually and they can kill us literally.
On April 23, 2014, 32-year old Courtney Ann Sanford was driving to work and taking selfies of herself driving. At 8:33am she posted on her Facebook page the following status: “The happy song makes me HAPPY” referring to Pharrell’s hit song “Happy.” At 8:34am a 911 call was placed reporting a crash and a car catching fire on that same highway in High Point, North Carolina. Later it was confirmed, that it wasn't just the post on Facebook, but actually a further text message initiated just before the accident, that probably caused Courtney to lose control.
Distractions killed Courtney.
But more often, distractions finish us off more slowly. They are like termites slowly eating away the hours of our lives, without us realizing the growing damage to the foundations of our homes, or lives.
These distractions are the white noise that prevent us from hearing the ticking of our own time wasting away on silliness and trivia.
These distractions are not just the 6 billion hours people spend watching YouTube per month - and I didn't believe it until I actually went to check it out - but on the 10 most viewed YouTube videos there is a video called “Charlie bit my finger”, which was viewed 828 million times! I had to see the video for the sake of writing this sermon, so it wasn't a waste of time - I hope. But trust me, you would be wasting your time, if you later go looking for it.
These distractions are not just the 14.7 hours a month that iPhone owners on average play games on their iPhones. Or the 927 million of monthly hours people play games on Facebook.
I love technology, and I will be the first to admit it distracts me –ALL the time. My phone has become for me, what the huge horns have become for the Nubiean Ibex in Ein Gedi or the Baharal in the Himalayas – animals that carry huge horns on their heads – which at the same time are both their source of strength, provide them with their livelihood and status, as well as being a huge burden and what brings them to their demise in the end.
I am guilty, probably more than most of you, in allowing technology to stop being a helpful tool and allowing it to become a huge distraction.
But it’s not just technology that distracts us.
These distractions are also the time we spend being upset about things that are not in our control, about what people we don't care for had to say about something we don't care for. These distractions are the time we spend complaining about things we can simply get up and change, or ignore. The time we spend gossiping, or the time we spend allowing negative people to contaminate our souls.
Distractions come in many shapes and forms; it is the obsessive viewing of the news, when there is nothing new about the news, and the food we eat because we are bored and not hungry, and the standing in line to return the item we didn't really need to buy to begin with.
These are the distractions, which like small drops of rain, accumulate on our front window and block our sight from seeing our path. Each drop alone might not be sufficient, but one drop after the other… they have the potential to derail us and deplete us from the sense of sacred living.
We my friends, are all guilty, because we are all human, we are fragile, and we are easily distracted. But at the same time, we have our rich and compelling tradition to help us return onto our path. To help us turn on our wipers and push these distractions away.
One of these traditions, one we will be observing tomorrow morning, is one of the HHD greatest themes, prayers and moments – it’s the prayer known as Unatana Tokef (Alicia sings one sentence )
On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.
Most people seem to think this is a prayer about how our destiny is written and the way we shall perish is already determined.
I don’t think that is what the prayer is really saying.
I look around this sanctuary and I am thinking that there is a pretty good chance that the vast majority of us will be here next year.
Most likely, at least according to my theology, is that this prayer is about our role in paving our life’s journey that leads us to our own fate. Knowingly or unknowingly, by the decisions we make, we are God’s partners – not in sealing, but rather in shaping our fate.
Un'taneh tokef k'dushat hayom, ki hu nora v'ayom
Let us speak of the sacred power of this day – profound and awe-inspiring.
Uv'shofar gadol yitaka, v'kol d'mamah dakah yishama
The great Shofar will be sounded and the still small voice will be heard.
And what is it saying?... It is a New Year. How will you spend your hours?
mi yichyeh, - Who will really live this year?
umi yamut? - And who will waste precious time?
mi yei-ani, - Whose life will be impoverished by routine and trivialities?
umi yei-asheir - And whose life will be enriched by spending time doing that which is substantial?
Unatana Tokef reminds us that time and life are finite.
This is the great message of the High Holy Days!!!
The High Holy Days are not about who will die by starvation, sword, or sorrow. They are about our ability to use our time wisely.
Only 25% of the time we are on our cell phones, we are speaking on a voice call.
I must ask myself tonight and so must you - can I come home and turn my phone off? Can I detox myself from this modern addiction to be connected all the time?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends less than 20 minutes a day reading.
There is a famous story about a rabbi, that upon retirement, is being asked what he plans to do. “I will finish my book”, he answers. “Oh, you are writing a book?”, he is asked. No, I’m reading one.”
I must ask myself tonight and so must you - can I come home and find a better balance between picking up a book and picking up the TV remote?
Statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows volunteering is at a 10-year low.
I must ask myself tonight and so must you - when was the last time I volunteered? What have I done to truly make a difference, even in one person’s life?
The average American spends a total of 3 minutes a day on 'religious and spiritual activities.’
I must ask myself tonight and so must you - is there place in our lives for more spiritual activities? Be it Yoga, meditation, journaling, painting or yes - praying?
But it gets more serious.
Did you know that here in our own backyard, among the 5.6 million people living between Palm Beach and Miami - the average income of the top 1 percent is 1.8 million dollars, while the average income of the bottom 99 percent is $40,000. This places us as number 7 on the unflattering list of cities with the worst income inequality.
And I ask myself – how many hours?
How many hours have I - have we - dedicated to doing something about this growing inequality?
In our own communities - there is hunger – 16 million kids go to sleep every night in America, IN OUR OWN BACKYARD, without a meal.
And I ask myself – how many hours?
How many hours have I - have we - dedicated to doing something about this unfolding human tragedy?
An average of 91 Americans die every day by gun shots. 61% of them are people taking their own lives. 7 of them are children and teens.
Every month on average, 51 woman are shot and killed by former husbands or boyfriends.
How many hours have I - have we - dedicated to doing something about this epidemic that is crippling our country?
BUT WHAT CAN WE DO? How can Judaism truly help us make a difference in the way we spend our hours? How can Judaism help us make the most of this year? How can it direct us to spend time fixing what is broken in our own backyards.
Let’s go back to Unatana Tokef
In outlining the problem our tradition also suggests a solution.
Uteshuvah, u’Tefilah u’tzedakah Ma’avirim et roah HaGazerah
Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the evil decree
The evil decree being us wasting any of those 8,760 hours.
Taking the precious gift of our hours and not using them as fully or as meaningfully as possible.
We have all promised ourselves so many times that we will change, and almost as many times we promised this to ourselves and to loved ones, we discovered that we have failed. But our tradition, this prayer, has a real practical way to help us be successful.
It starts with the idea of Teshuvah:
Teshuvah is the idea that we always have a chance, we always have an ability to return, to go back to a place we knew we were better.
Teshuvah means believing in our human ability to leave mistakes behind, to have no regrets, no guilt, just a sense of liberation and empowerment that allows us to start over. Never to give up.
I know we love to joke about Jewish guilt – but not tonight. Tonight there is no guilt about the places we failed, tonight we focus on the potential to succeed.
4 years ago, I was supposed to run the NYC marathon. 4 months before the race, I tore my hamstring in an accident and thought I would never run again. It took me 3 years to regain the self-confidence, the belief in myself, and the courage to try again – knowing that I might fail. But God willing, in two weeks, I will crossi the finish line in Central Park, having proved to myself, that disapointments and past failures can be the weight that brings us down, or the fuel that motivates us to succeed.
Rabbi Menachem Bunem used to say to his students, that man’s greatest fault is not in the transgression or sins he commits, after all temptation is great and man is weak. Rather man’s greatest fault is, that at any given moment, we can return to what is right, we can reset our path - and we don’t.
Let’s not miss the opportunity granted to us tonight, in the next 10 days ending on Yom Kippur, and throughout this coming year. Let’s start with the belief that CHANGE is possible, that if we truly want it – it can be done.
But, in order to have a better chance at succeeding in this difficult task, we need to be mindful.
This is where the role of Tefilah, or Prayer comes in.
Prayer reminds us that the human soul is unique.
When I do my long runs, I usually pray. I use our sacred words to remind me of the miracle of our bodies, the strength of our souls, the gift of being alive, and the aspirations to be happy, healthy, loved.
Prayer reminds us to create quiet spaces in which we can hear again the first question asked in the Torah, which is God asking Adam “Ayeka?”
“Where are you?”
Where are we in our lives?
What are our priorities? Are we spending our moments purposefully?
And when we answer we should aim high.
אַתֶּ֧ם תִּֽהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּֽהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ
“You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Shemot 19:6
A holy nation is not supposed to be like everyone else.
A holy nation is not supposed to be average.
Prayer brings us close to each other, reminding us that we are not alone in our quest to make the best of the time allotted to us. I hope that each of you, in your own individual and unique way, find how to make prayer a positive, inspiring, uplifting element in your lives.
And finally, if nothing else, we can always spend our time engaging in Tzedakah.
Winston Churchill said
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Reminding ourselves of the Jewish imperative to make the world a better place – Tikkun Olam – will most definitely help us allocate our time wiser. When we give to others, when we help others, when we are engaged with the world around us, we are immune to distractions.
In closing - it is a New Year.
We all have approximately 8,760 hours to spend any way we see fit starting now.
In the words of the book of Psalms:
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
May God grant us the wisdom, to appreciate and to use each and every one of our days … these precious hours …these irreplaceable moments,
with generosity, with purpose and with substance.
The clock is ticking.
Ready. Set. Go.