How Will You Spend Your Extra Hour?

According to information that will soon be outdated, Netflix subscribers around the world consume 164 million hours of Netflix each day. In an attempt to allow its subscribers to consume even more in even less time, Netflix created some controversy this week by testing a feature that would allow users to speed up video playback as fast as 1.5 times the original speed.

The news was met with intense backlash from show creators and movie directors who want their creations to be seen as they intended. One actor wrote this feature would allow Netflix to “completely take control of everyone else’s art and destroy it.”  

Speed control already exists on several platforms including podcast players, Youtube and even on YUTorah.org.  Whether consuming the most precious and holy content possible, our sacred Torah, or l’havdil, binging on entertainment that shouldn’t be in our lives, people want more in less time and now have that ability. 

The central story of our Parsha is the hard reset that God performed on the world, undoing all that He had created and restarting the world anew.  Hashem took such a drastic measure because, the Torah tells us, the world had become filled with corruption and moral depravity.  Indeed, the Sefas Emes says, the flood was midah k’neged mida, measure for measure.  The people had violated all boundaries of behavior and so Hashem removed the boundaries that protected the earth from water.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 108a) makes a mysterious comment:  “The generation of the flood became corrupt as a result of the great blessing that God had bestowed upon them.”  What does that mean?

Rav Pam zt”l says the key to understanding this Gemara and what happened to Noach’s generation can be found in our title character’s name.  The pasuk at the end of Bereishis tells us that Lemech names his son Noach saying, “this one will bring us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands from the ground which Hashem had cursed.”  Rashi explains that until that time, the world had continued to suffer from the curse that God gave Adam, b’zeias apecha tochal lechem, you will have to work with the sweat of your brow to draw bread from the ground.  Until Noach was born, man labored from morning to night and worked tirelessly with his bare hands just to have food to eat, leaving no recreational or down time. 

Lemech saw prophetically that Noach was destined to invent the plow and other agricultural tools that would make man much more efficient and would ease his burden.  Lemech names him “Noach” from the root “nuach,” to rest, in the sense of providing relief.  

Rav Pam explains that the plow and other tools were the great blessing that Gemara referenced that were bestowed upon this generation and yet, they became corrupt with it.  He explains, the inventions and progress yielded more free time.  That time was obviously a blessing and gift. It could have been used constructively, productively and meaningfully.  Instead, the generation discovered the down time and used it for corrupt activity.  The breakthrough and advancement could have brought spiritual ascent, instead they brought moral decline.

Someone shared with me the story of his friend’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who made her way to the United States. With the characteristic perseverance of one who could not allow Hitler to win, and despite her poverty, she raised her children to value life, learning and the Jewish nation.

At some point in the 1960’s, after a number of years saving penny by penny, she had finally saved up enough to buy an electric washing machine. On the day that she purchased the washing machine, she called her children in and told them, “Until now, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time washing clothing by hand.  Now that we have this machine, I have discovered something I haven’t had until now – free time.  Now that I no longer need to spend all day at home, we’re going to the library. If we have free time, it’s to be used for learning.”

We are blessed to live in the greatest era of technological breakthrough of all time.  Simple tasks that used to eat up our time can now be accomplished in seconds or through automation, in no time at all.  We’ve advanced from the washing machine, dishwasher, bread machine, and microwave, to time-saving modern wonders like GPS, lightning-fast computers in our pockets, smart homes, and more. 

Do we use the newfound time to pursue frivolous activities and indulge in hedonistic experiences? Or, do we use the time we are gaining with each breakthrough for meaningful, productive and constructive activities?  Are our greater comfort and expanded time leading to moral decay and decline, or moral development and progress?

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:1) quotes Akavya ben M’halalel who teaches that a person should always keep in mind, “Before Whom he will have to give Din V’cheshbon, judgment and reckoning.”  What is the difference between din and cheshbon?

The Vilna Gaon explains that din refers to judgment for mistakes, indiscretions and poor decisions we made.  Cheshbon is not about what we did wrong during our time, but what we could have done right during that time.  We will have to account for din, for mistakes we made, but we will even be held accountable for the cheshbon, the calculation of what we could have accomplished if we had only taken advantage of the time we claimed we don’t have.

Have you ever found yourself wishing there were more than 24 hours in a day?  This weekend, your dream comes true.  With the clock change Saturday night, we will be gifted an extra hour.

A friend of mine in Israel, Akiva Danto, runs a beautiful learning program the night the clock is changed.  He tells people, we claim we want to learn but don’t have the time.  Well, each fall we gain an extra hour.  What will we do with it?

Will we just stay out a little longer or watch just a bit more?  Or, will we use it to read the book we claim to never have time to read or learn the Torah we say we wish we had time to learn?  Will we waste it or utilize it, let it slip away or embrace it for something meaningful.

Our rabbis say, בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך מוליכין אותו, when we show which path we want to take, we are helped to move forward on it.  In the merit of utilizing our extra hour for something noble and meaningful, may we be blessed to find many "extra hours" during the year to further our commitment to Torah and advance our personal growth.