What are the most important relationships, people and activities in your life? Would you say you allocate time to them? Do you think you make them a priority? Now take out your calendar and review your typical day, week or month. Does your schedule in fact reflect your priorities? Your calendar never lies. Where you spend your discretionary time is where your values are. What you make time for shows what matters to you.
In his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” We talk about our family being the main thing in our lives, or our Judaism, or some other value. But do we keep the main thing, the main thing or does what was supposedly the main thing become just another thing? If you want the answer, look at your calendar and see how much time you allocate to the “main thing,” or if the “main thing” even appears on your calendar at all. Covey suggests, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
There are many things that legitimately take us away from the “main things” of our lives. We can’t spend time with our children or expanding our minds or nourishing our souls because we are working, or shopping or cooking. But what about when we aren’t, how do we use that time? Is it filled with meaning, or meaningless activities? Do we fill out our schedule with a purpose or is time taken up with purposelessness? Are we in control of our schedules, or are our schedules controlling us?
At the beginning of our parsha, the Torah describes how the farmer would bring his Bikkurim, his first fruit to Yerushalayim. When presenting it, he would recite a declaration which included a short history of our people. In that context he would tell of when we were slaves in Egypt.
וַנִּצְעַ֕ק אֶל-ְה׳ אֱלֹק֣י אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע ה׳֙ אֶת־קֹלֵ֔נוּ וַיַּ֧רְא אֶת־עָנְיֵ֛נוּ וְאֶת־עֲמָלֵ֖נוּ וְאֶת־לַחֲצֵֽנוּ׃
“We cried to Hashem, the God of our fathers, and Hashem heard our anyeinu, amaleinu and lachatzeinu. What are those things?
Anyeinu is personal, internal anguish. The Egyptians purposely separated husbands and wives to create loneliness and pain. Amaleinu is hard work. The Egyptians had a strategy to literally break our backs with endless toil. What is lachatzeinu? Lachatz, still today in modern Hebrew, means pressure. The Egyptians applied enormous pressure in an effort to break us. What was that pressure? Our rabbis say, they filled our time, occupied and preoccupied us, denied us the ability to even catch our breath. The greatest pressure is a packed schedule with no margin, no down time, no room to think, to experience, or to focus on the main thing.
We may not have Egyptian oppressors, but we too are captives to busyness, to our crazy schedules, to noble and ignoble tasks and activities that pulling us in so many directions and denying us the chance to even breath, to live, or to dream. As Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism says, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
For the remainder of Elul, as we continue to count down to Rosh Hashana, review your schedule regularly and make a conscious effort to have it reflect your values. Make time to keep the main thing, the main thing, be it your spiritual, mental or physical health, quality time with family, Torah learning or doing acts of kindness for others. Schedule your priorities and push back on the lachatz, the pressure trying to hold you back.