This past summer I was in St. Louis and I was walking behind two friends, a man and a woman who were deeply engaged in a conversation. I was trying to mind my own business but I overheard the man ask the woman a question that literally made me stop and think about my entire life. The question was, “if there were 25 hours in a day, what would you do with the extra hour”?
I have really been meditating on this question and I think that it is a question that we should all be asking ourselves on Rosh Hashana. One of the most often used words in the Rosh Hashana liturgy is “HaYom” (HaYom Harat Olam, Hayom Ya’amid Bamishpat). I did a quick search on one of my Torah cd roms to find out how often it appears. The word “Hayom” and its derivations appears an outstanding 174 times. It is almost as if the liturgy is trying to send the message of how important a day is, how important are those 24 hours that never seem to be enough. I would therefore like to ask the question, if you had a 25 hours in the day, what would you do with the extra hour?
I have been asking my friends and family this question and it’s quite amazing to see what happens. When you first ask the question, most people respond, “If I had an extra hour in the day, I would use it to get more sleep. And that is fair answer. After all, we are a sleep-deprived country. According to recent studies more than half of Americans do not get enough sleep. But then if you ask the question again, most people conclude that they would not use the extra hour for sleep. They would use it to accomplish some goal, something that they believe to be missing in their lives but that they cannot accomplish because there are simply not enough hours in the day.
So I have been asking this question and I have been getting some really powerful answers. One of my brothers said that if he had an extra hour in a day he would make sure to exercise daily. One friend said that if she had an extra hour in a day, she would write a book. Someone else said that if he had the extra hour he would study the entire Bible. Another friend said that he would like to do some more social action and provide some support for the homeless in his area but that he can never seem to find the time. Someone else paused, began to choke up and said, “if I had an extra hour in a day, I would spend some time with my kids.
And I started thinking that if only there were 25 hours in a day, this world would be amazing.
Parents would spend more time with their kids
people of conscience would spend more time fighting homelessness, poverty and disease.
People would study more and write important books. Knowledge would spread.
And then all of this good work and amazing ideas would snowball and our world would just be a better place.
But then reality settled in and I realized that I was getting excited for no reason because we do not have 25 hours in a day and we never will. Our world will remain unredeemed.
It will always be a place where parents don’t spend enough time with their kids.
A place where people really want to study some important work but just cannot find the time.
A place where people want to do acts of kindness, but their lives are just too busy getting by.
Our world will never be redeemed because we will never have that 25th hour.
But then I realized, that perhaps I was asking the wrong question. The question to ask is not, “if you had 25 hours in a day what would you do with it,” rather the fact is that “if you had 25 hours in the day, you would probably do something important, something “life transforming” Well if you would do something so amazing with that 25th hour, why not do it now? The question that I overheard asked on that summer day in St. Louis, really asks us to figure out what we think is really important. The question assumes that we do not have enough time to do it but why do accept that assumption? If we really think it is important to become better people, to transform our lives, why can’t we make the time for it in the 24 hour day. Are we really spending all 24 hours engaged in activities that are more important than what we do in the 25th hour? If you had a 25th hour in the day, you would do important things, why not do them now?
If you had a 25th hour in the day, you might spend time learning. With that extra hour you would create a curriculum for yourself. In the first year, you would finish the entire Bible, the second year you would study then mishna, in the third you would master the Talmud. And before you know it, you would be a Scholar of Judaism. You would be able to take our people’s 3000 year wisdom tradition and apply it meaningfully to your life. If you had 25 hours in the day, you would become a Scholar of Judaism, why not do it now?
If you had 25 hours in a day, you would do more social action or chesed work. Think about the possibilities. With an extra hour in a day you can spend a year getting involved in different chesed or social action causes. You would learn what is out there in terms of needs and eventually figure out where your passion lies. Then during the second year you could identify some need that is not being met. And during the third year, you might begin a new organization or partner with an existing one to make your unique chesed or social action contribution to this world. If you had 25 hours in a day, you would make a huge social action or chesed impact, why not do it now.
If you had 25 hours in a day, you might make exercise a priority. We are commanded by our Torah ונשמרתם מאד לנפשתיכם (ViNishmartem Me’od LeNafshoteichem). We are obligated to take care of our health. Yet so many of us cannot seem to find the time. Is that extra hour in the office really more important that our health? Jewish tradition tells us that we do not even own our bodies. They belong to God and they have just been entrusted to us. We owe to God, to ourselves and to our children who count on us so much, to be healthy. If you had 25 hours in the day, you would do more exercise, why not do it now?
If you had 25 hours in the day, you would spend more time with your children. If we take a step back and look critically at our culture of work, work, work; it is so absurd. We work so hard, so many hours, so we could provide the good life for our children. All parents want to take their kids on nice vacations. So we work so hard and never see our kids for 50 weeks of the year and never see our children, so that we can take them on a nice vacation the other 2 weeks. We also want to provide them with a nice house nice things, So we work hard. but then we are never home to spend time with them in that house or to play together with them with those things. I know it is difficult and I am not coming from a place of judgment. But I think we need to reorient ourselves and ask the question. If you had 25 hours in the day, you would transform your family life, why not do it now.
Friends: I believe that we can transform and redeem this world even without the 25th hour. We all know Herzl’s most famous quote: אם תרצו אין זו אגדה – if you will it, its not just a dream. If we will it, we can make it happen. We can do some serious reflection and introspection into the way we spend the 24 hours of our days and I am confident that we can come up with an hour or even a half an hour to become healthier, to learn more, to spend more time with our families.
Perhaps some of you have been inspired by what I have said today. Maybe some of you are ready to make a mental commitment to do more exercise, or to spend more time with your family or another personal commitment. The problem is that research shows that mental commitments don’t really work. I don’t remember the exact statistics but I once heard that when you make a mental commitment there is only about a 10% chance that you will actually follow through. However, if you take that mental commitment and verbally articulate it even to yourself, the chance of follow through goes up 10%. And then If you report your commitment to another human being, your chance of follow through goes up another 10%. Finally if you write your commitment down, your chance of follow through goes up yet another 10%. So I ask you to find a moment before you leave shul today, to verbally proclaim you commitment, at least to yourself. And then sometime after davening but before this day is over, report your commitment to a friend. Finally, after shabbat is over tomorrow night, and we are allowed to write again, please write down your commitment and keep it in a prominent place. You might want to keep it on your office desk, or in your wallet, or your screen saver. If we do not remind ourselves about our commitments, we will not remain committed.
Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world. It is a day of renewal; a day of hope. We can change ourselves. We can redeem the world. The choice is ours. If we had 25 hours in the day, we would transform our lives and our world, well let us begin to do it now.