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Expanding Time

We just returned from nearly 3 weeks away visiting New York and England for a wedding. Whenever I travel I marvel at a similar thought. While traveling, our life here in El Cerrito is hard to imagine, so different from what we are doing.

After flying back on Monday, our boys started school on Tuesday and we were immediately thrust back into the routine of packing backpacks, carpool, dinner and bedtime mayhem. Our travels seemed like a faraway dream, unimaginable in our current reality. It is as while immersed in one, the other simply does not exist.

In the transition back into my day to day responsibilities, I struggle with managing my time and getting everything done.

A story I had heard long ago, a podcast I listened to while commuting, and the thoughts on travel all merged seamlessly to bring me a deeper understanding of time and our use of it. Bear with me as I attempt to capture it with words.

The story: Many visitors had come to mark the date of the Rebbe assuming the leadership of Chabad and were now returning home. Many of them were departing that evening on an El Al flight to Israel. Just before they left to the airport, the Rebbe called a surprise farbrengen to see them off.

During the course of that farbrengen, the Rebbe noted with a smile that people are looking at their watches concerned that they will miss their flight. So, the Rebbe told a story: This took place before the Previous Rebbe was arrested by the Soviets in 1927 and was subsequently forced out of the country. In the months and years leading up to that, he was under constant surveillance by the secret police.

One night, he was supposed to travel to Moscow from Leningrad where he lived at the time. Travel then was fraught with danger, and his travel was even more dangerous.

A short while before his departure to the train station, the Rebbe walked into the study of the Previous Rebbe, his father-in-law. He was surprised to see him deeply engrossed in a matter which required intense focus. He asked, “How can you do that at a time like this?”

The Previous Rebbe replied that there is a concept called “Hatzlacha b’zman” – “success with time.” It is impossible to create more time, but it is possible to be more successful with the time which one has. He cited the example of the Rashba (a noted 13th century scholar), who gave 3 lectures a day, wrote thousands of halachic responsa, practiced medicine and saw patients every day, and had time to go for a walk each day.

How did he accomplish so much? Because, when he engaged in a task he was fully focused on the matter at hand, to the exclusion of anything else, no matter how important.

The Rebbe concluded that while at the farbrengen one has to be fully there, and flights and airplanes don’t exist at the moment.

In this interview with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the hosts ask him about a famous correspondence between the Rebbe and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a great thinker and Talmudist who translated the Talmud into English and wrote 60 books.

Overwhelmed by the many projects he was involved in, Rabbi Steinsaltz asked which responsibilities he should cut back on. The Rebbe instructed him to maintain his current responsibilities and take on additional projects. "How are we to understand this? the hosts asked, What about those times when we actually do need to cut back in certain areas in order to focus on priorities?"

Rabbi Telushkin responded that the Rebbe was teaching Rabbi Steinsaltz and by extension all who came to hear this story, that we are capable of more than we think we are. Our job is to analyze our time in order to maximize it and make the most of it. The Rebbe did this first with himself, managing more responsibilities than seems humanly possible and showing by example how to implement this in our own lives.

Here are some tips I'm taking with me to stretch and expand my time, I hope they help you too.

1- Find what fills you up and build it into your routine. Reading, listening to a podcast, movement, seeing a friend etc. 2- While involved in something, endeavor to be present with only what you are currently doing, nothing else exists in that moment. Although dinner is much more of a reality than England may be, neither exist when working on something else. 3- Find areas where you can stretch beyond your comfort zone and do more than you think you can.

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