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Buy Me Some Time!

My colleague and friend, Rabbi Naomi Levy, tells this story in her new book, Einstein and the Rabbi.  She is remembering a time when her kids were little and her husband, Rob, was rushing around one morning, particularly harried trying to get ready for work in time to drive carpool.  They packed the kids into the car and Rob drove off.  A few minutes later Rob called her from the car and said:  “Nomi, buy me some time.”  This tugged at her heart.  She felt so bad that he was stretched so thin and wanted to help him, but the reception was bad and the call died.  Here’s what she remembers:

“I was thinking: Who can I call?  What meeting can I reschedule for him?”  Finally, she got Rob back on the phone. 

“Robby, what can I do for you?  How can I help?”

He said, “Just buy me some time.”

She responded, “All right, all right.  How? What can I do?”

Rob answered, “Nomi!  Time!  In the farmer’s market, you know, parsley, sage, rosemary – buy me some thyme!”

Naomi got a good laugh out of that, went to the Venice Farmer’s Market and had a deep philosophical conversation with the herb guy.

She asked him, “How much is time?”

He said, “Well, it depends on how much you want.”

She answered, “I want a lot of time,” and bought up all the time he had.

Time, T-I-M-E – tick tock – it keeps going, slipping through our fingers, rushing by.  Every birthday, every anniversary, every graduation, every new year, we ask ourselves:  Has another year really gone by?  Where did the time go?  Yesterday my kids were playing at Fisher Park and I was reading them bedtime stories, and this year my youngest graduated from high school.  How did that happen?

This week the month of Elul began, the final month of the Jewish calendar when we begin the countdown to the new moon of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year – another marking of the passage of time.  In the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer instructs us not to put off the matter of repentance for the new year.  “Repent one day before your death,” he teaches. When the Rabbi is asked by his disciples:  “Does then a person know on what day he will die, so that she should know when to repent?”  “All the more,” he replied; “Let him repent today lest he die on the morrow; let him repent on the morrow lest he die the day after…”  We cannot know when we will run out of time.  We have to live each day as if it’s our last.  If we live this way, there will be no regrets, no unfinished business.

This week, our Torah portion, Shofetim, offers similar wisdom.  The passage from the book of Deuteronomy discusses what an army should do when they are about to go to battle against a fearsome enemy.  The Israelite officials are told to address their troops with the following words:  “Is there anyone who has built a new house but has not yet dedicated it?  Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it.  Is there anyone who has planted a vineyard but has never harvested it?  Let him go back to his home lest he die in battle and another initiate it.  Is there anyone who has paid the bride price for a wife, but who has not yet married her?  Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another marry her (Deut. 20:5-7).”

The Torah tells us then, that some unfinished business is so important, that the responsibility to finish it is actually greater than the obligation to join one’s countrymen in battle.  Dedicating a home, reaping the fruits of one’s labor and marrying were all considered to be unfinished business too critical to leave unfinished.

If these things were considered too important for our ancestors to leave undone, what is there in our lives that’s too important to leave for tomorrow?  What are those things that we put off thinking that there will be time for them later, or even worse, people who we put off?

Would that we could go to the Farmer’s Market to purchase more time.  But knowing that we cannot makes today even more precious.

Let us live our lives as Rabbi Eliezar teaches, as if each day were our last.  Let us use these days leading up to Rosh HaShanah to take care of our unfinished business.  Let us say the words that too often go unsaid:  I love you.  I’m sorry.  I care.  Thank you.  Let us laugh more and worry less.  Let us live with intention and purpose, recognizing the opportunity of each day.

As our prayer book reminds us, “…days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles.”  Let us open our eyes to the moment, this moment, and shout “hallelujah” with every breath we take.

Sat, September 30 2023 15 Tishrei 5784