I Just Don’t Have the Time
Sarah is a 34 year old mother of four cute kids. She works and returns from her job just before they come home from school. Sarah is there to greet the kids and then begins the evening ritual of homework, supper, and bedtime. Her husband, Avi, arrives sometime in the middle of that process and jumps in to do his part as soon as he is there. By approximately 8:30pm, things are settling down. They usually have a brief supper (often leftovers from what the kids ate) and then Avi runs out to his daf yomi shiur (scheduled daily study of a page of Talmud) and maariv (evening prayers). When he comes back, Sarah and Avi are both physically and emotionally drained. They sit down to share a few words together and retire for the evening.
Shabbos is not so different. Avi goes to shul, and then they have the Shabbos meal. If the kids are at the table, then the conversation is centered on them or dealing with their antics. If they are away from the table then the couple’s attention is on making sure all the kids aren’t fighting.
Sarah explains that she and Avi suffer from lack of time to spend together. Their marital relationship is fine, but definitely not as good as it could be. She bemoans the fact that they are both pulled and there isn’t enough time in the day.
Sarah’s complaint is understandable and rational. Time is not on her side.
Is it true? Is Sarah being honest with herself?
Insight into Sarah’s predicament can be gleaned from a prophecy of the prophet Zechariah. In one of his first visions (Chapter 3), Zechariah describes the Yehoshua, the exiled Kohen Gadol (high priest), returning to his privileged duties in the rebuilt Temple. With vivid imagery, Zechariah foretells Yehoshua, representative of the Jewish return to the Temple, with a Satanic angel prosecuting him on his right side. G-d then censures the condemning angel, prohibits him from denouncing Yehoshua, and champions the Jewish return to Jerusalem.
The placement of the accusatory angel on the right is perplexing. In Jewish texts and thought, the right side classically represents positivity. For example, the Mishna in [Ethical] Chapters of the [Tannaic] Fathers exhorts people to turn toward the right in case of uncertainty. Furthermore, the Midrash (Tanchuma Shemos – Parsha 18) expounds on the prophet Micha’s vision of “all of the hosts of heaven on the right and left [of G-d]” (I Melachim 22:19) and explains that the right represents angels with favorable statements, and the left represents the angels that condemn. In the realm of Chassidic and Kabbalistic thought, the right represents the Divine attribute of mercy, as opposed to strict judgement. Since the right usually suggests positivity, it is difficult to understand the placement of the accusor on that side, seemingly incongruous with his identity.
The Chafetz Chaim’s Insight
The Chafetz Chaim (communally adopted nom de plume for Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, d. 1933) in his commentary on the Torah (Parshas B’haalosecha), observes that Zechariah’s prophecy provides an understanding of the machinations of the Satan and the Yetzer Harah (Evil Inclination), who thrives on enticing one to perform evil. At first, he attempts to induce wrongdoing plainly. But, if one demonstrate invulnerability at the Satan’s advances, he puts on the guise of a righteous influencer. The Satan will try to engage a person in matters which are ostensibly noble and virtuous, yet are actually incorrect or can lead him to inappropriate behavior. If the Satan cannot induce evil from his standard perch on the left side, he switches to one’s right and tries to convince him that he is doing a mitzvah (righteous action), when it is actually an improper action or will directly lead to one.
The way one can begin to discern right from left, and from wrong, is to have an honest conversation with himself and to search for multiple reasons and motivations for performing a certain action or behavior. In many situations, there might be multiple truths. One true statement might easily accessible and superficial. As he thinks about the situation more, he might access layers of other truths that represent different dimensions of why he performs the action or a behavior.
Sarah complains that she doesn’t have time to spend with Avi. It is possible that time is the culprit. Perhaps deeper truths include that she is not familiar with skills, techniques and ways of conversing to develop a meaningful relationship. Maybe she forgot them – or never had them. Perhaps she has her own past experiences or present situations that make it harder for her to share herself and her emotions. A more penetrating truth might be that she doesn’t want to enhance her relationship with Avi, maybe as the result of slight tensions that have built up over the years. Perhaps all these are true – and perhaps none of them.
Truths are sometimes uncomfortable. It is easier to dismiss them by convincing yourself of the veracity of the more secure and superficial truths. Sarah might find it much easier to lament that she doesn’t have enough time to spend with Avi. It is a version of the truth. Is is the only truth? Is it honest?
On Rosh Hashanah, as we conclude the bracha (blessing) of Kiddush and the central blessing of the Tefillos (prayers), we address G-d and add – udevarcha emes – and Your words are True. Only G-d knows absolute truth. Yet, emulating G-d and living a truthful life might require that we model our lives accordingly. If we strive to be honest and with ourselves, we can come closer to discovering some of the multiple truths that comprise our lives.