Our great grandparents, and pretty much all of the generations before them, had a very active lifestyle. They had to wash their clothes in the stream or in a basin in the courtyard, draw water from the well, chop and gather wood for the stove, milk the cow, churn the butter, knead bread, write long letters to communicate to anyone outside of town, and reap, pick, catch, slaughter and prepare fresh food every day for lack of efficient refrigeration.
These acts however, were rarely done alone. Women met their cousins, aunts and neighbors at the stream, men chuckled over some community joke at the well, and children of all ages accompanied their parents to chop, gather, tend, wash and cook. In the evening, after an active day, families would unwind at home or in the yard, discussing events and opinions. Isn’t it a strange dichotomy that, in our generation of modern conveniences, we never seem to have enough time, or even worse, we seem to have no time at all, especially for our families?
Everywhere we turn today, we see the slow deterioration of personal relationships, which are consistently being eroded by our modern-day society. We see it in the time-consuming conveniences invented to save us time. Here are some of the culprits: Cellphones. Email. Text messaging. MP4s. Internet. Supermarket- and bank- televised advertising. Televisions at every airline seat and online shopping and banking. Dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers. No more human telephone operators, but answering machines, numbered phone options, and computerized answering services. True, life is easier, and that is a wonderful achievement. But are we a happier, healthier, more peaceful people? Are we spending more time with our families and are we more attentive as parents? Are we more invigorated as Jews? Are our children as warmly attached to us, as our parents were to their own parents in the past? Are we proper role models for our children, in how to develop and sustain deep, meaningful relationships, as a tool towards becoming a better human being?
Attachment. Bonding. Connecting. The power of “attachment”, the natural act of one person connecting to another, had been spoken and written about in the tomes of Jewish law, millenia before modern psychology identified it as the basis for all healthy human interaction. Eye contact, physical closeness, and emotional intensity are the three basic tools that enable a person to develop a deep relationship with others. Traditionally, people living together and doing wholesome, nurturing activities, developed very strong, nurturing bonds. This usually happened within the context of a loving, positive atmosphere, such as the family unit or close-knit communities. There are hundreds of Jewish laws on the issue of “mitzvos bein adom l’chaveroh”, “ good deeds to one’s fellow” and there are thousands of details in how to apply these laws in everyday life. These laws govern human relationships, on how to be kind, nurturing and honest to one’s fellow, one’s spouse and one’s family.
When used correctly, in a family atmosphere— warm eye contact, soft physical touch/close proximity, and positive, emotional words are the building blocks for developing a trusting parent-child relationship. Yet all require a most precious commodity, which is tough to come by in our day and age, and that is—TIME.
Our Sages have always stressed the necessity of seeing time as a commodity: in setting aside specific time for learning Torah, in performing time-bound mitzvos (commandments), and in “bitul zman”, the keen awareness of using time wisely. From this we see that time was just as valuable for the ancient Jew, as it is today, for the modern Jew. Being a thinking, practicing Jew takes time and imparting to our children the specialness of being a thoughtful and caring Jew, takes energy and time. Being a good parent takes time.
Time itself is of the essence. In our quintessential prayer “the Shema”, we proclaim the Oneness of G-d, and then go on to enumerate how “while you sit at home, while you walk on your way, when retiring, and upon arising” a Jew should be discussing and following the ways of G-d. In a loving, Jewish home, the American adage of “quality time” doesn’t apply only to specific activities. Just spending time with one’s children in the context of a high-quality, Jewish atmosphere is what we call quality time. Doing mitzvos, the commandments, with a smile or enthusiasm is what the children see; watching parents working on their own character traits is what they experience; self-respect and respect toward others is what they hear– this is what we call quality time.
Spending personal time with each child is an important component in building their self-esteem and can be done as part of the process of our daily lives: baking together, doing homework in a positive atmosphere together, even walking to go food-shopping together. When immediate family members communicate and interact with each other in a reserved, positive manner, and modern conveniences, such as cellphones, computers and “entertainment”, are limited-- this is what should really be called “Jewish Standard Time”, because it is time spent while our Jewish standards are accompanying us in all ways—at all times. In the shtetl or in the desert, Jewish families spent a tremendous amount of time together. Is there any reason why in this day and age we should do less?
This month: Think “Timeless”.
When smiling and talking to your children, think of every moment as immeasurable, quality time. Through your warm eyes, your soft hand motions, your relaxed body language and your kind words-- touch their souls with your loving-kindness and care. Nothing in the world is more timeless than this.