Thoughts on the challenges of being a chossid (or trying) in a modern world.
Fellow Lubs are most welcome to read and share and comment. Chabad-haters and agitators, please find another place to troll.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Coping with the pace of life

After my last post, a few people suggested that I write for every Shabbos mevorchim, which sounded like a reasonable frequency to me. And the next one approached, I thought about what to write, and didn't really come up with anything that good, and before I knew it, it was Rosh Chodesh, and now we are already blowing shofar, and if I blink, Rosh Hashanah will be upon us. So at this time of year, it's only appropriate to reflect on the pace of life and what to do about it.

I have this theory about why the older we get, the faster time seems to pass. If someone is 20, then one year represents 1/20th or 5% of their life so far. But if they are 40, then a year represents just 2.5% of their life, so a year might appear to pass twice as quickly. Having passed both of those milestones, I'm often asking myself: "where did the time go?" as week blends into week, month into month, and so on. I put things in my diary well in advance thinking they are not going to happen for a while, and before I look around, they are upon me.

This is especially so with Jewish life which is so calendar-centric. Welcoming Shabbos after a hectic week is the most wonderful thing in the world. We have the systems to help us prepare - counting sefirah to prepare for Shavuos, blowing shofar to prepare for the Yomim Noro'im - but I still feel hopelessly under-prepared, so clearly some improvement is needed. These days our lives are run at such a pace, it's very difficult to slow down or take a break. Maybe this is why I enjoy Yom Kippur so much.

My regular shacharis minyan is known as the Budapest Express - one of the fastest minyanim in town. While some people are disparaging of our minyan's pace, it has ma'alos as well. As my co-gabbai points out, it is gives people who need to get to work very early the ability to still have tefillah betzibur. And it's so fast that there's no time for talking. One of the people currently saying kaddish in town had been davening at the amud in a very slow minyan with rules about speed - so many minutes for psukei d'zimra etc. Being someone who works in his own business, he was frustrated with the slow pace (and late start). And yet in Tanya the Alter Rebbe exhorts us in the strongest terms to daven more slowly and have rules about who can go to the amud, and how long we must daven - an hour or more. Oh, if only I could focus on davening (or anything) for that long!

It reminds me of the story about the Rabbi in Manhattan who gives a 40 minute sermon. At the kiddush after davening, someone comes up to him: "Rabbi, I really enjoyed your sermon. I'm a producer at CNN and see some real potential for you to bring your message to a much larger audience, but you know how TV viewers have such a short attention span. So I was wondering - would you be able to condense your entire sermon to a 3-4 minute segment without leaving out anything?" The Rabbi ponders the point, stroking his beard, and says: "Yes, I think I could do that", to which the man responds: "SO WHY DIDN'T YOU?"

We want it all, and we want it now. A quick fix. A quick sermon. The One-minute manager. Serenity now! Instant gratification. And in amongst all those pop-culture references, We Want Moshiach Now too!

Perhaps, just like we adapt our lives to such a fast pace, we must adapt our spirituality. For example, each week I publish a newsletter for a broad community of business-people that includes a '30 second Dvar Torah for busy people'. Because it's limited to just 150 words, people know they can consume it quickly, and therefore actually read it and can take something away.

Here are some things that might help:

  • Appreciate the daily shiurim - chitas and others - which can easily be squeezed into a busy day, but then when you look back over time you've completed entire seforim. Clearly they are an effective tonic for the pace of life.
  • In the words of Reb Arel Serebryanski to us in school many years ago - "a little bit but good". Davening is really difficult - with the passage of time it becomes more and more rote. So pick just one paragraph and use it as a focal point. Learn it in depth and allow it to become a 'speed hump' - a place to pause and reflect before pressing forward.
  • Go for a walk. The King is the in field, so perhaps a walk in the park and some time away from the daily grind is a good way to clear the head and connect with Him during the month of Elul.

As we're not all about to move back to living in some small shtetl in Eastern Europe, we must accept the world we live in now, and learn how to be the best we can within its constraints.

These are a few things that work for me. I'm sure there are plenty more, and perhaps people will share them online so we can all benefit and head into fantastic 5774. Wishing everyone a ksiva v'chasima tovah!


  1. Maybe it is better to daven less but to do it more slowly. Like substituting הביננו for שמונה עשרה or starting at ברוך שאמר and letting people daven till there at home?

  2. Nice piece David, different folks different strokes, as we read this morning in Tanya.
    KVT LTU.

  3. Good job david! keep it up.
    I've had the same theory about time, as i'm only 23 i hope time doesn't speed up anymore, its already too fast!