Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are You Giving Enough Time to Friends, Family and Community?

The following is the sermon that Rabbi Efrem Goldberg's delivered at Boca Raton Synagogue this past Shabbos. Please watch the following video and sign up to disconnect.

Who loves who more - do parents love children more or do children love parents more? Anyone fortunate and blessed to have children will not hesitate to answer this question. Not only will parents unequivocally answer that parents love children more, I think that children if they are being honest will acknowledge that the love their parents have for them is deeper, more profound and unconditional than anything they could reciprocate.

If you think about it that makes no sense. Parents spend most of their lives giving to children and children, particularly young and adolescents make very good takers. From the moment of birth, parents wake up throughout the night, change soiled diapers, and progressively spend their time, energy and resources on their kids. Children, on the other hand, begin life taking and continue that pattern through childhood, adolescence and sometimes even adulthood.

And yet, after all that taking, parents love children more than children love parents. Why?

V'dibru ha'shotrim el ha'am lei'mor mi ha'ish asher banah vayis chadash v'lo chanacho yeileich v'yashov l'veiso...The Torah tells us in this morning's parsha that a man who has built a new house and not lived in it or has planted a vineyard and not enjoyed it or is engaged to a woman and has not married her, all three are exempt from participation in warfare.

Does the Torah mean to equate a woman with a house or a vineyard? Why should these three categories be equal in their exemption from army service? What do the house, the vineyard and the woman share in common?

Rav Eliyahu Dessler, who lived in the last century, first in England and then in Israel, wrote a well-known essay explaining the Jewish understanding of love. He suggests that very counter intuitively, love is the result of giving not of getting. True, a person who gets or receives should be appreciative and grateful, but getting doesn't generate love. Giving generates and cultivates love.

Love is the result of taking a piece of ourselves and investing it in another. When we sacrifice, toil, compromise, invest, and give to someone or something else, we create a bond and connection that is inseparable. Everyone naturally loves themselves. Some struggle to love themselves and others excel at this practice but all of us have a natural inclination to love ourselves. Therefore, when we take a piece of ourselves, represented by our time, energy or resources, and invest it in another, we love them, as an extension of ourselves.

Indeed, explains Rav Dessler, the Hebrew word for love is ahava. The root of the word is hav which means to give. Moreover, ahava is the same gematria, numerical value, as echad, one. When we connect with another by stretching ourselves into them, we become one and therefore feel a sense of love.

Parents love children more than children love parents, specifically because parents have given to children more than children could ever give back to them. Of course a woman is not equated with a house or a vineyard. The common denominator of all three categories of exemptions, is the love generated by the man who worked, toiled, compromised and invested, and therefore he deserves to enjoy their benefit before going to war.

Ultimately, our parsha is teaching a critical lesson about love and about giving. Paradoxically, when we give, we get so much more in return like love, closeness and connection. As you know, "Giving is Getting" is our BRS theme for the month of Elul and we will be discussing different aspects of this important principle over the next 5 Shabbos mornings.

Today, I want to talk about the most precious commodity that we could and should be giving generously to the people we love the most - it is our time. Giving time is a gift that gives back and enriches our lives in an inestimable way. When we give our time to family, friends and community, we get back in return meaning, purpose, satisfaction and joy.

We all lead incredibly busy lives. The financial downturn has forced so many to work longer hours than ever. We have responsibilities, obligations, interests and hobbies. We have errands, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and doctors' appointments. Why should we carve out precious time that we don't seem to have? The answer is that giving is getting and therefore, whatever we have given up by allocating our time, we will more than gain by the satisfaction and fulfillment we will feel.

Allow me to suggest three areas that desperately need us to allocate more of our time:

Firstly, we need to find time to volunteer. There are opportunities all around us to give time and energy. Our Shul has countless committees and efforts that need help. Our schools could always use more people. Our local hospitals, bikur cholim, chevra kadisha and chesed are constantly in need of a few more good men or women. Israel, arguably more than ever, needs our advocacy and efforts. Give time to AIPAC, our Social Action Committee or by working for Israel on your own.

No matter how busy you are, I personally guarantee that if you carve out time to give, you will find that you will get so much more. Using Rav Dessler's formula, whatever cause we give time to, we will be giving a piece of ourselves to and therefore we will develop a true love for. If you don't feel like finding time to give to benefit others, find it to benefit yourself, for I am confident you will gain satisfaction, meaning and love in return.

Secondly, we need to find time for our spouses. The divorce rate in America is around 50%, meaning half of all marriages are ending in divorce. Assuming these statistics are lower in the Orthodox community, which they are, they are still way too high. Research shows that a big factor of divorce is the amount of time couples spend together. Researchers like Dr. John Gottman tell us that successful couples spend a minimum of 12 hours of non-sleep, non-TV time together.

We are typically cynical of the old shidduch system in which a boy and girl meet just a few times for a few minutes before entering into marriage. As sophisticated, advanced individuals we protest the system because everyone knows that to forge a healthy relationship you must spend time together. And yet, for some reason, so many of us, the further we get from the wedding, the less time we are spending together.

We must carve out meaningful time with our spouse. Go for a walk, share a cup of coffee, have a date night or simply commit to uninterrupted conversation before retiring to bed. Time together is what created any healthy relationship and it is the necessary ingredient to nurture its maintenance and improvement. How can we possibly connect if we are never together? Caring enough to find time to be together is in itself a critical expression of love and affection in a relationship. Finding excuses to avoid spending time together is a guaranteed indicator that the relationship is in distress. Place an egg timer next to bed and refuse to go to sleep until you have spoken a minimum amount of time each evening and it can't be about the kids, your job or the cost of tuition.

Thirdly, we must find time for our children. Dr. Meir Wikler, a noted psychotherapist tells the story of a young lady he was counseling. After a number of sessions he noticed that she never mentioned her parents. Dr. Wikler inquired about them and the young girl lowered her head and stared at the floor. When she looked up she had a tear in her eye and said I will tell you a story from when I was a little girl that summarizes my relationship with my parents. "When I was little," she said, "we were sitting at the Seder table on Pesach and I had taken the afikoman. My father looked for it and knowing I had hid, it asked me what I wanted as an afikoman gift so that I would bring it back. I looked up at him and I told him, 'all I want for my afikoman present is a few uninterrupted minutes of your time.'"

A year ago, a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University came out with a shocking finding. It found that families that eat dinner together once a week have children with a lower risk for alcohol, tobacco and drug use than those that never do. With each increasing night that the family eats together, the risk goes down until if they eat together every night there is virtually no risk. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and having dinner together nightly offers no guarantees.

But, one thing is clear: Giving time to our kids is critical to getting children who will give us nachas, joy and pride. I understand as well as anyone the challenge of being home for dinner and of making time for each child. However, there are no excuses. There is simply way too much at stake. We work so hard to earn the income to pay for our kids to have the gadgets and clothing and comfort which they of course love and desire, but we must recognize that they cannot begin to compete with our kids' real need and desire, our time. Steal one on one time with your kids by taking them shopping, to shul, to run errands, or to grab a yogurt or ice cream. The return on spending time with children can be felt immediately leaving one with the undeniable feeling that when it comes to time with our kids, giving is truly getting.

Lastly, many of us are already spending significant time with our spouses and kids, but the question is what kind of time? When it comes to our time, the greatest gift we can give is not only a greater quantity of the time, but a greater quality of it.

This summer on the way to Israel we stopped in England for a few hours and spent time with our dear friends, the Marriotts. We went together to an outdoor mall called Covent Gardens. We were standing on the second floor and I looked down at the café on the first floor. All the tables were filled by couples, families, business meetings. We saw something that seemed remarkable and yet it has become the new normal. At every table someone was on their cell phone, texting, emailing or talking. All of these people thought they were spending time together when in truth they really weren't.

Being consistently connected through technology, is disconnecting us from the most important people and moments in our lives. Indeed, it is growing increasingly clear that only by disconnecting can we ever really connect.

There is an amazing new website called Charlie Harary who is coming to speak at our shul this coming year, has started an effort with others to encourage people on Tzom Gedalya in just a few weeks from now, to disconnect and to be fully present in all that they do. They have an incredible video that literally shows the damage being technologically over-connected is doing to our lives. They are trying to raise pledges of over a million hours of disconnecting and I strongly encourage you to participate.

Disconnecting is not only necessary for the time we spend with our family and friends, it is critically important for the time we spend with our Creator. How often do we see people in Shul checking their cell phone to read their texts and emails during davening. I am embaressed and ashamed to admit that I myself was an addict. However, I can proudly stand here and say that I have now been clean from this practice for 66 days. I made the conscience decision a little over two months ago to turn off my cell phone or take it off my belt and put it down before shacharis, mincha and maariv each day. The results are amazing as I am getting much more out of my davening and so will you.

My friends, when it comes to our community, to our spouses, to our kids and to Hashem, giving is truly getting for when we give our time, we get love, meaning and genuine happiness.

Rabbi Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue. He graduated from Yeshiva University with a BA in Psychology and received his Rabbinic Ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University. Rabbi Goldberg came to Boca Raton as a member of the Boca Raton Community Kollel and was the first Rabbi of the Elinor Lome Explanatory Service z"l. Before moving to Boca Raton, Rabbi Goldberg and his wife, Yocheved, spent two years in Israel studying at the Gruss Kollel in post graduate advanced talmudic studies.

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