Salvaging Six Minutes

I wasted six irrecoverable minutes last Thursday.  I was in a hotel room watching a member of the U.S. House of Representatives on television justify his failures, and those of his colleagues, by pointing a finger of disdain at a large part of the American population.  Poor results were because too many Americans were too selfish to understand his heroic sacrifices on behalf of other Americans and other not-yet-Americans.  I was as dismayed by the poor quality of some of our elected as I was about my wasted six minutes.

Later, while driving, I contemplated how I might try and benefit from those lost six minutes. Many a mile went by with no hope of rescuing that time wasted in front of the TV screen.  Then, all of a sudden, my wife, Susan, asked me, “Do you know that in only two places in the Five Books of Moses, does Moses speak ‘before the Lord’ rather than ‘to the Lord’”?  I laughed delightedly because while those six minutes were certainly irrecoverable, they were no longer wasted.  I was able to learn from them.

Let me explain.  It can be disconcerting when, during a conversation, someone utterly ignores what you just said and continues talking as if you hadn’t said a thing.  You feel as if perhaps you didn’t say it at all.  There can only be two explanations.  Either the person is incredibly rude or else you didn’t speak the words, you merely thought them; in reality they never made it to your mouth.

Consider this conversation between God and Moses:

The Lord spoke to Moses saying.  “Come, speak to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and he will let the children of Israel out of his land.”   And Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “The children of Israel did not listen to me, how then will Pharaoh listen to me, seeing that I am of uncircumcised lips?” And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He commanded them concerning the children of Israel…
(Exodus 6:10-13)

It’s almost as if God never heard the words Moses spoke.  God doesn’t even address the reasonable problem Moses raises: If his own people ignore him why would Pharaoh listen to him?

There is another nearby occasion when again God seems to ignore something Moses said:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I am the Lord. Speak to Pharaoh everything that I speak to you.”  And Moses spoke before the Lord, “I am of uncircumcised lips; so how will Pharaoh listen to me?”  And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you a lord over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your prophet.” 
(Exodus 6:29-7:1)

Again, God fails to address Moses’ concern.  God didn’t reassure Moses by telling him that his brother Aaron will be his mouth.  It is almost as if Moses never uttered these words.

It turns out that these two instances are alone in all the Torah in telling us that Moses spoke not to God but before God.  That’s right; Moses never addressed these words to God.  He was speaking to himself, in front of God, or “before the Lord.”

Naturally, God didn’t respond to what Moses said.  In both verse 12 and verse 30, Moses was talking to himself,  preparing himself for another unpleasant round with both Pharaoh and the Israelites.  He did not expect a warm reception from either. 

In verse 12, Moses points a finger of indictment against God’s chosen people by saying, “My own people of Israel didn’t listen to me, how can I possibly expect Pharaoh to listen?”  As an afterthought, he mentions his own speaking disability, “I am of uncircumcised lips.”

In verse 30, Moses has had a chance to reconsider his wavering spirit.  This time he does not blame his people at all.  He thinks only of his own disability in doubting that Pharaoh will pay him any attention.

Not surprisingly, only 6 verses later we read:

Moses and Aaron did; as the Lord commanded them.
(Exodus 7:6)

As long as Moses was focusing his heart on Israel ignoring him, he was effectively paralyzed.  As soon as he started looking only inwards, he was able to move forwards.  What a beautiful lesson this is to us all. 

We all run scripts in our souls explaining our inability to do what we know we ought to do.  As long as these scripts focus on others who serve either as obstacles or excuses, we remain paralyzed.  When we edit the script, as Moses did in Exodus 6:30, to look only at ourselves, we gain the ability to pull ourselves out of our disheartened condition and move forwards.

That politician who saw only the faults of those he was elected to serve is going to do little more than waste the time and money of his constituency.  But his example serves as a tool for me to salvage the time I wasted. 

12 thoughts on “Salvaging Six Minutes”

  1. These missives are always filled with interesting pieces of Jewish wisdom, but this one is tremendous. Control your own thoughts and your own actions, focus not on the self-imposed limits, but on the abundance in front of you. Thanks for the reminder, Rabbi Lapin. All the best to you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Thomas
      I appreciate your encouraging words. You take from the Thought Tool exactly the right information.

  2. What I love is that your observations encourage me to delve and to listen. I don’t do nearly enough of either. Blessings.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      So true for us all, Joyce,
      Here’s to more time invested in delving, listening and contemplating. Stop the noise! Please!

  3. Thank you so much for this! It was very enlightening…and gave me some much needed insight into a personal situation I am facing. It also brought to my mind how Lot’s wife looked back, and turned into a pillar of salt. In my own experience, your words have proven true…”As long as these scripts focus on others who serve either as obstacles or excuses, we remain paralyzed.” But thinking of Lot’s wife, I have also found that when I focus too much on the past, I am just as paralyzed.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Tracey–
      I’m happy our words provided insight and that you have found them to be true and applicable. However, this is not because they are our words but because they are the words of ancient Jewish Biblical wisdom which we retransmit as accurately as we know now.

  4. Thank you so much, Rabbi.

    This is a wonderful insight. These Thought Tools have a beautiful way of reminding me of the immeasurable riches hidden in the scriptures. Just when you think you know a passage…

    I truly thank God for you both.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      All you invested in this priceless Thought Tool was a measly 5 minutes??!!!
      Just kidding, so happy you wrote, Louis.

  5. There is so much wisdom in this short “Thought.” Pay attention to how to maximize every moment. Study with your wife. Listen to what she has to say. Apply Wisdom to every situation. Most importantly, speaking “to,” rather than “Before.”
    Thank you Rabbi Lapin and the constant flow of wisdom that enriches our lives. You continue to be a Master Teacher for this much lesser rabbi.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Rabbi Weinberg,
      You are a ‘lesser rabbi’ like Niagra Falls is a trickle. Your kind words are enormously encouraging, thank you.
      I hope we get a chance to see one another in the near future,
      Very best wishes,

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