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Judaism and Opportunity Cost

Time is precious.

Time is precious

National Public Radio’s Planet Money recently asked several economists to offer advice to new college graduates. One of the responses came from Russ Roberts, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution in California. In a post sharing his unedited thoughts, Dr. Roberts notes:

“Time is precious. One of the simplest but most important ideas of economics is the idea of opportunity cost–anything you do means not doing something else.”

Sensitivity to time and opportunity cost figure profoundly in a Judaic worldview. Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg tells a related story he heard from Rabbi David Hyatt:

“Once, the Chofetz Chaim was waiting with a student for a train. He said to the talmid, ‘Please take a sefer out of the bag and we will learn together.’ The talmid checked the time and saw the train was scheduled to arrive very soon. He said, ‘Rebbe, the train’s coming in five minutes’–meaning that it’s a bit of a tircha to get the sefer for such a short amount of time. The Chofetz Chaim responded, ‘It is true that the train is coming in five minutes, but there are also five minutes until the train comes.’

Rabbi Hyatt explained that this story reflects a major yesod in Yahadus. Judaism is a religion of opportunity–each year, month, week, day, even every five minutes, is another opportunity to do a mitzva. We should take advantage even of the short times as well.”

Subsequent gedolim likewise exemplify these core values. Rabbi Yosaif Asher Weiss has recounted about his grandfather, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, “When he would come to the yeshivah [of Staten Island] before Shacharis, you could see that he had his time mapped out, minute by minute. Not a moment would go to waste.” In a new biography of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, the following anecdote appears in a chapter titled “Using Every Precious Moment”:

“The gabbai of a shul brought a new Sefer Torah to Rav Elyashiv so he could write a letter before the hachnassas Sefer Torah ceremony…When he finished writing the letter on the parchment, he asked how much time it would take for the letter to dry and the Torah Scroll to be rolled up. After hearing that it would take about five minutes, he took his Gemara and went to a different room to learn.”

As a final illustration, Rabbi Avrohom Leshinsky and Rabbi Yehezkel Danziger write in their foreword to volume one of Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks:

“Rav Miller taught his family and followers the precious value of time…The notion of ‘killing time’ was anathema to him. Wasting time, he would explain, is like suicide. Since a person’s life span is fixed by Heaven, and a moment wasted can never be made up, wasting time is really no different than cutting one’s life short.”

We live in a world of unprecedented information and unprecedented distraction. May theserighteous examples reinforce our dedication to what really matters.

About the Author: Menachem Ben-Mordechai has written for numerous publications on subjects ranging from Israel and Latin America to the sport of powerlifting and life insurance. He has also coached elite powerlifters as well as beginners. Menachem's other writing can be found under the name Myles Kantor.


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One Response to “Judaism and Opportunity Cost”

  1. Brian Kent says:

    Excellent article. I heard the Chofetz Chaim said to an American Bucher that he heard that American businessmen had an expression. "Time is money". This is even more true in spiritual matters.

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