Natural resources are a hot topic right now, as the earth continues to fill with more people but not more resources. In the era of technological leaps and blindingly fast innovation, humans also seek more resources than ever before. In the past, cobalt was used for nothing other than a deep rich blue dye, but now it’s used in every lithium ion battery, which provide the power to an endless array of gadgets not available in anyone’s home in the 1500s, including laptops, EVs, cell phones, tablets, cameras, digital watches, and pacemakers! So, while two hundred years ago, there were less than a billion people on earth and very little need for cobalt, today there are almost eight billion people and all of them want lots of cobalt.
When speaking of natural resources, we tend to think that the scarcest are a class of minerals known as rare earth minerals. They include dysprosium, neodymium, lanthanum, scandium, erbium, gadolinium and about fifteen other similarly named minerals. While you’ve possibly never heard of any of them, they are each needed in technologies you use. Erbium is needed for laser surgery, dysprosium for nuclear reactors, neodymium for powerful industrial magnets, scandium in lightweight but powerful materials found in fishing rods, race cars, golf clubs, and tennis rackets. Ironically, the worlds reserves of rare earth minerals are highly concentrated in China, a country that doesn’t always play well with others, and they claim that there is less than 20 years’ worth of reserves left. I don’t mean to set you in a panic, I know too many people who suffer sleepless nights, tossing and turning worried about earth’s rapidly diminishing erbium supplies, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t lay the facts out.
The good news is that we find new deposits of minerals all the time. While the US Geological Survey estimated global reserves of Zinc at 77 million tons, by 2000 (after 50 years of additional mining) they announced that the reserves were closer to 209 Million tons. We’ve seen oil fields that were predicted to go dry in twenty years continue pumping out increasing amounts of oil fifty years later. So while there is concern to be had about natural resources, I’d recommend not losing sleep over it for right now, but please do check back with me in a few years in case we’ve gone to alarm level orange or red.
There is a resource that is rarer than cobalt, rarer than rare earth minerals, rarer than platinum and diamonds, indeed the rarest of all resources. Additionally, it is impossible to discover more reserves of this resource, it is absolutely capped and when we run out of it, well, life won’t go on. The resource I’m referring to is time. We all have a certain amount of time, we can’t find any extra time, and when we’ve depleted that resource, we hang up our earthly body for the final time and take leave of this life.
If you’re above average, blessed and fortunate, you may get to live 700,000 hours (80 years), a much smaller percentage of people will live 788,000 hours (90 years), and if you last longer than 99.98% of people, you’ll make it to 876,000 hours (100 years). So we don’t have that many hours to start off. And those minutes slip by way faster than you’d think; you use up 8760 of them each year. About 2482 of them are lost to sleep. Another 2080 are lost to work (if you’re lucky!), 500 to eating, 54 to traffic. We’re not left with much for ourselves of this most precious resource.
Yet, we are so good at wasting time! Humans spend over a trillion dollars each year producing and consuming content to keep our time filled, and that is just in four categories: sports, movies, tv, and gaming. It doesn’t include social media which probably sucks up an equal or greater amount of human time. You’re probably thinking that I’m going to be that rabbi telling you that you need to fill your time more productively, that you’re wasting your most precious resource, giving it away and getting nothing in return, but I’m not.
I’m here to recommend that you leave a bit more of your time empty, that you don’t fill all your time with actions and words. Don’t feel the need to use all of that precious resource talking or doing things, make sure you have some nice sized gaps there. But in a very specific way.
There is a concept called the Awkward Silence. It refers to the time someone takes to think before responding. We live in the world where everything is instant, we open our phone and despite it being a more powerful computer than the one that put man on the moon, it boots up instantaneously. We would have it no other way. If we have to wait for four minutes in line at the grocery store, we are deeply annoyed. We can order items on Amazon and if we spend more than $35 it will be delivered within four hours. We expect super-fast service from our restaurants, appliance repair guys, Ubers and the pizza shop. We want it all, and we want it NOW.
This spills into our interpersonal relationships as well. When we ask someone a question, we expect them to answer immediately, and people tend to acquiesce to that expectation. The result of this is that people often start answering questions before they’ve truly formulated a proper response, just to meet the expectation of immediate reply delivery. This of course leads to a lot being left on the table, or in this case in people’s mind. There is likely to be a more fulfilling and robust answer somewhere in a person’s head, it just takes some time to fish out the components and construct them into a response. When not taking that time, we just rush out with what’s available and that often is a steep discount of what we really can offer.
It is surprising to see how many of the people who have built the largest financial empires in the world have used the Awkward Silence to their advantage. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Elon Musk, richest man in the world, founder of Tesla, Space X, the Boring Company, and owner of Twitter, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and Tim Cook, current CEO of Apple, the world’s largest company, all use the awkward silence extensively. It is almost jarring to watch them being interviewed because they will often just stop after being asked a question, and think for anywhere from 10-20 seconds. Of course, for anyone who learned in Yeshiva this is no surprise, people employ this tactic all the time when learning. One person asks a question, the other pauses in concentrated thought for 30 seconds or more before responding.
Even though time is so precious, waiting before responding is not time wasted. Most people regret the vast amounts of time they wasted on their deathbeds, but no one says “I wish I would have answered questions faster, I wish I didn’t pause so long to think about what I was going to say.”
We are now in the period between Pesach and Shavuos, when our ancestors were going through the process of leaving Egypt and working their way to receiving the Torah at Sinai. There are 49 days from the day after we got out of Egypt to the day before we got the Torah, days known as the Sefira. It was a time that our ancestors utilizing working on themselves, perfecting themselves so that they would be worthy of receiving G-ds wisdom and way of life that is the Torah. We follow this exact pattern every year, taking this time of year to intently focus on making ourselves worthy recipients of the Torah.
Fascinatingly, there are 48 tools used for acquiring the Torah, as laid out for us in Ethics of Our Fathers (6:6), so that we can work on one trait each day, and then spend the last day synthesizing it all into one coherent outlook of life, the outlook of a person ready to incorporate and inculcate the Torah into his entire life. One of them (the 13th one, which actually perfectly corresponds to todays Omer!) is called “Biyishuv” which can be translated as “with sitting,” but what that means is sitting on a thought or an idea before blurting it out, by sitting on a decision for a day or two before making that decision.
While time is the greatest and rarest of resources, if we want to achieve greatness, we have to use some of that resource to mull over ideas, to actively think, to fully understand what someone is asking us, to consider the questioners background, knowledge, and life experience in how we formulate our answers, and to craft an answer that not only responds to the question, but best responds to the question, the questioner, and the context of the question. This can be very awkward at first, people don’t expect you to pause for 10-20 seconds before responding, but it actually not only helps you, it helps them. When they see that you take some times before responding, they see that you value them, you value their question and they appreciate that you’re taking the time to respond appropriately!
Time may be the most limited resource in the world, but sometimes giving away a little bit of that time, gets you something in return far greater, lucid thoughts, clear responses, developed positions, the respect of others, and one more tool in the toolbox needed to properly unlock the greatest gift given to mankind, G-dly wisdom.
This weeks parsha, Achrei Mos starts of with Ha-shem telling Moses the proper way for the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) to enter the Holy of Holies which is only done on Yom Kippur. This commandment was given after Aaron’s two eldest sons died after entering the Holy at an improper time. The lesson is that Holiness requires preparation and cannot be jumped into off the cuff, and the Holier the place, the more groundwork required. Everyone understands that it would be foolish to buy a house without checking it out properly first, or sign a contract without going over the details, all the more so in the spiritual world whose effects are more far-reaching do we have to prepare properly before rushing in.
The Torah describes the Yom Kippur service in detail but one interesting item to note is that the Kohen Gadol first brings a sacrifice to atone for his personal and his families sins, then a sacrifice to atone for all the Kohanim (his tribe), and only after that does he bring an offering to a atone for the entire Jewish community. This is very much in synch with the concept of preparation mentioned above, in that one before trying to change the world must first change himself and then work outward in concentric circles personal-family-tribe-community at large.
The Torah then discusses the prohibition against bringing sacrifices outside of the Temple or eating their parts out of their boundaries. (Yep, in case you didn’t pick up on it, this is also about showing respect for the act of sacrifice and understanding that you can’t just sacrifice it anywhere or anytime that you feel like it, there is a system that you must follow. So if you have that Tyco altar in your backyard, its time to fold it up, and wait for the Messiah when we will have a real Temple again!)
Then the Torah mentions the prohibition of eating blood. The blood is considered to be the seat of the soul of the animal hence we offer it on the altar, as a sign that we want one soul to be offered to atone for another, and therefore it would be profane to eat it in any other medium. (I know this week is a tough one, you have to fold up the Tyco altar, and stop your membership with the Vampires R Us club.)
In fact the Talmud learns a great lesson from this. If we get reward for not eating blood or other forbidden insects that one naturally loathes, how much greater is our reward for holding ourselves back from doing things that we are attracted to! This is why the forbidden relationships juxtaposed to this topic in this same Parsha to help us realize this lesson.
Here the Torah also commands us to cover the blood of non-domesticated animals or birds that we slaughter. The reason for this is that if the blood contains the soul of the animal it would be improper to eat the animal while its lifeblood and soul are lying exposed on the ground. This shows two things. One, that even animals have some sort of soul, as do even plants and rocks each to a lesser extent, as everything is an emanation from G-d and to exist must have some sort of soul or life to it. This is evidenced by Psalms talking about how different inanimate objects sing the praises of G-d, which is not just a metaphor. (Now we begin to understand the crazy Pet Rock fad of the 70’s!) Another lesson is the incredible sensitivity the Torah displays even toward animals, how much more so must we be sensitive to people’s feelings.
After this the Torah enumerates many of the forbidden sexual relationships including adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality. Right after this the Torah write a warning not to commit certain forms of idol worship. The juxtaposition is explained as follows; both the idol worshipper and the person committing adultery are being treacherous to one who deserves their loyalty, whether it be G-d or one’s spouse.
At the end of the parsha the Torah enjoins us not to commit these immoral acts, as they were the cause that the dwellers of Canaan (Israel) to be expelled from it. If we contaminate ourselves with them, we will also be banished from our land as the Holy Land itself has holiness and it can’t contain impurity. This concludes the Parsha, and now we have come full circle because the same concept of preparation and respect we see applying to the Holy Land as it does to the Holy of Holies that the Kohen Gadol enters on Yom Kippur! That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Spirituality is like a bird: if you hold it too closely, it chokes. And if you hold it too loosely, it escapes!
Random Fact of the Week: There are more than 10 million bricks in the Empire State Building.
Funny Line of the Week: Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.
Have a Stupendous Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham