June 2016 Bulletin Message — Does a Ringing Telephone have to be so Annoying?

June 8, 2016
By bethmordecai
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June 2016 Bulletin Message — Does a Ringing Telephone have to be so Annoying?

If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals…if we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, of the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.

  • (Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 151)


[The Sabbath] is a day on which hours do not oust one another…the seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date, but an atmosphere

  • (Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 21)


Have you ever noticed that a telephone ring is really annoying? I don’t know about you, but whether it’s a traditional ring, a screaming ringtone, or a gentle buzz, it doesn’t matter; there is something about a telephone ringing that forces me to have to answer it even if I’m in the middle of something very important. And that biological response to pick up a ringing telephone as if my life depended upon it, well I find it really annoying.

The urgency we feel in responding to a ringing telephone (or a crying baby, a shout from a loved one, or any sound that arrests our attention) is built into our DNA, as if our survival depended upon it. In fact, I wonder how many of us often use “urgency” – the pressing need to get something done – as a means for accomplishing our tasks. I know I’m guilty of needing to feel like my back is up against the wall in order to get my best work done. Whether it’s an impending deadline or a call that needs an immediate response, feeling a sense of urgency triggers an extra spark of energy and clarity that helps me get things done well.

But it’s so stressful.

You know those days when you feel like you’re running from thing to thing without a chance to breathe? Those days may be exhilarating, but they’re exhausting. You feel like you got a lot done, but by the end you’re spent. How long can we keep it up? How far can we go if all we’re doing is running without having time for thinking?

Religious wisdom, like the quote above from Heschel, has always taught us that there is great value in slowing life down. “Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self” (Heschel, 13). We may move quickly and forcefully when we respond to the urgent matters of the day, but do we allow the time and patience to proactively determine the important matters of life?

This past month a group of members came together as part of our Sulam project to further explore what it means to participate in and take a leadership role in the synagogue. One of the profound teachings from this lesson was that, with few exceptions like helping make a minyan for someone saying kaddish, most Jewish activities fall under the category of “important but not urgent.” That is to say that when we are running through our day trying to get from thing to thing, we often don’t engage with any meaningful Jewish practice or activity. But if we take a moment to think about what matters in our lives, Judaism usually comes up as something very important.

Yet because Judaism is often not very urgent, it requires time, patience, and preparation to make Judaism a meaningful part of our lives. That’s the essence of the quotes above — what matters most needs contemplation and in order to do that contemplation we need to find time when “time does not oust one another.” For some of us this may be easier to consider doing as we retire and have more time on our hands. But no matter what stage we are in life, we can be easily pulled away by the annoying, biological need to respond to the telephone rings we encounter each day. Thus we all need to make time to turn off the ringer, to proactively remove our selves from responding to what’s urgent in order to pursue what’s important. That’s what Shabbat can give us, that’s what Judaism can offer us, and when we embrace those things that are important but not urgent, we’ll discover that when the telephone rings again, it won’t sound so annoying after all.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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