The Rabbis of the Mishna were very much aware of the pitfalls of having too much time on one’s hand. They advised in the Ethics of the Fathers that the ideal is to study Torah while having a job. For being busy with both, will not allow one to sin. Simply put, if one fills his day with his occupation, and the remaining hours are devoted to Torah study, he will not have time to get into trouble.
Contrast this, with today’s Western society, where a typical work week is forty hours, there is a great deal of free time. As society has developed and we now have so many short cuts in taking care of our daily needs, running a household does not require nearly the amount of time it did fifty years ago. We have also grown accustomed to instantly prepared foods, as well as fast foods, so that the things that once occupied a great deal of our time, does not exist.
When we add the increase in affluence to the equation, we are suddenly faced with a new problem. The combination of increased leisure time, with increased money, contributes to many of our social ills. People want to find meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Boredom leads to frustration and depression. People are generally not given guidance as to how to take advantage of the luxury of free time. This situation probably contributes to drug and alcohol abuse. These items are expensive, but funds are readily available to purchase them. This is a good explanation as to why in a time of great affluence and comfort, so many people are taking medication for their sadness and depression.
Time is a gift, and it passes very quickly. It is something that is very precious and we cannot get back. One of the basic ways to avoid frustration, is to become giving people. Selfish people cannot be happy. Helping others and making a difference in someone’s life, brings a great sense of fulfillment. There are so many organizations where one can volunteer his time. One needs to just reach out, and he will find places where he can be of service. Giving is a good place to start in our quest to deal with the problem of too much leisure time.
In the Yeshiva world, students are taught the concept of “Bitul Zman”, or wasting time. Students are urged by their teachers to plan their day so that there is a minimum amount of wasted time. Unfortunately, this is not something which is taught to the general public. I have been told by some of my retired students, the importance of using one’s mind in a constructive way. One such student worked for decades at IBM. The work there required intense concentration and problem solving. For those who retired and did not prepare themselves to continue using their minds, they literally died after a relatively short period of time.
This leads us to probably the most constructive use of time. And that is Torah study. Judaism has a wealth of knowledge, and delving into our holy books fulfills many of the pitfalls of too much time on our hands. Such study is challenging and gratifying. The study of Talmud, sharpens one’s mind. And a side benefit of such study, it also teaches morality. It reinforces the priorities one should have in life, and what to stay away from.
The way to solve a problem, is to first be aware that the problem exists. Too much money and too much leisure time, is a serious problem. Once we are aware, we must be proactive in being sure that we truly cherish this wonderful gift of time, and we use it wisely.