For twenty years some of my favorite stories come from the Hasidic tradition. And one of my favorite Tzaddiks is Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov. Here is one of his sayings that many people today have a very difficult time with:
A human being who does not take a single hour for his own every day is no human being.
For many people this is an impossible ideal. We are so preoccupied with trying to make a living and raising a family, with running here and running there, with life and responsibilities! There is also the constant pressure created by unlimited contact through cell phones, text messaging, and the internet. And what of our social and humanitarian activities? How can anyone take an hour a day for herself?
I think much of this depends upon our understanding of Moshe’s point. If you are a human–the hour of day is essential to your humanity. You cannot survive without it. Indeed, the more busy you are, the more essential the hour is. We understand that eating is essential to survival, so we eat. We do not say, “Who has time to eat? This is an impossible ideal!”
When we understand the hour a day is essential to life, then the objection dissipates because we are no longer offering excuses. We do what we must do to survive, to live. And if living demands taking the hour a day, we do that.
My wife has been working a very demanding and stressful job. She loves it, but it is taking its toll on her. In tears one night she said, “I don’t even have time for myself, this is killing me!” This morning she announced to me: “I am going to work an hour early today so I can stop at a coffee shop and spend time alone.” She knew she had to have that hour, so she made the time for it.
The truth is in order to live among people, in order to love people to the full extent, in order to recognize who we are and what we are created for, we must first be. And being is rooted in solitude. Just as we need food for physical strength so we need solitude for moral, mental, and emotional strength.
So what to do? I cannot tell you what you must do to make the hour happen for you. But here are some general ideas that might be useful:
- Ask someone you trust and who is familiar with your work and life to look at your schedule and offer their suggestions.
- Look for “empty” activities and see how you can limit them. How much time do you spend watching television, DVDs, going online to read newspapers, etc.
- Practice abstinence from your cell phone. Can you bring yourself to turn it off for a period of time? If you cannot, then you are being controlled by technology rather than controlling it. It is no longer a useful tool, it is now your master.
- Remember, no one can make you do anything. Every action you take, every reaction, you choose. Even if someone put a gun to your head, you could still refuse to do something (countless martyrs throughout generations have proved that point). To pick on the cell phone again: why do you answer your cell phone? “I have to.” Do you mean to tell me that you have absolutely no choice–that you are literally controlled by a little box made from plastic and metal?
- Take a weekend away from all media and even your home. Go somewhere. Camp out. Rent a cabin (one without television). Leave your laptop, cell phone, ipad at home.
- Get up an hour early or go to bed an hour later.
- If you are married with children spend some time talking with your mate about this. Ask him/her to help you take the hour. Are you the primary care-giver of your children? Ask your mate to watch them for an hour while you go to a coffee shop.
These are just some ideas. Some may work for you and some may not. Try them out and see. Try it out.
Take the time.
You know you could use the hour.
Here’s to your success!
 Can you imagine my delight to learn that Sasov is located in Ukraine where I travel frequently as part of my work?