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When Elazar ben Durdaia (a notorious sinner) found that all his appeals for assistance had been turned down, he said: “It all depends entirely on myself.” He placed his head between his knees and wept until his soul departed from him. A voice from heaven then announced: “Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaia is destined for life in the world to come!”

Hearing this, Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] wept: “There are those who acquire their world in many years, and there are those who acquire their world in a single moment.”

Talmud, Avodah Zarah 17a

In this world of ours, more is less and less is more.

Quantitatively, the earth is but a tiny speck in a vast universe; in significance, it is the focus of G‑d’s creation. Of the earth itself, inanimate matter constitutes virtually all of its mass, only a minute fraction of which are living cells. Plant life is more plentiful than animal life, and animals far more numerous than humans. Within the human being, the head, seat of man’s most sophisticated faculties, is smaller than the torso or limbs. In a word, the greater the quality, the lesser the quantity.

The same is true of man’s most precious resource: time. Quality time--time that is most optimally and fulfillingly utilized--comprises but a quantitative fraction of the time we consume. How many minutes of each day do we spend on truly meaningful things? The bulk of our hours are taken up with earning a living, sleeping, eating, and fulfilling a host of social and other obligations--worthy pursuits them all, but secondary to the purpose of our lives.

The very structure of time, as designed by its Creator, follows the “less is more” model. There are six mundane workdays, leading to a single day of spirit and tranquility. Yom Kippur--the “Sabbath of Sabbaths” whose twenty-six hours bring us in touch with our deepest, most essential self--occupies less than 0.3 percent of the year. Everything we do takes time, but the greater the quality of our endeavor, the less the quantity of time it consumes.

The most potent of human deeds is teshuvah--our ability to rectify and sublimate past wrongdoing by returning to the timeless, inviolable core of self which was never tainted by sin in the first place. And teshuvah is the least “time-consuming” of events: the essence of teshuvah is a single wrench of self, a single flash of regret and resolve. “There are those who acquire their world in many years,” says the Talmud, building it brick by brick with the conventional tools of achievement. Then there are those who acquire their world in “a single moment”--in a single, timeless instant that molds the future and redefines the past.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of MeaningfulLife.com. If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email permissions@meaningfullife.com.
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