“When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.”

— The Lubavitcher Rebbe

Every moment and everything around us is a vessel waiting to be filled. Like a white piece of paper, it offers infinite possibilities.

In 1983, for my seventh birthday, my class was invited to my party. Crowded in our small apartment in Saratov, the city of my birth, my parents prepared a surprise.

My father is an inventor who often took his talent beyond his professional expertise. We decided to create a human-size doll.Every moment is waiting to be filled

We put a piece of light-brown material onto a pumpkin and poured special glue over it, turning it into a full head mask. Then my dad made a nose of the same type of material, as well as eyes and lips that looked incredibly human-like for Soviet children who never saw anything of the sort in the 1980s. I created eyelashes from my own hair and colored the iris of the eyes a beautiful blue. We then sewed on dark brown hair made from yarn. My parents stuffed my tracksuit with newspapers and attached it to the head. As a final touch, we put on gloves and shoes to make the doll look like a real, small-size person.

When the children arrived, this doll was strategically placed in the center of the room on a chair. Everyone gasped with excitement and curiosity. At first, my classmates were intimidated, but slowly, they got used to the humanlike toy, and eventually accepted it to be just an empty vessel and not “really” alive.

My parents and I had a big surprise for them (only one boy from the class was told about our secret plan). As everyone went into the tiny kitchen for snacks, this boy put on the headpiece and tracksuit that the doll was wearing, and we quickly hid the newspapers. With the same gloves and shoes, the doll with a boy inside looked no different than the original toy.

When the children returned, the doll was sitting exactly as they left it on the chair. No one was impressed with it anymore since it only looked real, but proved to be lifeless. Then my father put a record on the player with a famous song about a doll coming alive. At that exact moment, the “doll” sat up straight. Everyone gasped.

The children cheered, reaching for the doll’s hands. They were ecstatic because it was no longer devoid of life, but animated and functioning. They spent time with the lively toy, dancing happily. Some clever guests found it suspicious that one of the boys was suddenly missing when the doll came to life, yet it didn’t diminish from the joy.

When everyone went back to the kitchen, and my childhood friend climbed out of the costume, the doll again looked lifeless and droopy, slouching on the chair. Nothing changed in the way the toy looked on the outside, but everything was different.

Ready for school!
Ready for school!

While I knew the secret behind the doll, I felt sad for this empty vessel that lost its vitality. This visual lesson about the importance of inner substance taught me about purposeful existence.

Years later, I learned a Jewish concept—that every minute is waiting to be infused by transformative light. Just like that doll without the inner vitality, time is just an empty vessel deprived of its potential and essence. We each have the power and capability to fill our world with G‑dly consciousness. Yet we must first start by recognizing our potential to infuse our individual lives with wisdom.

After my family’s immigration from the former Soviet Union, it was difficult toI wished there was a guidebook for meaning navigate in the new unfamiliar world of the United States. Despite the everyday challenges, I yearned to connect to my heritage and traditions. I remember wishing that there was a guide book to a life of meaning. Years later, I discovered that this guidebook did, in fact, exist; it is called the Torah.

When I was 13, I learned about the custom of lighting Shabbat candles by watching the movie, Yentle. It might sound unlikely that Barbara Streisand would help me with my Jewish journey, yet there was no one else to teach me. Growing up under communism, my parents were denied any connection to our heritage, but while the knowledge was lost to most Soviet Jews, the quest was beating in our hearts.

I remember how much I wanted to connect to the light. After earning my first paycheck, I bought candles in a dollar store and lit them just as I saw it done in the movie. Sadly, I didn’t know which type of candles were used, so I purchased the two most colorful ones, yellow and red. My father took a picture, surprised to see me mumble some mysterious words that I called a prayer. I don’t remember what I was whispering, I certainly didn’t know the words of any Hebrew blessing, but I am certain that I was heard.

Years later, on the days when I feel uninspired, I think back to my journey towards a Torah life. Along the way, I learned that the road to a purposeful life requires daily recommitment. Just as the lifeless doll was brought to its vibrant existence by the energetic boy who infused it with vitality, so are our days patiently waiting for the heart and spirit to be infused into them by our actions.