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Time, Money, and Priorities

It has been said that a young person invests time to gain money. But that same person, older and wealthier, will spend money to buy time.

I feel like that quite a lot these days; when I was younger I would go to extreme lengths to save a dollar. But now I am increasingly willing to spend money if it means I can spend my time doing the things for which I can be most productive.

I have noticed a common parallel in people discovering their roots. Most people who are interested in genealogy are older, while countless family stories have been lost because when those same people were younger, they were not interested enough to ask (or listen) to the oldest generation before their stories died with them.

As I age I value my relationships more and more. But of course, in the case of some of the most important relationships, damage that was done long ago can no longer be meaningfully repaired. Some of that damage was entirely my fault, damage that I caused when I was young and impetuous and – to put it nicely – had my priorities all wrong.

The Torah gives us a prominent example: when Avraham was younger, he sent his nephew away merely because they owned so many flocks and herds that their herdsmen were quarreling with each other. In a nutshell, Avraham valued his sheep more than he valued his nephew. The situation would have been neatly resolved if they had decided, instead, to shed some of their wealth and stay together.

Similarly, when Avraham goes to Egypt he saves his own life and receives gifts from Pharaoh when he lets his wife be taken to be a harem-slave. It is not obvious that his priorities are quite in order.

We all know people who have let their possessions (or lack thereof) ruin a marriage, a family, a friendship. Most of us, at one time or another, make similar mistakes by prioritizing material wealth over important relationships. And I suspect that most of us regret those mistakes later in life, at least those of who who mature and realize that happiness does not come from money or stuff; happiness is instead the byproduct of good choices and loving relationships.

Avraham similarly grows: he spends a fortune purchasing a burial place for his wife (and the future dynastic family). Avraham then spend profligately to obtain a wife for his son, Isaac, before finally giving his remaining wealth to Isaac before his own death.

The text is at pains to tell us that Avraham dies a very happy and content man. Whatever may have happened earlier, there is no doubt that it was worked out, as well as it could be, by the time his days on this earth had passed. It is an end to which all of us would heartily wish. As my Rabbi points out, the reason we live longer lives is because we are not done when we are twenty; life has an arc, and we should always look for opportunities to examine our priorities, to change ourselves and grow, and above all, to invest in our divine and earthly relationships.

Comments are welcome!