By Richard Greenberg
"Everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the
-- Koheles 3:1
The top executives of a suburban Washington, D.C., software company called
MicroStrategy Inc., recently agreed to pay fines totaling more than $1
million to settle a fraud case brought by the Securities and Exchange
The SEC had accused the company of overstating its revenues and earnings
through various improper practices, including booking millions of dollars in
proceeds from deals that had yet to be finalized.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of this case -- from a Jewish
perspective, at least -- stems from published comments made by Michael J.
Saylor, chairman of the company, long before the suspected irregularities
had come to light. The subject: Revenue timing, of all things.
"In the public world there's a difference between 11:59 and 12:01 the last
day of March," Saylor told the Washington Post. "There's a tangible
difference. One of them is, you go to jail if the thing gets signed at 12:01
[and you book it the day before]. One of them is, the stock is up $500
million. And the other one is, you've just torched the life and livelihood
of a thousand families."
I have no idea whether Saylor is Jewish, but he nonetheless expressed some
very Jewish thoughts in that irony-tinged interview. One deals with ethical
obligations, the other with . . . time. Yes, time.
Judaism, as it turns out, is not only timely -- as in relevant -- but also
deeply concerned with time itself. Time as a commodity. Time as a
boundary-setter. Time as a vehicle for holiness. Time, above all, as a
precious resource that is not to be squandered. In Judaism, every moment
Consequently, punctuality, order and self-discipline are encouraged in our
tradition, while laziness, disarray and procrastination are, of course,
frowned upon. This emphasis on industriousness and prompt action is evident
throughout one of our most accessible holy texts, Pirkei Avos (Chapters of
our Fathers), a compendium of moral and ethical teachings dating to the
Pirkei Avos advises us via Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas to make the most of our
day by not sleeping late (3:14), and in the ringing words of Hillel, it
asks: ". . . And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
(1:14). Rabbi Tarfon picks up the anti-sloth theme, informing us that the
"The day is short, the task is abundant . . ." (2:20). Meanwhile, Ben Azzai
impores us to: "Run to perform even a `minor' mitzvah and flee from sin. .
."(4:2). Not to be outdone, Yehuda ben Tema urges us to be ". . . swift as a
deer . . . to carry out the will of your Father in heaven." (5:23).
The overriding message: So much to do, so little time. So many distractions.
So many impediments to holy service, good deeds and Torah study.
Procrastination is chief among them, which no doubt prompted Hillel to issue
this famous warning: ". . . do not say, `When I am free I will study
[Torah],' for perhaps you will not become free."(Avos 2:5).
Judaism has several paradigms of punctuality, including Avraham, who hurried
to carry out the will of God and perform mitzvahs even when they were
personally painful. Self-discipline and selflessness were among his
hallmarks. Punctuality, however, is not only a sign of extraordinary
religious zeal. It is also a mark of respect for others. A person who
consistently shows up late for appointments or even informal get-togethers
is communicating selfishness and a lack of concern for others.
"Whether you feel like doing something should not be your major criterion,"
wrote Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in his book "Growth Through Torah." He added:
"Rather, ask yourself `What is the proper thing to do right now?' Once
something is proper to do, act with an enthusiasm that comes from an inner
acceptance of the importance of doing the right thing."
Sometimes, however, the right thing might be counterintuitive. As Shimon ben
Elazar cautions in Pirkei Avos (4:23): "Do not appease your fellow in the
time of his anger . . ." In other words, let him cool off or your attempt at
reconciliation might be counterproductive. Again, timing is critical.
And so it is in matters of repentance, as well. Rabbi Eliezer said: ~"Repent
one day before your death." His disciples asked him: "But does a person know
on what day he is going to die?" Said Rabbi Eliezer: "All the more reason,
therefore to repent today, lest one die tomorrow." (Talmud, Shabbos 153a).
Judaism's focus on timeliness asserts itself early each day during morning
blessings when we ask that our prayers to God "be at an opportune time."
(Psalms 69:14). Three times daily, prayers are recited during finite
intervals that have been fixed by our Sages based on the times offerings
were brought in the Temple in ancient Jerusalem. The aim, I think, is not
simply to be punctilious, but to engender self-discipline and ensure
performance. As we all know, without deadlines, things sometimes don't get
It is human nature to dally, rationalize and ultimately, allow valuable
opportunities to slip away -- in this case, the opportunity to talk with
God in a uniquely Jewish way. The establishment of fixed prayer times helps
guard against that. The sad reality is that if minchah, for example, doesn't
begin at hour X sharp, it might not happen at all. Likewise, unless the
candles are lit at the proper time on Friday night, one may end up never
Time provides a framework, a support structure for Judaism's system of
distinctions and delineations, its marking of the boundary between the holy
and the mundane, between festivals and ordinary days, and mostly
importantly, between the rest of the week and Shabbos. One moment it's late
Friday afternoon. The next moment, Shabbos has begun. As MicroStrategy's
Michael Saylor would say, a "tangible difference" suddenly exists, which in
Judaism, however, translates into the carving out of a sacred space. And the
ensuing 25 hours will be unique and holy because of it. The transformation
is not only timely, but timeless.