Please go ahead of me, my lord. I will lead my group slowly… (Bereshith 33:14)
Yaakov said this as a sign of respect to show that he was concerned that he should not waste Esav’s time because of his family’s slow pace. 1 One must be extremely careful not to waste other people’s time, a precious and irreplaceable commodity. There are occasions when it is theft to waste someone else’s time, such as an employee whose time belongs to his boss. In other settings it is not considered stealing to infringe on someone else’s time, however it is included under the Torah injunction, “You shall not cheat your friend.”2
A prevalent example of this is “butting” ahead of someone else in line. The halachah recognizes the right of someone to maintain his position in line, and by going in front of him or asking someone else on line to take care of something for you, you are infringing on that right. If however, the person has some extenuating circumstance, e.g. he is an ill or elderly person, or he will incur a large loss of money because of the wait, it is proper to let him go to the front of the line, although one is not obligated to do so.3
Similarly, it is permitted to ask someone else to take care of an errand before that person gets in line. Since there is no set rule about how long each person is allotted, he is not considered to have infringed on anyone’s rights. However even this has its limits, and one should not take up an unreasonable amount of time. It is unfair for other people in the line to have to wait while one person takes care of the needs of numerous people.4
Countless opportunities arise each day in which people can show that they value their friend’s time. If a person makes an appointment with someone else, it is a true sign of concern for them to show up at the scheduled time. The Chazon Ish once disbanded a minyan when he heard that it would cause one of the members of the minyan to be late for an appointment.5 Another common situation is returning an item to its proper place, especially when it concerns books of Torah in a Beith Medrash.6The principle to remember in every situation is that if it would bother you to have to spend your time in such a way, you should not expect others to have to do so.7
1 Seforno on Bereshith 33:14.
2 Vayikra 25:17.
3 Meiri on Sanhedrin 32b.
4 Mishpatei HaTorah 1:84.
5 Brought in MiDevar Sheker Tirchak 143.
6 Kriana D’Igrassa 2:59.
7 Pithchei Choshen 9:13:30.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org