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Monday, 12 May 2014

Stop procrastinating today!

Rosh Hashanah 5

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Robin Marcus in honour of her husband Dave’s birthday.  Till 120 in good health!

Jim is one of my favourite people in the congregation.  He always has a smile on his face, something nice to say, and is always positive and optimistic about any situation. 

But don’t ever ask Jim to do anything you need to get done.  I mean, he has the best of intentions and volunteers to help out wherever he can.  But Jim has a major problem with procrastination.  He knows he’ll get to it… eventually.

I’ve tried sending him to PA (Procrastinators Anonymous) but he keeps putting off showing up to the meetings.  (Actually, that’s why PA never quite got off the ground.)

Is there a cure for procrastination? 

The Torah states: “If you make a promise [to bring an offering] to Hashem your G-d, do not delay (lo t’achair) paying it, for Hashem your G-d will surely demand it from you and you will bear sin.”

If you make a promise to G-d, the Torah appears to say that you shouldn’t put off fulfilling your undertaking.  But what does not putting it off mean?   Does that mean a year? Maybe it’s a week?  Or five minutes? 

Presumably if you’d intended to do whatever it was immediately, then there’d have been no need to make an oath.  Promising to do something implies a commitment to doing it sometime in the future.  So how can the Torah tell me not to delay fulfilling my promise?

The answer is that lo t’achair doesn’t mean “do not delay.”  The correct translation is “do not be late.”  The Torah is instructing us, “If you make a promise to Hashem your G-d, do not be late paying it. . .”  But how late is too late?

The Talmud teaches that you have a period of three festivals to bring the offering.  Once Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles) have passed, you’re too late.

Certainly, the ideal way to perform a mitzvah is in fulfilment of our Sages’ dictum “zerizim makdimim l’mitzvos” – the early bird catches the worm.  Nevertheless, we’re not obligated to always do everything immediately.  The Torah gives us room to breathe.  But that doesn’t mean you can delay performing the mitzvah indefinitely. 

The Torah’s way to avoid procrastination is to set deadlines.  If you make a promise of an offering to G-d, your deadline is three festivals.  After that, sorry mate, you’re too late. 

Similarly any commitment you make in life, if you don’t have a deadline, you’ll never get it done.  The cure for procrastination is to set solid deadlines and to stick to them.  Once you’ve set deadlines for your tasks, you can then prioritize which tasks need to be completed first and which can be placed further down the to-do list.

Anything that’s important in life must have a due date.  And if it’s not important enough to have a due date, then it’s probably not very important and you need to ask yourself whether it even deserves a place on your to-do list at all.

There’s nothing wrong with putting things off, you simply can’t do everything immediately.  But every task must have a deadline.  Once you know when things need to get done by, there will be no more procrastinating.

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

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