Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas used to say:
Late morning sleep,
children’s chatter, and
sitting at gatherings of the ignorant –
remove a man from the world.
My main commentary source (Pirkei Avos: The Ethics of the Fathers Treasury / The Sages’ Guide to Living / With an anthologized commentary and anecdotes. ArtScroll Mesorah Series) suggests that these are ordinary pleasures of life – but they can tempt us to squander our time and can lead us away from our purpose here on earth.
Late morning sleep. I am a morning person, others are night people. I have a hard time sleeping in – even on weekends, days off, holidays, and vacations. 8 hours after I go to bed I wake up. I need my 8 hours of sleep to keep from getting cranky but more than that is wasted on me. This pleasure in life has never been a temptation for me – but it is for some!
The rabbi warns us not to sleep half the day away. In his time, of course, at sundown the family pulled the doors shut and made preparations to go to bed.
Rabbinic commentators point out that one should not miss the prescribed time for morning prayers, should not miss the best time for study. (Were they morning people too???)
Midday wine. What is a relaxing pleasure at the end of the day becomes (potentially) a trap if enjoyed earlier and earlier! It can dull our senses and lead us to disregard our work and other duties. The sensible use of alcohol is what the rabbis envision for us as God’s gift – not something drunk in excess.
Children’s chatter. Life would be quite empty (at least for those of us who are parents) without the chatter of our children playing in the background, playing out in the yard, or in the back seat of the car. (When they fight or scream etc. it is another story!)
The rabbis warn that we are not to be caught up in it or to be distracted from our duties by it. We are not to get snared by the activities of youth (texting? gossip? TV etc.) in a hopeless effort to stay young – partly because it’s inappropriate, partly because it’s hopeless, mostly because we have our adult duties to perform.
Sitting at gatherings of the ignorant. MEETINGS!!!!!!!! How many hours have we spent at useless meetings, talking about useless things, hearing the same points said over and over again?
Time spent in meetings is generally unproductive and even harmful to our work. Some time management gurus recommend taking the chairs out of conference rooms so that meetings are conducted with everyone standing – to encourage everyone to get to the point and be done with it. Other gurus say to never schedule a meeting to go longer than an hour (because a meeting will never end early – people only repeat things already said until the alotted time arrives).
The rabbis had in mind the idle gatherings of people with nothing in their lives to do – so they sit and gossip and waste the day away.
All these pull us from our duties – to earn a living, take care of our families, be generous to those in need, and to study God’s law. If we have time left over after all of these duties are done to enjoy a glass of wine, to sit in an easy chair and chat with a neighbor, to have a snack – well great! But they have to be the equivalent of dessert in our lives, not the main meal.
As with so many things in life (and in wisdom) – it’s all a matter of keeping things in proper perspective.
What are your duties? What tempts you to stray from them? Where in your life are you letting otherwise good things lead you away from your purpose in life?