Getting My Priorities Straight

March 20, 2011

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Last night and today I joined Jews around the world in celebrating the holiday of Purim.  Among other customs, on this special day Jews gather to hear the Biblical book of Esther publicly chanted in Hebrew in a particular sing-songy tone.  To properly fulfill the rabbinic commandment of listening to the recitation of Esther on Purim, one should hear each and every word without interruption

As I sat down in synagogue last night, trying to get myself in the mindset of the day, I thought about the rarity of what was about to occur.  For the next 45 minutes or so, there would be no conversations, no phone calls, no checking e-mail or the latest news on my BlackBerry.  It would be time devoted to nothing else aside from listening to the beautiful and rhythmic melody of an ancient text and reflecting on the miraculous salvation of my people thousands of years ago. 

In addition to hearing the public recitation of Esther, the other three obligations of Purim are to give charity to the needy, to send gifts of food to one’s friends, and to enjoy a festive holiday meal with others.  One unifying factor in all four of these actions is the notion of fostering connections with other people.     

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about priorities.  After the very enlightening conversations I had last week with my co-workers about productivity and time management, I was struck by how they all struggled with balancing work commitments with family, hobbies, faith, and other things about which they are passionate.  Additionally, my husband and I put in an offer to purchase a home, which has sparked a whole series of discussions about financial priorities.  In an effort to counteract the craziness that comes with working full-time, being in school, and buying a house, we have been trying to have weekly date nights to ensure that we take the time to have a real conversation and enjoy each other’s company every so often.

For me, Purim this year was a bit of a jolt back to reality.  Between escalating responsibilities at work, a very hectic semester of school, the sudden stress of home inspections and mortgage approvals, and a host of other distractions, I’ve largely been operating on hyperdrive for several weeks now.  But for one day, I was forced to push other thoughts out of my head and just reflect on what’s really important to me.  My marriage.  My family.  My dear friends.  Being part of a supportive religious community.  Being happy.  (A recent article on happiness in the New York Times seems to imply that the aforementioned items are heavily intertwined.)

Purim is a notoriously festive day on which people traditionally dress in costume and celebrate with one another.  This year the three Orthodox synagogues in Memphis – Baron Hirsch Congregation, Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth, and Young Israel of Memphis – put their differences aside for one day and held a joint Purim event, which in my eyes is reason for celebration indeed.  Some great photos of the event and the wonderfully creative costumes people came up with this year can be found here.  Below is a video I took at the event, which shows individuals of all ages joining together to enjoy some Hebrew music and Israeli dancing in honor of the occasion.  (You will notice that the men and women are separated by a partition for dancing, as is traditionally the case.)

So now that Purim 2011 has come and gone, here are some big ideas on time management that I came away with:

  • Making time for the things that are really important. 
  • Savoring the moments of peace and quiet, rather than stressing about all of the other things you could be doing during that time.
  • Connecting with other people and engaging with my community.
  • Being happy.  (Remember this guy?)
  • Getting my priorities straight.