Perhaps we’re comparing it to earlier years in our lives, because time seems to speed up as you get older. It’s like driving from one place to another in an unfamiliar city. The first time you do, it seems like a long trip, but after you’ve done it a couple more times it seems much shorter. The distance shrinks with familiarity. Perhaps the passage of time is the same. When we’re young and everything is new, it takes a long time to get through a year. But as we get older and things are more familiar, the journey seems much shorter.
Time is a scarce commodity and gets scarcer, and therefore more precious, as we proceed through life. Is it possible to practice frugality with this precious item?
Rabbi Lefin instructs us, “Be careful with your money. Do not even spend a penny needlessly.” We might try to apply these instructions to time as well: “Be careful with your time. Do not even spend a second needlessly.” But, of course, the second will be spent regardless; time moves on inexorably, faster and faster as we go through life. So Rav Shaul’s instruction to redeem the time may be more relevant: “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Col 4:5); “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15–16).
When we redeem something, we snatch it out of some terrible fate, or out of oblivion, and restore it to a lofty purpose. When we were redeemed from Egypt, we were snatched out of slavery and humiliation to become a holy nation. So how do we redeem time?
Mussar practice itself helps us redeem time. When we rise early and set aside a long moment for silence and reflection, taking time to evaluate our attitudes and actions rather than just diving into them for another day, we redeem time itself from being lost or wasted. Rav Shaul links redeeming the time to wisdom. It’s unwise to waste time, especially because “the days are evil.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re in an intense apocalyptic moment, but rather that we live in a world that is fallen, that hasn’t yet entered the perfection of the age to come. Redeeming the time means having the wisdom to not go along with the drift of things, but to use time to create good. We don’t have to become workaholics; we still take time for family, for enjoyment, and for rest, but we recognize time itself as a gift not to be wasted.
The Christian commentator F.F. Bruce translates the phrase behind “redeem the time” as “buy up the present opportunity.” The opposite would be squandering opportunity and letting time slip through our fingers, just as the spendthrift lets money slip through his. So our practice of frugality should include assessing how we use our time. Have we recognized our time as a gift from God? Have we taken advantage of every opportunity to do good? Have we walked in wisdom, redeeming the time?