Savor The Moment

By Rabbi Eric Goldman

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Two summers ago, I was walking on Touhy between California and Sacramento just as the sun was setting in the most magnificent and striking way, its trajectory lining up perfectly with the continuation of the street. It almost felt as if I would run quickly enough over the McCormick bridge, I would be able to jump right into the sun. Fortunately, this happened on a Shabbos afternoon. I was able to run inside to get my kids and then stand and watch, fully appreciating the beauty of the scene.  

Last summer, I was lucky enough to once again be walking on Touhy as the sun was setting along the exact same trajectory, engulfing everything west of McCormick in its stunning red color. The problem was that this time it wasn’t a Shabbos afternoon. I quickly pulled my phone out and began snapping away as if I was entering a photography contest and I had found the perfect setting. Which summer’s sunset do you think I gained more from? 

The summer is (finally) here. The cold weather has been left behind and the trees are blossoming. Joggers and bike riders fill the paths while BBQ’s and picnics fill the parks. Work seems to slow down and family vacations outweigh other responsibilities. The summer has become the universally accepted time to relax and enjoy life a little. But what if we miss it all? What if our minds are too distracted by the little boxes we carry around with us to realize the preciousness of the moment? What if we are so obsessed with chronicling our experiences that we fail to take it all in?  

I read an article a couple of years ago in which Hillary Clinton was asked how her 2016 Presidential Campaign differed from when she was on the trail with her husband in the early 1990’s. She responded by saying that she misses being able to get to know the voters. Two and half decades ago, she was able to speak to people and get to hear their stories. This time, in contrast, no one wanted to speak to her; as long as they got their selfie, they had everything they wanted.  

Studies show that people who are not able to live in the moment are more likely to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety. The more someone thinks about the past or the future the more they are missing the present. In doing so, they pass up the opportunity to get the most out of the experience. Being fully present without distractions allows a person to savor the moment. When we are fully focused on the event, we are able to internalize the emotions that go along with it and store them away to be tapped into at a later time. Having a picture is wonderful. But so is being able to close our eyes and sense within ourselves the emotions and feelings we had during that breathtaking moment.  

As a society we have become more occupied with selfies than with experiences. We care more about documenting our journeys on Social Media than being aware of how we feel during the journey itself. We are letting the distractions steal our attention from the beauty that is present all around us.  

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin relates a story about Rabbi Yerachmiel Dancyger, who asked one of his students where he has been all day. The confused student replied that he has been in the Beis Medresh of course. Rabbi Dancyger then explained that he was not referring to where he has been physically, but rather where his mind has been.    

This is not to say that I am discouraging people from taking pictures or trying to record special moments. Pictures are a meaningful part of every warm and loving home. But we don’t have to capture every moment. All too often, the one picture we are clamoring for ends up being just the beginning of becoming absorbed in a web of texts and updates, all the while the moment is slipping away from us. 

I was recently speaking to a group of teenagers and I shared with them these thoughts. As they relayed their displeasure with my wisdom, I countered with a very simple suggestion: try it. Try leaving the phone at home and going out with your friends. Try going to Lake Michigan without obsessing over the perfect selfie to verify the event. Try internalizing moments instead of having to capture them.  

This summer let’s be able to take a walk without bringing our phones along with us to distract us, letting Hashem’s picturesque world be the only thing grabbing our attention. Let’s be able to have an exciting experience without digitally recording every single second of it, allowing that to be the job of our memories and our hearts. Let’s be able to take a family vacation and share the time with our spouse and children right in front of us more than we share it with people around the world. Maybe we won’t end up with the perfect picture of every part of the trip. But we will have the indelible memories that we can talk about for years to come.  

I will be ready for that sunset this summer. This time, ignoring the temptation to grab the camera in my pocket, I will be able to once again soak up the moment and fully appreciate the beauty Hashem has placed right before my eyes. My mind and my heart will be all I need.