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Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I rely on people’s words, and expect that they will be fulfilled on time. Thus, for instance, I don’t like it when someone shows up late at a meeting, or sends a letter (or email) way after its due date-- unless, of course there is a good excuse.

I believe that, in the great scheme of things, we live in an orderly world. Seasons come after one another, just as day follows night. We could not function if we were left guessing all the time. The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that God “brings everything to pass precisely at is time” (beito, 3: 11), and the Book of Proverbs praises the “word rightly timed” (davar beito, 15: 23). Timeliness was also stressed by the Rabbis. One sage taught, “If a fig is plucked at the proper time, it is good for the fig and good for the tree” (Gen. R. 62.2). This kind of world is dependable and reassuring.

I am an organized person who plans things ahead. Rarely do I leave things to the last moment. I respect people’s time and word, and expect the same from the others. When I was a congregational Rabbi, my weekend talks were often prepared early on Mondays or Tuesdays, and the outline of my High Holiday sermons was penciled by June or July, even though the festival would be celebrated around Sept/October. In synagogue life I could never predict what would happen towards the end of the week: a funeral, an unexpected meeting, an illness. So, I would leave myself plenty of time for surprises and unplanned events. I also conducted religious services on time, began meetings promptly, and taught classes as scheduled. Even now, at the University I expect my students to turn in their assignments as indicated in my syllabus.

Regrettably, many people I know have a hard time managing their time well, and function with the mentality of “mañana” (Spanish, for tomorrow). They are perennially late, or promise and do not fulfill, or leave things to the last moment. Their thinking is, if I can do it tomorrow, what bother today? I have a hard time dealing with this type of behavior.

I have been accused of having an A-type personality. I gladly accept this accusation, but believe it is better this way than interacting with unreliable people and their vague promises. Being “on time” is simply a matter of courtesy and respect for others. In the “Merry Wives of Windsor,” Shakespeare wrote, with a bit of exaggeration, “Better three hours too soon than a minute late”. Similarly, The French King Louis XVIII is reported to have said, “L’exactitude est la politesse des rois” (“Punctuality is the politeness of kings”), a trait we should all try to emulate. I believe things ought to be done, as the Good Book says, “beito, “in its time.” And not leave people constantly wondering if they will ever happen or not.

Rifat Sonsino

Feb. 2011

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