Steven Covey, in his book, First Things First, tells the story of an expert on time management who was speaking to a group of busy executives at a seminar. To make his point, he used the following illustration.
He took out a one gallon, wide-mouthed glass jar and put it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and placed them carefully, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was full to the top and no more rocks could fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”
Everyone in the room said, “Yes.”
“Really?” he said. Then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, so that the pieces of gravel worked themselves down into the crevices between the rocks. Then he asked the group once again, “Is the jar full?” By this time, the group was on to him, so they said, “Probably not.”
“Good!” he replied. And then he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started putting the sand in and it quickly went into all the spaces that were left between the rocks. Then once more, he asked the question, “Is the jar full?”
“No!” the students said. Again he said, “Good.” This time, he took a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar until the jar was full to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What do you think is the point of all this?”
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is to teach us that no matter how full your schedule is, you can always fit something more into it if you really want to.”
The speaker said, “No, that may be true, but that’s not the point at all. The truth that this illustration is meant to teach us is THAT IF YOU DON’T PUT THE BIG ROCKS IN FIRST, YOU’LL NEVER GET THEM IN AT ALL.”
So author Steven Covey writes: Ask yourself. What are the big rocks in YOUR life? What is the project that you really want to accomplish? What is it that you really want to do with your life? Is it raising your children well? Is it having a good education? Is it writing that book? Is it working for a cause in which you believe so deeply? Whatever it is, remember to put the big rocks of your life in 1st—or you will never get to them at all. There’s a great deal of wisdom in this. Don’t get so bogged down in lesser things that you lose sight of what’s truly important.
In today’s Torah portion, Moses, on the last day of his life assembles the nation to publicly ratify a new covenant with Gd—a covenant that would be binding upon them and subsequent generations. The commentaries ask, “What right does this generation have to obligate all future generations of Jews? And why is this new covenant necessary?” Gd had already made a covenant with the Jews when they accepted His Torah at Sinai.
The Malbim, in his commentary, offers an exquisite approach. Yes, an all-powerful Gd, he argues, does not need our “agreement” or “acceptance.” Jews would have been required to observe Gd’s Torah whether they “accepted” the new covenant or not. The purpose of this new covenant was to involve them, to enable them to view their observance of Gd’s Torah as a product of their voluntary choice. Such a perception would serve to root the obligation to observe the Torah more firmly in their hearts and in the hearts of their children across the generations. This new covenant was to help the Jews of Moses’ generation view Gd’s Torah as a gift they would have chosen to accept, even had they not been obligated to do so.
Today’s Torah portion begins: Atem nitzavim hayom (You are standing today). Both this verse and the story of the big rocks beg the question: What is it that you stand for? Gd, Torah, honesty, integrity, caring for your fellow man? What are the big rocks in your life that need to come 1st? Love, family, relationships, career?
On this Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah it’s a good idea to get our priorities in order before we enter the New Year, so that when we stand before Gd in judgment, both He and we will know what it is that we stand for. Amen!