What the Olympics Can Teach Us About the Value of Every Millisecond

There are countless lessons to extract from the Olympics beginning in Rio. The tenacity, resolve, grit, discipline, drive, and sense of teamwork of each athlete is simply inspiring and can serve to motivate each one of us to pursue our dreams relentlessly. Olympians serve as models of being extraordinarily focused and determined to realize the goals they have set for themselves. They are not satisfied with anything less than putting forth their very best effort and achieving the best results. Watching them obligates each one of us to identify at least one dream or goal for ourselves and to pursue it with everything that we have.

But there is another lesson that strikes me during this Olympic season and it too is applicable to our lives. Most of us tend to devalue time. Young people think that they will live forever and have endless days before them. Older people sometimes feel that the prime of their lives is over and spend the days trying to pass the remainder. Contemporary society has even developed an idiom, “killing time.” Technology has made this task easier as we can pass the hours mindlessly surfing the web, playing on our smart phones or flipping the channels.

There is no place that we see the value of every second more sharply than the Olympics. Athletes train their entire lives building up to this moment. Whether diving into a pool or pushing off the starting line of the track, everything they have worked for comes down to this. Races are often decided in the fraction of a second. The difference between qualifying or staying home, winning a medal or simply showing, being celebrated or a forgotten can be a millisecond.

From a Jewish perspective, killing time is a crime tantamount to murder–only when you do it, you are both the perpetrator and the victim simultaneously. Time is among the most precious commodities that we have. Once it has passed, it cannot be recovered. If it is wasted, it cannot be made up. There is a limited amount of it allocated to each one of us and with every passing second we come closer to emptying our account. As badly as we would like to slow it down sometimes, or speed it up at others, we cannot control time. It moves along at a steady pace entirely beyond our manipulation.

Each moment of our lives is precious and pregnant with possibility. We have the choice to fill our time with noble pursuits like helping others, improving ourselves, challenging our minds, developing our souls, caring for our bodies or connecting with family and friends. Or, God forbid, we can allow time to pass without anything meaningful, squandered, wasted and unused.

Not only must we make every day in our lives count–every hour, every minute and as the Olympics teaches us, every millisecond matters. It can make or break us. If we combine all those milliseconds that we waste, we can find the time we think we don’t have, to pursue noble endeavors and to achieve our goals, aspirations and dreams.

A Jew once asked Rav Yisroel Salanter, “If I only have 15 minutes a day to learn, what should I learn: Chumash, Gemara, Navi or Halacha?” Rav Yisroel answered: “Learn Mussar, character development, and you will realize that you have much more than 15 minutes a day to learn.”

The following poem articulately reminds us of the value of time:

Every Moment Is Precious (Author Anonymous)

To realize the value of ONE YEAR
Ask a student who has failed his exam.

To realize the value of ONE MONTH
Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.

To realize the value of ONE WEEK
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value of ONE DAY
Ask a daily wage laborer who has 10 kids to feed.

To realize the value of ONE HOUR
Ask those waiting for a loved one in surgery.

To realize the value of ONE MINUTE
Ask the person who missed the train.

To realize the value of ONE SECOND
Ask a person who has survived an accident.

To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND
Ask the person who won a “silver” medal in the Olympics.

Take advantage of every moment and be a champion at whatever you aspire to do!

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.