Rabbi Kenneth Carr is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program (Class III).  Ken is in his tenth year as the rabbi of Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill, PA.  He can be reached at rabbi.carr@or-ami.org.

As I sat in my mentor’s office, feeling swamped by all of my rabbinical responsibilities, his office phone began to ring.  I expected him to answer the phone, but he just kept speaking with me.  When I expressed surprise that he ignored the ringing, he replied, “Just because something is urgent does not necessarily mean that it is important.”  Even though the ringing phone seemed to demand an immediate response, at that moment our time together and our conversation was of greater consequence. 

Most days, there is no shortage of tasks clamoring for my attention.  Pirkei Avot speaks the truth when it teaches: “Ha-yom katzar v’ha-m’lachah m’rubah; the day is short and the work is plentiful.”  I constantly struggle with how to manage my obligations to ensure that I accomplish what needs to be done in a timely fashion.  The memory of the ringing phone inspires me to organize myself not merely by deadline, but even more so by priority. 

By trying to focus attention on those areas that are important, even sometimes at the cost of those that are urgent, I increase the odds that for my community and myself, we will experience a different phrase of the Pirkei Avot text: “V’ha-sachar harbeh; the reward is great.”