What happens when we procrastinate?

Dear Families,

We don’t always realize how the Torah addresses issues about our present-day lives. But reading a commentary today from Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig, I learned “and you shall guard the matzot” (Exodus 12:17), which then went to not delaying a mitzvah, which then led to why we procrastinate. Of all of my “sins,” I am not usually a procrastinator except for certain tasks. For example, writing my weekly column — I say it is because I am looking for the right thing to share, but still I often wait until beyond the last minute.

Rabbi Zweig shared a study by a Jewish Russian psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik who said it is easier for people to remember incomplete tasks than those that are already completed. The idea is that the mind has some cognitive tension that comes from having an unfinished task, and this keeps it in mind. Of course, when we don’t complete those tasks, we continue to have “cognitive tension” so our thoughts are always on those unfinished tasks and we get overwhelmed and stuck!

However nice it is to have a study to explain our procrastination and how we deal with it, what does this have to do with guarding matzo before leaving Egypt? Rashi explains that “matzot” is spelled the same as “mitzvot” and therefore just as we must hurry to prepare the matzo, we must also hurry to do a mitzvah. The discussion continues on the need to hurry; making matzo is not the same as hurrying to do a mitzvah. Usually the mitzvah can wait but matzo has a time limit.

So what happens when we procrastinate in doing a mitzvah? For many of us, we define a mitzvah as a “good deed.” Jewishly, a mitzvah is a commandment and we have 613 of them — but don’t worry, we do not need to do all (that is another lesson). However, to talk about our lives today in all the various aspects, why do we procrastinate doing a “good deed”? We know there are things we should do to help others, to help the community, to help the world — but we stop. We make excuses; we look the other way. Yet, as the study showed, not doing what we should and having the task still waiting before us causes “cognitive tension.” Let’s call that tension GUILT! We know we should do things and we don’t; we hope that there will be time. Maybe we should think of every task as a mitzvah and rush to do it or at least not procrastinate. A mitzvah is an opportunity for personal growth — doing good helps everyone grow. So here is my column for the week — a little late! Hopefully next week I will remember to hurry!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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