Got the Time?

Long lines — one of the universal banes of civilization. Anyone who has ever experienced air travel is probably aware of how aggravating the wait time can be to go through security. Hamodia’s May 11 “Airport In-Security” feature highlighted how this problem is metastasizing. As the weeks go by, the tempo is growing faster and more furious.

The Port Authority of NY/NJ sent a letter on May 4 to the TSA warning them: “The patience of the flying public has reached a breaking point … we can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of TSA passenger screening services.”

The TSA recently downsized its nationwide employee roster by nearly 5,000 people. The hope was that many travelers would join Precheck, the TSA’s expedited screening program; but, thus far, that hope has been dashed by disappointment. It’s not just TSA’s lack of personnel, though; it’s that the organization appears to have enough holes to rival a Swiss cheese. Reports show that TSA suffers from an endemic malady of disgruntled employees. Each week, 117 of them walk off the job, and 35 percent quit within the first year. That can be a fatal turnover rate. Beyond that, there have been congressional investigations into foul play.

Peter Neffenger, TSA’s chief administrator, found himself almost stymied when lawmakers grilled him regarding the $90,000 bonus of one particular TSA official and acts of retaliation against whistleblowers, among other things. Well, almost. Neffenger did have this to say: “It’s the carry-on baggage that is one of the major slow-down points at a checkpoint.” All this dysfunction while the number of air travelers only continues to increase; as Neffenger put it, “We’re seeing more people moving through the system than ever before.” Roughly 2–3 million people per day(!) pass through security across America’s airports. No wonder, then, that wait times in an airport like JFK are up a full 82 percent.

Reports about interminable airport waits bring to mind a childhood memory. You know that feeling, after touchdown, of urgently needing to deplane? I never cease to be amazed by the spectacle that follows the captain turning off the fasten-seatbelt sign. How such a large mass of humanity can so swiftly shift from seated-supposed-to-be-buckled-in position to standing-jammed-in-the-aisle-while-simultaneously-removing-massive-amounts-of-baggage-from-the-overhead-compartments is simply astounding. That, despite limitations of age, exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Whatever that “need to deplane” urge is, it’s strong. Alas, we Berman kids were never afforded the joy of joining our fellow passengers (and their carry-on luggage) in sardine formation for the 10-odd minutes that it takes for the line to actually start moving. Why? Our father — who happens to be a type-A personality and detests unnecessary delays — had a rhetorical slogan at the ready for such situations: “Hurry up and wait!” In other words, what’s your hurry? You are anyway going to have to wait to pass through customs or for your checked luggage to make its way to the carousel. As much as time-squandering is anathema to my father, nonsense is just as much so. And hurrying up to go wait is nonsense.

“Anyone who tries to push time,” says the Gemara in Brachos (64a), “will [eventually] be pushed out of the way for time. And anyone who allows himself to be pushed out of the way for time, time will [eventually] be pushed out of the way for him.” An example of this, the Gemara relates there, is Rav Yosef. When Rav Yehudah (talmid muvhak of both Rav and Shmuel) died, it was decided that Rav Yosef — who was the greater baki — should be awarded the appointment of Rosh Yeshivah over Rabbah, who was the greater lamdan. Rav Yosef, however, demurred. Why? Astrologers had told him that he would lead as Rosh Yeshivah for two years. Rabbah, therefore, took the throne. Twenty two years later, when Rabbah died, Rav Yosef ascended to the position and occupied it for 2.5 years until his passing. Had Rav Yosef “pushed the moment” and taken that most august position right away — when it was seemingly coming to him — he would have lost out on 22 extra years of life. Because he allowed “time to push him aside” — for the time being — ultimately, he emerged the big winner.

Although we can and should do whatever hishtadlus possible to rectify problems such as unacceptable wait-times in airports and the like, the unavoidable reality is that, sometimes, we will find ourselves in situations where “time is pushing us aside.” The knee-jerk reaction is to push back. Hard. Especially when we feel that a right, privilege or service to which we are entitled is being wrongly withheld. In those moments, though, it may just be worthwhile to remember Chazal’s haunting words that to push the hour is unprofitable. Because, after all, it really doesn’t make sense to hurry up and wait, does it?