Yael Eckstein, IFCJ President, and CEO, oversees all ministry programs and also serves as the international spokesperson for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship). Based in Israel with her husband and their four children, Yael Eckstein is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
She has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, and Spiritual Cooking with Yael. In addition, her insights into life in Israel, the Jewish faith, and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio program, Holy Land Moments, which airs five times per week on over 1,500 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein’s influence as one of the young leaders in Israel has been recognized with her inclusion in The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews of 2020 and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019, and she was featured as the cover story of Nashim (Women) magazine in May 2015.
Before her present duties, Yael Eckstein served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with the U.S. and world leaders on issues of shared concern. She has been a featured guest on CBN’s The 700 Club with Gordon Robertson, and she served on a Religious Liberty Panel on Capitol Hill in May 2015 in Washington, D.C., discussing religious persecution in the Middle East.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, outside of Chicago, and well-educated at both American and Israeli institutions – including biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary in Israel, Jewish and sociology studies at Queens College in New York, and additional study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – Yael Eckstein has also been a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in the United States.
What was God’s very first commandment to the nation of Israel, on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt?
Just after God told Moses that the moment of salvation was near, he revealed his very first commandment to the nation of Israel. Until now, the Bible has shown us what it means to live according to God’s will through the stories of the patriarchs and the matriarchs and their descendants. But this is the first time that God himself gives a commandment to the nation of Israel. And it is a directive that the Jewish people still follow today.
In Exodus chapter 12, verse two, reads, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” God’s first commandment to his people was about time. He instructed them to establish the month they were in as the first month of the year.
The Jewish understanding of this verse is a little bit different. In Hebrew, the word for month is Chodesh, which is spelled exactly like the Hebrew word khadash, which means new. And so the Hebrew word for a month and new is basically the same. So here’s another way of translating the verse. “This new moon is to be for you, the beginning of months. This month will be the first of the month of your year.”
How does the Jewish calendar differ from the Gregorian calendar that most of the world follows?
The Gregorian calendar is solar-based. One year is made up of 365 days, which is the amount of time it takes for the Earth to go around the sun. But Jews follow a different calendar because of the Bible verse that we just read. The Hebrew calendar is lunar-based. It follows the monthly cycles of the moon.
Jews also marked the beginning of the year differently than most of the world. Most people celebrated the new year on January 1st. But the Jewish people follow the Bible verse which tells us that the month that the Israelites were freed from Egypt is the first month of the year.
The first month on the Hebrew calendar, the month of Nisan, usually corresponds to the month of April, which is in the spring. We celebrate Passover during this month because the Exodus happened in Nisan. But you might have heard that the Jewish new year is celebrated on Rosh Hashanah, which takes place in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which is in the fall.
This is because Rosh Hashanah corresponds to the day when God created Adam and Eve. It’s the birthday of mankind. It is still a significant day, which is why we celebrate it every year. But when it comes to how we number the months according to the Bible, we consider Nisan the month of the Exodus from Egypt, the first month of the year, just as the Israelites did in biblical times.
What is the significance of this first commandment?
Now that we understand what God commanded the Israelites on the Eve of Exodus, we have to ask, why, of all the things that God could have commanded at that important moment in history, why did he choose a directive about the calendar?
One answer is that this directive had a practical purpose. And the very next verse we read that God commanded the people to take a lamb on the 10th of the month and to slaughter it on the 14th. The directive about when the month began gave the people a frame of reference for what to do and when to do it. But there’s another reason why this was a fitting commandment on the Eve of the Exodus. It carried an important message that the Israelites needed to hear specifically at that time.
Up until that moment, the children of Israel were slaves. And what’s the main difference between a free person and a slave? When you are a slave, your time is not your own. You have to do what someone else tells you to do when they tell you to do it. But when you are free, your time is your own and you can do with it as you please. Let’s look back at our verse.
God said, “This month is to be for you. The first month, the first month of your year.” The words “for you” seem kind of unnecessary in this verse. And in the original Hebrew, the phrase “for you” appears not just once, but twice. The rabbis explained that the words “for you” emphasize God’s message to the people. It was as though he was saying, “I’m giving you the gift of time. From now on, your time is for you. You are no longer slaves. Your time is yours.”
God’s message to the people on the Eve of the Exodus, and the message for all of us today, is that time is a gift from God and one that we need to value and never take for granted. This is an important message because when we appreciate that time is a precious gift, we are far less likely to waste it.
Did God command anything else of his people at this time?
Implicit in the privilege of having time is the responsibility not to waste it, but to use it wisely. The idea that time is a gift is not the only message that God had for the Israelites as they were about to taste freedom. By giving them the authority to determine when each month began, he was telling them that they were to be masters over time. God said, “Time is for you. Time is meant to serve you and you are never to serve it.” God didn’t want the people to exchange one master for another.
He didn’t want them to go from being enslaved by the Pharaoh, to be enslaved by time. These days, many of us are very busy. We are constantly running, trying to make it to the next thing on time. And then when we arrive, we hope that we don’t run out of time. And if we are lucky and there’s no traffic, we might even save some time. Our lives revolve around time, but there’s a test to see if we are the masters of time, or if time has come to master us.
How can we determine if we have become slaves to time?
Ask yourself, “Do I have the ability to make time for what matters to me most, for the people that are most important to me, for the activities that I value, to do the things that I really care about?” I have four kids and a job that is more than full-time. I know what it means to have many demands on my time, but being a master over time doesn’t mean that we can get everything done on our never-ending to-do lists.
It means that we can choose to use our time for the things that are most important to us. In a 2000-year-old Jewish book, Ethics of our Fathers, Pirkei Avos, the rabbis offered this advice. They said, “Do not say, ‘I will study the Bible when I have time,’ because you may never have time.” In other words, if we wait to do the important things, we may never do them at all. Instead, we have to make the time for what is important to us. We have to be the masters of our time and use our time in a way that serves us best. If prayer is important to us, we can make time for it. If we want to spend time with our loved ones, we can find the time for them. If our physical health is a priority to us, we have to make the time to care for our bodies.
When we make time for the things that are most important to us, somehow, everything else falls into place.
What is the best way to prioritize our time?
It’s like the famous analogy you might have heard from time management gurus about filling up a jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand. If you put the pebbles and sand in first, you won’t have room for the rocks, but if you put the large rocks in the jar first, the smaller pebbles and sand will fall around them and fit into the jar without a problem.
In the same way, we need to make time for the big things in life. The most important things are priorities. And if we do that, the smaller and less important stuff will fit all around them. Like the rabbis advised, don’t put off the important things until you have time, because you may never have the time. Instead, make time for the big things and everything else will fall into place. And whatever doesn’t fit into our time properly isn’t that important anyways.
But as people of faith, there is one key thing that we need to keep in mind when it comes to time management. Experts teach that if we follow certain methods, we can expect certain results. But the truth is that we can do all the right things, and yet, things don’t always happen according to our schedule. And that’s because even when we master time, God is still the master over us.
Do you believe that everything happens when God intends it to?
I’m a very scheduled person. I have to be with all of the different roles I have. I schedule everything from my time for work, to time with my family, to time for prayer, and time for resting. I know that if I don’t schedule these things in, they won’t happen. But at the same time, I’ve learned that after I make my plans, I need to hand them over to God. Because ultimately, he will decide what gets done and what doesn’t.
If I run late, or if I’m running on time, it is in a way, in God’s hands. It can be frustrating when we’ve done everything right, and still, things don’t go according to our plans. Kids get sick. Traffic appears out of nowhere. Meetings get postponed. And sometimes, you just end up sitting with a friend over coffee, who needs you for a little longer than you thought. And that is an important use of time, too.
What I’ve learned is that even when things don’t happen when I want them to, or when I schedule them to, everything happens at exactly the right time. This became so clear to me one night when I was driving home from work. I had left the office later than I wanted to, and all I wanted was to get home to my family as fast as possible. Suddenly, I passed by a terrible accident that had just happened. A truck collided with the divider in the road and impacted a car on my side of the road.
I realized that had I been at that place just a few minutes earlier, that car, God forbid, could have been my car. I prayed to God for the injured. And then I thanked him for protecting me. I thanked him for running my life according to his timing and not my own. Ultimately, our time is in God’s hands. And that’s a good thing because God’s timing is always perfect. If it were up to us, some things would happen faster and other things would slow down, but only God knows the best time for anything to happen.
And so whenever I’m stuck in traffic or running behind schedule, I repeat to myself, “My times are in your hands.” And I remember that God’s timing is best. Instead of feeling stressed and oppressed by the demands of time, we need to remember that time is not our master. We serve only God. Time is the greatest gift we will ever have. And if we use our time in the best way possible, with God’s help, everything will happen at the best possible time.
How can we improve how we use our time?
This week, think about how you might improve the way you use your time. Are there pockets of time that are wasted, time that you might be able to put better use? Do you need to make more time for the people and things that matter most to you? Can you surrender to God when things happen slower or faster than you want them to?
Every person on Earth is given the same amount of minutes each day. What we choose to do with them will make all the difference. If we remain the masters of our time, we will master our lives, living in line with our values, our goals, and the people we love. Try it this week. I think you’ll see a huge difference.