Keeping Time

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Yesterday Today Tomorrow Die
13 Sep 2007

Nothing is more important, nor more ephemeral, than time. There is no way to hold it, prolong it, save it, or push it off. It comes and goes as regularly and automatically as… well… as the cosmic clocks in the sky – earth forever circling the sun; moon dependably circling the earth. The expression to “save time” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. It’s like trying to stop the heavenly bodies in their tracks. Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua managed to do it, but we can’t. And the older we get, the faster time speeds by. Einstein proved that time is relative and I guess he knew what he was talking about.

The season where time takes on the most urgency is probably the fall. As we prepare for the momentous days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, full of trepidation and good resolutions, full of prayers for another year of life, health, blessings, we tremble with the knowledge that our time is limited, our future unknowable. (Which is probably a good thing. Knowing what the future had in store would either render us totally immune to further improvements or else plunge us into deep despair!) What we are truly hoping for is more Time – as much of it as Hashem can possibly provide, even if it isn’t top quality (although we’d like that too). And we wonder if we’ll do better in the future when we’ve already spent (and wasted…) so much time in the past.

Children think the present is endless. They are rarely concerned with anything beyond tomorrow. Two months of summer vacation is a century; a year is eternity. Teens and young adults also live in an improbable world of “Now Equals Forever”. But as time goes on, people grow up and tend to find that one day, they have children of their own. The birth of that first child changes our perceptions forever. We suddenly find that we are looking ahead. The future takes on new dimensions.

Still, younger parents are usually too busy to give much thought to time, except, perhaps, to remember what time the school bus comes by, when the kids must get to their next orthodontist appointment, or when the bank closes. In this hectic period of life, a year may indeed “fly by” without their noticing. And we soon discover that the older we get, the faster it flies. Blink once and it’s Rosh Chodesh again. Blink twice and it’s time to hang up a new calendar. It always comes as a surprise to discover how much time has passed and how little we’ve accomplished.

Perhaps that’s why some people refuse to reveal their age. How can you celebrate birthdays when you’ve already celebrated so many and know they are not endless? When asked how long she’d like to live, one spirited soul, age seventy-plus, answered, “Until my last grandchild gets married and I can hold her first baby!” (She has over twenty-five grandchildren, ranging from two months to thirteen years, so she left herself a lot of room to maneuver.)

Once, in an unusually hectic period, when one activity followed another with dizzying speed, I started to panic. Day followed day without a moment to think, relax or sit quietly and talk to my husband. Monday mornings felt like Erev Shabbos. It was as though the seven-day week had collapsed into two or three days.

Suddenly I had a stroke of inspiration. There was something I could do to hold onto time, to preserve it and make it my own. I closed the ringers on all three telephones in the house, forced myself to sit down, opened my siddur and began to daven out loud, word by word, sentence by sentence, just as we used to do in school. I didn’t look at the clock, think of all the things I had to do, remove the clothes from the dryer or check the pot on the stove.

It was hard, but I hung on. And amazing as it sounds, taking time out of a pressured schedule and designating it for a timeless activity – for a brief, moment’s connection with the Eternal – somehow made the clock tick more slowly. The entire day felt fuller and more satisfying, even though it was just as busy, just as hectic, just as full as before. That’s what happens when Time touches Eternity. It makes time last longer. It may not always work, but it’s worth a try.

Another comforting thought is that Judaism does not view time as a linear phenomenon, but rather as a spiral, a series of ever upward paths circling around a cylindrical axis. Each year we pass the same focal points on the axis, giving us another opportunity to relive the uniqueness of that particular moment, engaging and refilling it with mitzvos at each yearly turn of the cycle.

If we manage to fill our cycles with additional Torah and mitzvos, holiness, good thoughts, deeds and loving actions, we have indeed “saved” our time. We’ve rescued it from oblivion and filled it with Eternity. Which is a pretty good way to pass the time!

Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars – a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. Her latest book – “A Different Dimension” published by Hamodia Publishers – is an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life.

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