My posts have been very long. I am usually quite wordy when I write something, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or not. I have been up way too late recently, sometimes writing blog posts, sometimes doing other things, but I need to get to sleep earlier. In that vein, I am going to attempt the impossible: to write a post in under twenty minutes so I can still get to bed before midnight! It is 11:38 right now.
The night before last, I heard some noise from the loft in our house (where my fourteen year-old sleeps). I called up, “Patrick? Whatcha doing?”
“I’m getting dressed.” He responded, in a bit of a snippy tone.
“What time is it?” He asked, sounding frustrated.
“11:15 at night.”
“Nevermind.” He said. “I’m not getting dressed.”
A few years ago, I spent the beginning of pesach (passover) in Brooklyn. We had just finished services at the yeshivah, and I went into the coat room to get my coat. A man was in there, mid fifties I’d say, great big black beard. With him was another man who I assume was his father, who had a great big white beard. The younger man said to me, “It is so nice to see you again! How long has it been?”
“Many years.” I said to him, with no air of sarcasm.
The older man then said, “What is time? A year is but a month, a month is but a week, a week is but a year.”
As we walked back to the house, I told the rabbi and his son what had been said, and they looked at me a bit sideways when I related my response. “I was meaning in terms of a few thousand years…since we were all at Sinai.”
In Jewish tradition, the soul of every Jew–dead, living, yet to live, and even those who would convert–was present at Sinai. Every Jew heard the declaration from Hashem (G-d), and accepted the covenant there. In a way, it had been only a month, a week, a day.
What is time, anyway? Time doesn’t really exist, except in our minds. Time is a system of measurement that gauges our productivity in this world. In fact, if not for the fact that we live within a society that demands that we give our time to it, we would have no need for it. My son, when he awoke in the middle of the night, heard me awake downstairs and assumed that it was time to get up for the morning. He had been a little under the weather the previous day, and so he had already slept a lot. When he woke up, he must have been fairly rested, therefore it must have been morning.
Where does time come from? Where does our need to set time come from? In Judaism, the earliest example of time known to man comes from the dictate from G-d to set holy days, and to call off the seasons and months. We are to usher in rosh hodesh (the head of the month) with trumpets. Rosh hodesh, in fact, is a minor holiday in Judaism…something that most jews–I think–either forget or never knew. We are also commanded to bring offerings at particular “seasons” of the day, if you will. There is a dictate to bring the morning, afternoon, and evening offerings. Our prayer times are set around these three offerings, and the dictate to twice a day recite the words of the shema, “love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your capacity,” etc, in Vayikra (Leviticus) and Devarim (Deuteronomy). This is to be recited, “when you lay down, and when you rise,” and so there are certain times to do this which correspond to the appropriate times to bring the offerings of morning and evening.
What did this man really mean with his question, “What is time?” Perhaps he was referring to the way in which Hashem experiences time. We believe that Hashem (G-d) is outside of time, omnipresent. If Hashem is omnipresent, then the past, present, and future must all be blended–a synergy of time–and so time does not really exist. A year truly is a month, a month a week, a week a day. When Moshe Rabbeinu AHS (Moses our teacher, peace be upon him) meets Hashem for the first time, and Hashem tells him to go to his people and bring them out of bondage, Moshe says (paraphrased) “What’s your name? When I go to the Israelites, who shall I tell them is their G-d?”
Hashem replies saying, “I will be that which I will be.” Again, Moshe asks, and Hashem responds with a curious word as a name. This name is so holy, that we don’t even speak it, though many have tried to decode its pronunciation. He takes the words for “was,” “is,” and “will be,” and squishes them together into one word, the ineffable name of G-d. What is he telling Moshe at this point? I think that what he is saying is, “I exist outside the realm of your comprehension. I exist outside of time and matter, yet intrinsically intertwined with both. There is no name that can apply to me.” Further, he seems to be saying, “You can’t put me in a box. You humans think you are so smart! First you name something, then you can subjugate it, then you can rule it. But I cannot be named! I cannot be ruled!”
The Hasidic Jews of the Breslov movement have a way of describing this that may not immediately make sense in this context. They say, “I am nothing. You are nothing. Only Hashem is.” In other words, everything that we see. Everything that we count as being “real,” is really just temporal existence. All matter will change, all beings will die. The earth will someday cease to exist, but still the essence of the universe, the mysterious energy that animates all atoms in it, it will continue to be. Why? Because that which we cannot see, touch, taste, measure, or quantify, that IS. Everything else “is nothing.”
So what of time? Time cannot be seen, touched, tasted, smelled. Time can be quantifiable–is quantifiable–yet we can never make more of it. In fact, it is such a finite resource for us, that we often feel loathsome toward the prospect of “burning” time. But how can we be so concerned with losing time, that we drive ourselves insane? Perhaps it is because we have attempted to take that which is inconceivable, and ineffable, and put it in a box. But with all our gears, and levers, the only thing that we can actually measure is our place within time, as it wends its way around our collective consciousness.
It is 12:37 now. I am 38 minutes “late.” I have not made my goal of time. I have not, however, finished late. Neither do I ever finish my tasks early. I finish precisely when I am meant to.
Torah of Time
By: Natan Zalman
Is time as it seems?
What is a thousand years to a soul?
It is not as it sounds. A thousand are but a hundred,-a hundred
but a dozen-a dozen but one; a year is but a month-a week-a day-an hour-a second frozen
in cryogenic suspension.
My soul does not lack for patience,
it does not even know the necessity for such things.
A heart is but a pound of flesh. What is time to the heart?
Exactly as it seems. A second, an hour, a day——all are excruciatingly
long as a thousand years.”