To paraphrase the famous folk song… Where has all the summer gone, long time passing?
But it wasn’t so long in passing; it just zipped by. Before I knew what happened, it was over. We barely had time to close the air conditioner and dust off the sand before Elul arrived, Rosh Hashanah came and went, and now we find ourselves in the most serious, introspective days of the year, concerned and somewhat fearful as we approach Yom Kippur.
Of course we don’t expect any problems, b’ezrat Hashem, but you never know and you can’t be too careful. At times like this, I envy my chassidishe acquaintances who are so full of joy and trust that they know the New Year will be filled with blessing. Hale’vai. As my mother would say, “From their lips to God’s ears.”
But in addition to our involvement with teshuvah and reconnecting to a holier and higher dimension of life, this time of year is also filled with thoughts of Time. We, especially in the Western world, like to think we are in control. In control of our homes, our jobs, our relationships, our health. In control of our lives. There are always problems and challenges, of course, but we are sure every problem has a solution, every challenge a satisfactory outcome. So we like to think.
But the one thing we realize we cannot control is time. No matter what we do, the sun moves uninterruptedly across the heavens, the clocks continue to tick (unless the batteries die), day turns into night, and night becomes day. Month follows month, year follows year, and, like it or not, there isn’t a thing in the world any of us can do about it. Like the existence of God Himself, all we can do is accept the fact.
Of course what we can do is wonder how to fill our fleeting, shadow-like days. A child thinks life is eternal, its possibilities limitless. Dreams are there to come true. Young people aren’t terribly worried about time. They have so much of it before them, surely enough to realize one’s dreams. There’s probably a bit of work involved, but the world is the limit.
Then we grow up and discover our “limits” have grown along with us. Each choice we make automatically cancels other possibilities. If I choose to study medicine, I will not be a great musician. If I agree to marry X, I can no longer marry Y, who might be a better choice. If I marry anyone, I am no longer “free.” If I choose to take a job, I will have left kollel life behind. If I move to Indianapolis, I won’t be living in Israel. And shouldn’t a Jew strive to live in Eretz Yisrael? Etcetera ad infinitum.
And while we are busy with all these choices and decisions, time keeps moving along. At thirty-seven, one may begin to wonder, “Am I doing the work I really want to do the rest of my life? Is this the job I dreamed of once upon a time?” But at thirty-seven, or forty-six, or fifty-five, we no longer have as many options open as we had at twenty-six. And before we know it… Surprise! We are the guests at our very own 60th (or 70th or 80th) birthday celebration. Our stunned reaction is often: Who? Me? Where did all those years go?
Before we’ve accomplished even half of what we once hoped to do, the kids have grown up, a new generation has made its appearance, and suddenly we find ourselves talking about retiring, downsizing, moving near the kids. Those grains of sand in the hourglass have slipped down at an amazing speed. And they continue to flow.
In my father’s family, certain subjects were proscribed. They did not discuss money (no one’s business!), pregnancy and birth (immodest), or death (fearful subject. To be avoided!). As a child, I always thought that was silly. Then I grew up. I discovered it is indeed wise and judicious not to discuss other people’s monetary situations; it is indeed often immodest to discuss details of pregnancies and births except in private conversations; and yes, the concept of death, especially imminent death, is indeed frightening. It is a normal reaction to the unknowable but inevitable end of life.
Yet this bothered me. If we have the emunah, the faith a Jew is supposed to have, and the simcha, the joy we are supposed to contain, then why should the end of life be so frightening? We should follow our Father faithfully and with joy wherever He takes us – throughout life, all the way to the very end. And while we are here, in this world, we should be keenly aware of His presence in all our waking moments. One of the things my fifth grade teacher, Rabbi Eliyahu Bloch, z”l, taught and impressed upon our class was the dictum Shivisi Hashem negdi samid…. I keep God before me at all times.
If we truly live in Hashem’s Presence, how can we possibly sin, or fear, or be sad? He is there before us, holding our hand, a loving Father who created us to bring good and blessing to each and every one of His creatures. He watches over us, protects us, guides us, opens worlds for us. If, amid all the noise and distractions in our lives, we remember He is always there, we live with joy and serenity. It makes for happier and healthier lives.
We cannot make time move more slowly. But we can change its composition and create a different kind of time. We can fill our time with learning more Torah, doing more mitzvos, being kinder, more patient and understanding. We can find time to say a berachah or to daven more slowly, to drive slower and to wait a bit longer before honking at a changing light. We can make time to listen to our husbands and wives, our children, our parents, and our friends. We can discover an amazing amount of additional time simply by closing our phones.
There might even be time enough to look around at the Creator’s beautiful world and see the sky, the stars, the trees, the people. To feel the breeze and hear the birdsong and the sound of children laughing. Time for all the things we’d like to do and see and hear but rarely have time for. Because Time is Life. Each precious moment is here for a mini-second and then flows away, never to return. We may not be able to retain it, but how we fill it is up to us.
G’mar Chatimah Tovah.