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Erev Rosh Hashanah - Control of Time

09/30/2015 10:24:29 AM


            Since our kids were infants, Ellen and I always loved reading to our children at night. It is just one of those timeless traditions where we would cuddle them up in our arms while holding the book with our hands, taking them on a journey to a land described in the book. One of the books that my kids loved the most was Papa, Get Me The Moon by Eric Carle. It tells the story of a little girl who sees the moon in the sky and, in her innocence, desires to hold it in her hands. So she asks her father to get it for her. He, then, goes on a journey to grab the moon and bring it back to her. And while the father is able to accomplish his task, a strange thing happens while the daughter is in her state of bliss, playing with the moon in her hands. The full moon begins to get smaller and smaller with each passing day. Eventually, the moon becomes a sliver moon and then vanishes. The story ends with the moon returning to the sky, while the daughter stares longingly at the beautiful glowing orb. She longs to hold the moon in her hand, yet she now knows that the only way for her to accomplish this is for time to stand still. Whenever, I would finish telling that story, the kids would usually ask me to read it again. I then would tell the kids that they have to remember the story and that time cannot stand still. “We might not want to go to bed, we might not want to move forward, but we can’t stop time.”

           Like the girl in the story and like my kids when they were younger, we long to own time. We long to hold it in our hands and dance with it and make it succumb to our will. Yet, regardless of how hard we might try, time still marches on. And while this might seem obvious, we still ignore this fact, time and time again. Have you ever noticed how much time we spend on trying to own time. We have all of these gadgets and technological devices that help us become more effective with our time. From iPhones to tablets, iWatches to Siri, that you would think we could overcome our inefficiencies so well that we could be more in control of time. Yet, despite all these great accomplishments and technological advances, yes, we are moving at a blurring pace, we are clearly not at peace.

        I recently read a book by Mitch Albom called, The Time Keeper. In this fictional tale, he grapples with the dichotomy between our human compulsion for controlling time and our difficulty in attaining peace in our lives. Towards the beginning of the book, Albom points out that people are unique in our desire and obsession for time. He points out that timekeeping is ignored everywhere around us. “Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time, man alone chimes the hour. … [Man] was only the first to weep [over time]. As mankind grew obsessed with its hours, the sorrow of lost time became a prominent hole in the human heart. People fretted over missed chances over inefficient days; they worried constantly about how long they would live, because counting life’s moments had led inevitably to counting them down.”

           We seem to have this quest for more minutes and more hours, as well as, to accomplish more in each day. Our modern recession has challenged us to do more with less. Day in and day out, we seem to be not only caught in a machine, but a machine that needs to spin faster and faster, cranking and cranking all in order to become more efficient and more in control of our time. Yet there is a downside to all of this. Albom points out that regardless of how fast we move and how efficient we get, “It does not satisfy. It only makes [us] hungry to do more. Humanity wants to own its existence. But no one owns time.”

         On Rosh Hashanah, we are commanded to do an accounting of our souls - a Cheshbone HaNefesh. This means that we are supposed to take time reflecting on the journey that our souls have been on this past year. Have our lights glowed brightly, have our souls soared? Or have our lights dissipated, have our souls darkened? Have we been kind to each other and have we been supportive? Or have we been selfish and have we been self-serving? That is one of the jobs that we have during this High Holy Day period. My sermon this day is asking you to look at your “accounting of your soul” through a slightly different lens. Throughout this year, we all have tried to make our time as efficient as possible. All of us have gained even more time because of our abilities and our technologies. But if we are honest, we must look within ourselves and ask the basic question, “Did we use that time wisely?” Were we still? Did we cherish? Were we grateful? Did we lift and allow others to lift us? My question for today is not if you preserved time. That should come naturally. My question for you today is, “What did you do with your time?”

           One of the primary lessons that Judaism has to teach us is that we must make the most of our time because our time is sacred. One of the greatest teachers on this topic is Abraham Joshua Heschel. He teaches that though we are obsessed with finding more time, our tradition guides us on how we should perceive that time. First, he reminds us that one of the more important words in the Torah is the word “holiness” - Kadosh. It is a word that best describes God and anything that is sacred. He teaches us that we must remember the first holy object in the history of the world. It is found in Genesis. Naturally, we would think that after heaven and earth were created, God would establish a holy place - a mountain or a special sanctuary. But God did not deem either one as the first holy creation. The Torah tells us in the book of Genesis, “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy - Kadosh.” We need to make the most of our time because for us, as Jews, time is sacred, it is holy. Heschel teaches, “Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. … The Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. … We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; … Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.” What if we acted as if every hour, minute, and second was precious, was holy. I know I would not only be obsessed with looking at my phone so I could make sure I was using my time wisely, but I would also try as hard as I could to make the most out of every minute and every second. Maybe, I might try harder to be kinder and gentler. Maybe, I might use my time to better others and better this world. Knowing that my time is holy and is a part of God, this challenges me not to waste my time.

           Being a Rabbi, I get down time in some of the interesting places. There are the moments that precede a wedding, where I am just looking out over a golf course of some magnificent Club. There are the moments that precede a baby naming, where I am looking out at the peaceful backyard of someone’s home. And there are the moments that precede an unveiling. During those moments, I stare up and down at the rows upon rows of headstones or foot stones. I find myself getting lost in the names and the symbols etched on the stones. All of them are very different; all of them are filled with purpose and embody the love and affection that someone has shown for their loved one. While all of them are quite unique, all of them do have something in common – the hyphen. You see, each stone might have its own unique look, but all of them have the date someone was born and the date that they died. Of course, those dates are different on almost everyone’s stone. However, all of the stones contain the line between those dates.

           A sacred, holy, and meaningful life is one that fills that hyphen with something special. Some of the dates on the stones might equal long lives and some of the dates on the stones might equal short lives. We seem to be on some sort of quest making sure that our lives are filled with many moments. Yet, many moments do not equal meaning or love. For us to gain spiritually fulfilling lives we must look at our time as being holy. In doing that, moments in time are transformed. They challenge us to make them something special. They challenge us to reach out to our parents to tell them that we love them. They challenge us to tell our children that they are precious to us and that we treasure them. They challenge us to tell our friends and dear ones they matter to our lives and we feel blessed that they are there. Since we cannot own or capture time in our hand, like that girl tried to do in my children’s book, then we must utilize our time well. It is holy.  For when we see that our time, whether it is short or long, is holy, we become holy.

         May it be God’s will that we take this year, 5776, and make each hour, minute, and second sacred and holy. May you have a sweet and blessed New Year. Amen.


Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780