William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Knowing what time it is

Skirmishes. Quarrels. Have you noticed how spontaneously they erupt these days? We seem to be a lot more emotionally fragile than we think. A year of limits and loss will do that us. Whether you’re feeling worn down, torn down, or put down, today’s mood-souring moments sometimes seem like they are on growth hormones.

Of such waves of despair or frustration we get little warning. “It doesn’t happen on your timing” notes Brigadier General Michael Drowley in a recent conversation with Simon Sinek. What’s important is knowing you need to talk to somebody, to vent, to express what’s upsetting you. The good news is that finding someone you trust who is willing to listen, to be present in ways that make you feel heard, can give you 80% of what you need. If you find yourself on the receiving end of such a call, it’s good to remember that offering fixes and solutions matters much less than listening and connecting does.

The first of this week’s portions of Torah introduces us to someone known for their timing. In describing the original Yom Kippur atonement procedure, a ‘ready-for-the-moment person’ (ish itti) escorts the goat that is symbolically carrying a year’s worth of sins into the wilderness (Lev. 16:21). One commentator suggests that this person also has the ability to rouse the weary with their heedful ear (Netziv, Is. 50:4). So emotional attentiveness can serve to cleanse and to revive.

Each of us can become a kind of ‘ready-for-the-moment’ person, someone who knows what time it is. That is, not how a timepiece counts the present instant, but how, when needed, to become present in an instant.

This weekend consider making yourself a ‘ready-for-the-moment’ person for somebody else. In so doing, you’ll be schooling yourself in how to receive help when your needy time comes.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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