William Hamilton

Telling time

“I used to believe that lunch breaks, naps, and taking walks were niceties.  Now I believe they are necessities.” In his new book entitled When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink explores our daily rhythms.  In every climate, region, and culture, our positive emotions rise in the morning, dip in the afternoon, and rise again in the evening.  When in the course of a day do we find ourselves making weighty decisions?

Syncretizing with the time-sensitive in general can be a challenge.  We sometimes overlook poignant moments and opportunities because we are focused elsewhere.  And while time can sooth wounds, it also can have a colder side.  Often before we realize it, the passing of time can make unique moments freeze into similarity with ordinary ones.

Weeks too have rhythms.  The content communicated in each Sabbath’s portion of Torah reliably makes timeless truths into timely lessons.  This week’s portion is particularly action-packed.  It is bracketed by battles with Pharaoh and Amalek.  It features a Red Sea miracle that is fatal for Egyptian warriors but redemptive for the Children of Israel.  And six of the ten trials in which the Israelites challenge God throughout the entire Torah occur in this week’s portion. 

Curiously, two of the six trials result from time-insensitivity.  Collected manna is not supposed to be left overnight.  Yet some of the Children of Israel, “left it over until morning…and Moses grew angry with them” (Ex. 16:20).  Also, the double portion – which forms the basis for praying Hamotzi over two loaves of Challah on Shabbat – indicates that the Sabbath is not a lawful time to gather manna.  Indeed, there is no divine delivery of manna on the Sabbath.  Yet, “on the seventh day some of the people went out to collect, and they did not find any” (Ex. 16:27).   All ten trials against God are animated by impatience.  These two, however, are caused by not recognizing the time-bound nature of manna from heaven.  There are to be no leftovers and there is to be a day of rest from its circulation. 

Judaism textures time in exquisite, rarified ways.  Often, we can tell when a moment has been sanctified by its depth and by its yield.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about living thoughts and dead thoughts.  Living thoughts are like seeds and dead thoughts are like stones.  When you plant a stone in the ground, nothing comes from it.  But seeds come forth with creative force.  Sacred moments brim with living thoughts. 

Chip and Dan Heath have also written a new book on time, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.  They observe, “This is what we mean by thinking in moments: to recognize where the prose of life needs punctuation.”  Religious ritual is richly seasoned with such recognition.  May we make a ritual of not merely telling time, but of making our time telling.

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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