The direction of time

When I was in school we learned about a supposed difference between the Greek and Jewish conception of time. The Greeks, we were told, thought of time in a circular fashion, that it repeated itself. The Jews, pointing to the Messiah, thought of time as linear, headed to a destination. Ecclesiastes, which talks about the sun rising and setting and returning to where it rose, is the biblical book most influenced by Greek thought.

In the years since, there has been a good deal of discussion and criticism of that as a too-simple dichotomy. After all, we repeat the holidays each year and the reading of the Torah is cyclical and the tradition assumed that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes without thinking it alien to Jewish wisdom.

I have come to think of Jewish time as a sort of spiral. We return to where we were before, but never in the same place. We hope to be advancing, moving toward some sort of redemption. In this new year some things will doubtless be new, but we will read the Torah again and have many experiences we have had before. May we confront each with more elevated ideas and more developed souls.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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