So many people have told me they can’t believe next week is already New Year. I was at the baker’s yesterday; she said:
It’s Rosh Hashanah in seven days’ time and no one has placed any orders. I know what’s going to happen: they’re all suddenly going to realise and we’ll be inundated at the last minute!
Every day between now and Yom Kippur I hope to focus on a key relationship in our lives (with friends, family, money, Judaism, God, plants and animals, ourselves, loved ones we’ve lost, prayer). But I want to begin with time.
‘It goes by faster each year’, said someone in his twenties. ‘And the bad news’, I replied encouragingly, ‘is that the speed only increases as you get older’. Hence the importance of Hillel’s saying: ‘If not now, when?’
Rosh Hashanah reminds us fiercely of our poignant relationships with both timelessness and time. I recall my grandfather saying in the elegant, lucid German in which he was accustomed to preach: ‘Eigentlich gibt es keine Zeit – In truth, there is no time’. He didn’t mean that we never have sufficient time (he regarded undue haste as ignoble). What he meant was that we ultimately belong to the timeless.
The mystic, legalist and poet, Nachmanides, would have agreed:
From the beginning, before the creation of the worlds
I was there in God’s treasure house sealed.
There are moments which call us back out of time, out of the incessant siege of its immediate demands (diary, meeting, email, email, diary meetings). We stand by the sea and a rhythm more ancient than even the first human beings ebbs and flows through our mind, tugs at the sand beneath our feet. Part of us belongs to the unbounded, the infinite, that which lies on the other side of time.
Music can affect us like that, including the music of liturgy. Forgotten through the year, with its first word the melody of the great High Holyday Kaddish is once again instantly familiar, with all the ancient songs of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; and our parents and grandparents are next to us once again while behind them stand the generations of our people, back through centuries, millennia.
Then we wonder: what am I doing here in this small moment, this interval between my first childhood memories and my unknown death, this patch of time where everything seems, but only seems, so permanent? The power of zikaron, remembrance, flows through us, for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, of recall, of being re-called back. And we ask: Who am I? What am I for?
This is our gift, the consciousness of timelessness within time. I have my now, only this short now of undefinable duration, to bring what is eternal into the world of time. So what are those qualities which endure, beyond the confines of generations? Wonder, awe, love, justice, joy, fellowship with those who share this moment with me, people, creatures, trees. This is what my time is for; because time, in the end, is opportunity: ‘If not now, when?’