October 2, 2015 admin


When my distant but very special cousin Mira took her boyfriend home to tell her parents they’d decided to get married he brought a carefully chosen present. A skilled craftsman, he’d made a Kiddush cup on which he’d carved the words: ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun’. It was a gracious gift for his in-laws to be.
‘To everything a season’ is probably the best known verse from Ecclesiastes, which we read this Shabbat of Succot. The text does indeed suit well with the season. As the leaves grow yellow and the dawns misty one finds the questions seeping under one’s skin: what remains; what has meaning; what am I doing with my time?
I find myself caught between two interpretations of Ecclesiastes’ famous words. The first is about having time for what really matters. I’ve never been able to get this Hasidic anecdote out of my mind:
       Rebbe Avraham Mordechai of Ger said: ‘A certain Jew defeated me. As I went into my room he approached me with a request. I said to him: ‘Believe me I don’t have a single spare moment!’ He replied: ‘I’ve had over twenty years of free time to care for my sick daughter, and the Rebbe doesn’t have one single minute for her?
I once read an ethical will in which a father advised his son how to divide the hours of the day between the different responsibilities enjoined on him by the Torah. I added up the list several times and invariably came to the same total: twenty-four and a half hours. Maybe that was the point. One fails; one doesn’t do what one might have done both to help others and to develop one’s own heart. Few people pass their years unassailed by what they might have done.
The second interpretation is quite different. All things have their moment, but everything passes. Nothing abides, including us. Therefore, Ecclesiastes enjoins us, accept both aspects of life with good grace: both the beauty of all things and the passing of all things. The message is implicit in the very rhythm of the words. There ‘is a time to be born / and a time to die; a time to weep / and a time to laugh; a time to mourn / and a time to dance’. The wise person understands when to speak and when to be silent, when to hold on to life and when to let go, when to struggle and when to accept.
It’s easy to feel persecuted by time. Maybe that’s why I can’t bear to wear a wristwatch; I fear I’d feel it tick straight into my bloodstream. Anyway a digital dial is rarely more than ten feet away.
The wisdom lies in filling our time, while understanding that we don’t own it; in using our time generously, while appreciating that it is a gift of unknown duration, to be taken with gratitude and relinquished with grace. It’s far easier said than done.

Get in touch...