Rabbi Rochelle Tulik
Temple B'rith Kodesh
Rochester, New York
Erev Rosh Hashana - 5779
September 9, 2018
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
It is Erev Rosh Hashana. The opening bell of the Days of Awe. We are encouraged to spend the next ten days reflecting. Looking back. Looking forward. Thinking about the past year - everything we accomplished and everything we hoped to do.
If you’re anything like me, you actually think about this a lot - the importance of slowing down, taking time to reflect even in the midst of our very busy, very non-stop lives. I suspect the passage of time is on your mind more often than just these ten days.
Some believe that time, and life, has really just two tenses: past and future. And we are in the constant flow between the two - every moment is either about to happen or has slipped away. Because when is the present? Now. Now. Now. Now. It’s just happened. It’s about to happen. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are intended to give us a chance to try to sit in the NOW. Find a way to really be in between the past and the future.
But what about all the other days of the year? A few weeks ago it hit me like a ton of bricks. It is something we all know. We’ve all heard. We’ve all felt. Time. Waits. For no one. I was still unpacking, still in the first few weeks of being in Rochester. People were asking if I’d gotten to know the area, had a chance to see the Finger Lakes, done any exploring. I kept saying things like, “as soon as things calm down,” or “as soon as I can catch my breath,” or “ as soon as my last IKEA delivery is put together”... But what I realized (and this is no profound new idea) is that nothing ever slows down. There’s always that next thing. I can’t keep waiting for extra time to materialize. I have to make the time. Put in the effort. Give it to myself. Because if I don’t, life will just keep going. No matter how badly we want things to slow down. No matter how much we need a break. Need time to catch our breath. Need just one more second. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Seconds turn to minutes. Minutes to hours. Hours to days. And on and on and on.
Time won’t slow down for us. It just may be God’s only perfect creation. It is pure and constant and doesn’t discriminate or play favorites. Everyone is bound to time’s rules. And there is only one rule - time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future!
In our weekly prayer book a translation for the evening prayer, ma’ariv aravim reads: This is an hour of change and within it we stand quietly on the border. What lies before us? Shall we cross over or turn back? Well, there’s no turning back. We must continue moving forward. Continue fighting, or accepting, the constant flow of time. Continue looking for ways to squeeze more into or out of each day. So that we won’t turn around and wonder where the time went. Wonder what we should have been doing with our time.
So, how do we achieve this task, the task we are given each year at Rosh Hashana, the task we should be doing year-round? How do we get time to slow down for us so we can reflect?
The truth is, as much as it is not a deeply profound revelation - that time will keep going whether we want it to or not - the solutions are also not profound. But they are not necessarily easy. Each of us knows what we want or should to do for ourselves and our families in order to make the most of our time each day, week, year, lifetime.
Schedule time for ourselves. Have family dinners. Prepare the weeks’ lunches on Sunday. Go to the gym. Meditate. Just walk outside for five minutes a day instead of sitting at your desk all day long. We all KNOW ways to appreciate time and not let it slip away. But we don’t always do them. Perhaps that’s the biggest challenge. We know that if we are slaves to our calendars, putting a weekly appointment to “breathe” could work...but then we also know that no one else is checking so maybe we’ll skip breathing this week. We know that preparing lunchboxes the night before will add a few minutes to the morning...but then what do we end up filling those extra minutes with? We know that family dinners are a wonderful idea and would be an amazing thing to have...but sometimes it’s just easier to make mac and cheese and sit on the couch!
And you know what? Maybe that’s okay too! Maybe mac and cheese on the couch instead of a fancy dinner is just what the family needs. Some quiet time watching a show together. Because sometimes it’s not as much the what but the why. It’s not what we fill our days with but remembering to appreciate why. It’s in your intention. Maybe having the reminder in your calendar to breathe doesn’t actually get you to stop and meditate for twenty minutes. But seeing it there in your Calendar App might make you pause for a moment - and even that moment is one more than you had before.
During the High Holy Days you will hear the word “hayom,” “today,” often. We hear “hayom harat olam” - meaning “today the world is being created”. How is it that the world is being created today? It is here. We are here. But according to tradition, each day marks a new beginning, an opportunity to start over; a chance to renew all that has grown old.
There is a midrash that teaches that on Rosh Hashana, on the first day, the first humans lived out the entirety of existence. In the first hour God decided to create humanity; in the second, God consulted with the angels concerning the creation of human beings; and in the third hour, God gathered earth from which humanity was fashioned. In the fourth and fifth hours “God kneaded the dust and joined the parts: and in the sixth, seventh, and eighth hours God stood the first human beings up, breathed life into them, and placed them in the Garden. What happened in the final hours of that first day? God commanded them not to eat from the tree of life, watched as they disobeyed, and then passed judgment on them in the eleventh hour. Finally, in the twelfth hour, the Midrash teaches, God forgave their trespass. Adam and Eve went forth from the Holy One’s presence free. In other words, birth, formation, rebellion, judgment, repentance, and redemption, all of life’s transformational moments, took place on the very first Rosh Hashana. All of life unfolded on this single day.
Imagine thinking about our lives this way. Each moment then has infinite potential. When we wake each day, the entire world lies before us. Each day is an opportunity to create a new universe for ourselves and for others. It is not merely time slipping through our fingers. Time is not the enemy then. Our inability to appreciate time, to honor time, to acknowledge the every day blessings we live through even as we wish they’d last longer, is the challenge. But time can heal. Time renews. Time is an opportunity. If only we can reframe how we look at each day - not as a series of seconds ticking by, but as the chance to create a world for ourselves and for others. Heal a broken soul, comfort the bereaved, bring people closer together, say thank you, say I love you, say I’m sorry. If we can remember to see time as a gift, each moment an opportunity, then we truly can make the most of each second, minute, hour, and day.
Today is the beginning of the days of awe. We can’t actually slow the wheels of time down. We can’t make time stop. But hopefully, as you sit here today and tomorrow and over the next ten days, and even as you go through your year, hopefully you can find moments within moments to breathe, to reflect. And hopefully you can remember those moments when you wonder where the time went.
It will still be hard. We will still wish for things to slow down, for a few more hours in every day. But instead of viewing time as only yesterday and tomorrow, only things you wish you’d done, or hope to do, try to imagine that today is the only one that counts. This is where we are. Now. Today.
Don’t be afraid of time. Use it. Celebrate it. Find little bits of it in the nooks and crannies of your day and mush them together to build a better you for the year to come.