It has always been a bit odd to me that we decide, on a given night in early November, to just switch the time on our clocks, setting them back an hour. And then, in the spring, to change them all back. Is time that malleable? Is our power over time that simple? It is just a matter of getting everyone to agree, to be on the same page. Yes, OK, on that night we’ll all do it, and then the time will be what we say it is.
What hutzpah! It is precisely because we can’t control time that it so fascinates us. All those books and movies about time travel – HG Wells’ The Time Machine, the Prisoner of Azkaban installment in the Harry Potter series, A Wrinkle in Time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Time Traveler’s Wife, the Terminator movies, Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes, Arrival, the list could go on and on. We love the idea that in some secret, mysterious way – whether through technology or magic – we can control time, manipulate it, scroll it backwards or forwards, relive it, dash from the present to the past, to the future and back again.
But of course that only happens in movies and fanciful books. In reality, as we often say, Time marches on. And not only marches – sometimes it flies! Tempus fugit! Like a great river roaring and rolling, and we are just caught in the current, watching wide eyed as the moments pass us by, one by one. A new year! A bar mitzvah, a wedding, a baby naming, a graduation, another anniversary, or birthday. How could it be?
Judaism’s approach to the ‘time problem’ is this: we cannot control time, but we can sanctify it, we can make it holy. Abraham Joshua Heschel describes this idea in his beautiful book The Sabbath. Time’s passage in Jewish life is celebrated and marked by the weekly Shabbat, the Rosh Hodesh days when we welcome a new month, and the seasonal festivals that bring in fall and spring and summer. One of the most beloved blessings in all of Jewish liturgy is the Shehechiyanu blessing – Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has renewed us, sustained us, and brought us to this time.