Judaism: Marking Time in the New Year
Just as the ticking of the seconds become minutes which become hours and which become days, the days become weeks, become months and become years. What is the worth of marking time?
What makes one day different than the next? How do we value the boxes on our calendars that help us to distinguish one day from another, with birthdays, anniversaries, business meetings, doctor appointments and holiday celebrations? In an interesting way, we are very much as our calendars present us. Do we take “one day at a time” or a full week? Do we plan for the immediate, or do we plan long-range?
I speak not of a “calendar” in the theoretical, philosophical sense; that is, the lines we place on time so that it progresses in a way that is meaningful and measurable to us. Instead, I speak of the physical calendars we carry, or set upon our desks, or hang from our walls.
Go into any office supply store and you will find many different calendars and styles to choose from. There are calendars that display a single day at a time so that, at the end of the day, the day’s page is torn away and it is as if they day is lost, gone. At the end of 365 days, the year too, is essentially discarded. All that is left is a cover bereft of pages, of days and weeks. Of time or substance.
There are other calendars designed so that an entire month can be viewed “at a glance.” Such calendars invite the user to take the longer view, and to tear off a page not every day but every month, but tear and discard nonetheless.
What does it mean to be a person who lives according to these types of calendars? How does such a person view his or her accomplishments and events that have occupied their time? Their days and months and years fly by, quickly discarded, too often forgotten, and lost to the shadows of ill-defined time. For them, the days and weeks have no more real significance than the paper pages of the calendars that they discard so thoughtlessly.
For these people, their calendars govern their lives only insofar as they dictate schedules, and impose arbitrary boundaries on the vast sameness of time and experience. Their response to their calendars is fundamentally passive, a nod to the passage of time rather than the embrace of the moment.
If their calendars communicate anything at all, it is that time is passing and fleeting – and empty of meaning.
But there are others for whom a calendar is a significant document. They are serious and sensitive people who rebel against having time determined by predesigned calendars. For them, time is a physical reality, like the world around them. They seek to embrace the beauty of it and so they design their own calendars. These are people who recognize that the days of a man’s life are brief, and each moment is too precious to be discarded simply because a calendar leads to the end – of a day, a week, a year.
They live their lives actively. Their calendars do not determine how time is marked but they determine their calendars. They imbue time with meaning, and find the meaning in time. Their calendars are unique, quirky, idiosyncratic, special. They cannot be mass produced, nor can they be mass mailed by synagogues, yeshivot, hospitals or orphanages. They are diligently and lovingly handwritten, drawn, measured, and designed by thoughtful and prudent individuals. When the days, weeks and years of these calendars are realized, they are not torn or discarded. They are treasured and preserved for posterity, to be passed on to future generations as legacies of human fulfillment and achievement.
The Midrash records a conversation between the Almighty and the angels.
“When is Rosh Hashannah, and when is Yom Kippur?” the angels ask. God is amazed by the question and responds, “Why are you asking me? Let us go down to the lower [human] court and find out. Does it not explicitly say: ‘Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the full moon for the feast day. For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.’”
By his response, God is teaching the angels that man has the knowledge and ability to meaningfully create and design his own days of celebration. Man has tools, methods and techniques to infuse his days with values, content and meaning. While it is true that the seasons of harvest and planting, the pilgrimages and certain holidays are set, it falls to man to use his intellect to celebrate and mark these days with fervor and meaning.
In teaching Moshe about the celebration of sacred days, God says, “These are the special times that you must celebrate as sacred holidays at their appropriate times.”
Proper celebration of God’s festivals requires the complete and full participation of man; Halakhically through Kiddush Ha-Chodesh, cross examination of witnesses, announcements of the new moon to other distant communities and personally, by infusing the days with meaning, and spirit.
There was once a little girl who taped a new calendar on her wall. “It is going to be a beautiful year,” she exclaimed to her mother, who was watching her.
“How do you know it is going to be a beautiful year? A year is a long time, and you never know what will happen.”
“Yes,” she answered, “but a day is not a long time. I am going to take a day at a time and make it beautiful. Years are only days put together, and I am going to see that every day in the New Year gets something beautiful into it.”
The wisdom of the innocent! That little girl was determined to author her own calendar.
Let us each learn from her wisdom and approach the beginning of this new year with a resolve to be the author and designer of our own calendar. Let us not be enslaved to predesigned schedules, programs, timetables and resolutions. Let us not simply “tear off” and discard the most precious aspect of our lives – time.
May our 5773 calendars be designed with care, adorned with precision and love, accompanied with health, happiness and contentment – so that our individual and collective accomplishments are many. Shanah Tova.