Jewish Journal

Time on Our Side

by Michael Gotlieb

Posted on Dec. 28, 2000 at 7:00 pm

"Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion" by Salvador Dali, circa 1954.

"Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion" by Salvador Dali, circa 1954.

On Jan. 1, the new millennium officially begins. No doubt a few determined souls will want to witness the first sunrise of the next 1,000 years. Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, near the equator -- perhaps on one of the 33 Kiribati Islands -- small groups of tourists traveling from around the world will view the new millennium's dawning. As the sun's rays slowly peek above the edge of the horizon, try not to blink. These adventurers are trying to turn a typical sunrise into a moment filled with deeper, spiritual meaning. Typical sunrise? Yes, unless you believe that God is bound to a man-made calendar, which calculates time in human terms. In the words of the Psalmist, "In [God's] sight a thousand years are like a day to us" (Psalm 90:4).

A 1,000-year measurement is not intrinsically any more divine than a 24-hour measurement is. In either case, it is up to us to infuse time with significance; to format it much like we format the space on a computer's hard disk. From a Jewish perspective, we are in partnership with the divine. God gives us time; it is up to us to give it meaning.

How we choose to use the time given to us determines the way our life is lived. In an abstract sense, time is nonexistent. Horology is the study of time, but it is strictly understood as a human convention. Time is a euphemism for life. Our inborn defense mechanism immediately engages, preventing us from speaking of life in such a blunt, nonromantic way. As such, something can no longer be viewed as a waste of time; it is, more significantly, a waste of life.

Conversely, time well spent is life well lived. Time is not a commodity that is traded on Wall Street. It is not something that can be purchased or sold, returned or warehoused. When it is gone, it is gone! But you can make something of the millennium -- or any day, or moment of your life -- should you choose. We have not been put on this planet to wait for something or someone to change our lives. That is precisely the problem I have with the religious notion of messiah.

I do not pray for the Messiah as some outside source coming to cure humanity of its ills. I scorn the idea that we humans are incapable of improving the world sufficiently such that hatred and evil no longer exist. We have been given the ability all along to better the world and better our lives in the process. We have the ability, the God-given ability, to infuse the ordinary with meaning and purpose, morality and goodness.

The new millennium comes once in a person's life, true. But once-in-a-lifetime opportunities occur every waking moment of our existence. They come and, before you know it, they pass, leaving us wishing they would return. Moments in life are elevated, transformed, every time a person acknowledges how precious and fleeting life truly is. Time is elevated, transformed at the moment one struggles with what is moral and what is not, choosing to then follow the high road. Time is elevated -- essentially made holy -- by celebrating a wedding anniversary or sitting down to enjoy a meal with family and friends; by controlling one's temper; by offering a kind and caring word to a stranger, a colleague or a loved one. There is no magic intrinsic to any of these behaviors. The magic comes as the result of having willfully marked the moment, imbuing it with meaning and deeper significance.

So as the remaining days of the year 2000 make their way to the new millennium, savor each moment. Let each moment of life be exalted, each moment of our existence savored and appreciated. Before you know it, Jan. 1, 2001, will have come and gone. But when each moment leading up to the new millennium, as well as each moment that follows it, is filled with significance and purpose, its passing will not have mattered much. That is the challenge all of us face in the years and months ahead. How we transform our time in the new millennium is a personal, ageless quest. The choice is ours. It always has been.

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