. . . for the wonders you have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time.
Ve’al hanisim prayer recited on Chanukah
The idea among Jews that time is flexible, that holidays are consecrated to recall and to live in is fundamental. The closing six words of the blessing quoted above make this notion of time front and center in the mind of the congregant reciting these words. In this case, the prayer is recited thrice daily during the Chanukah season. This being right around the middle of Chanukah, I decided that a brief commentary is in order because the theme of this blog, In This Very Moment, is clearly echoed in the prayer.
The theme of In those days . . . At this time is one found in many Jewish ideas of celebration. During Passover we are told that we were present at Sinai when God presented Moses (and the Israelites) with the Torah. At festive occasions such as weddings or b’nai mitzvot we are asked to recite a blessing of thanks for allowing us to reach this festive season. During Chanukah we recite the blessing above. Each of these blessings causes us to recall that not only is there cause to be thankful for the events of the past but that each Jew individually was present at the time of the event being celebrated.
How can it be that I was present when the Maccabi army defeated the Greeks in 165 BCE? Physically impossible you say! I agree but that is far too literal an interpretation where the vagaries of time and place are considered. If, as I argue, one lives in the moment, the existential immeasurable moment of time that neither exists nor does not exist, if that instant is the whole of existence, that what is past is but an ever more idealized trace while the future is nothing more than an idealized wish, then the infinitely small slice of existential time has the potential for evoking a trace of long ago events as if one was present oneself. In short, I am able to conger up a trace of in those days as easily as I can conger a trace of at this time. I am not limited by linear time at this very moment of existence. Were I limited to linear time, the prayer would not make any sense nor would the idea that I personally remember the event hold any meaning.
One of the things that provides me with great solace as I continue to recover from my bout with prostate cancer is the very simple idea that I live in this very moment. Or, is it so simple after all? Look, this idea could lead to an unfettered solipsism, however, that fate is countered by the very fact that I am able to base my existence ontologically on the existence of the other, a prospect that is evidence enough for the totality of being. Interpersonal contact in the world allows me to live in this very moment while avoiding the trap of turning inward. That being said (and yes I know the argument is not developed here nor should it be developed fully here given the very nature of this writing) I can turn to the idea of time itself.
Existential time, the time of the lived experience, is infinitely brief. The moment it is recognized it is always already past. Existential time begins without memory and moves along a linear path to end without memory. Birth and death set the limits of existential time. Existential time, while shared with others, is limited to each individual. It is singular in nature, pluralized as one acts as an agent in the world. This pluralization, however, is but the sharing of existential timelines and not a merger of those timelines.
Two additional timelines can be identified as well. The first is a shared community timeline. Based on the idea that mutual interests create community, the community timeline consists of texts, stories and ritual behavior that binds people together for a purpose. These communities generally exist prior to one joining up and exist long after one leaves the community for whatever reason. These shared communities tend to exert a pressure to conform to the texts, stories and rituals of that community. At no time, however, can the community as an entity be said to have an existential timeline it can call its own. Its history is that of the history of individual members of the community and can be told only through the archives of the community itself, its texts and rituals.
The last timeline that can be recognized is the archival (historical) timeline. Let me cite an example. As I write this blog entry I am writing in the moment. In fact, I present you with first draft writing that is not unlike a stream of consciousness. I am writing in existential time in order to leave behind a trace of my overall thinking. That trace is the blog entry as it exists in archival time. The document you are reading at this very moment was produced and archived by me in another moment, and what is left is this trace document. The document now exists on its own two feet, severed from the author yet belonging to the author as a remembrance, an artifact or archive of thought.
In a community, many of the archival documents can be examined and interpreted in order to form a history of the community, a trace of the experiences of the group membership rather than a true accounting of the events occurring in existential time. As one reads these interpretations in existential time, one can be returned to the moment of existence that created the original archival memory.
On this argument, time and place are vaguely connected by traces of archival time which are then connected to community time. Both of these are shared timelines that stem from the timelines of lived experiences in existential time.