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The Illusion of Time made Cyclical: Thinking In Jewish 37

The Illusion of Time made Cyclical: Thinking In Jewish 37

The Illusion of Time made Cyclical: Thinking In Jewish 37

I have written about time as an illusion; that all that exists is the very moment which is always already gone. Time, in this sense, is the always already present. While one creates traces of memory as one passes through this very moment and one has the ability to project into the future, to create a future that may or may not be, the fact remains that existential time is only this very moment. Now, there are surely other ways to explain time and one is particularly Jewish.

Generally, time in Jewish thought is based on the idea of seven, seven days, seven weeks, seven years, seven groups of seven years. In each of these cycles, the seventh part is a sabbath, a day of rest governed by strict rules for what can and cannot be done during that day, year, or jubilee year. These cycles are the cycles of life with the foundation of them all resting on the creation myth where God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. In the human being’s desire to become God-like, it follows that we should act as God acted. The seven-week cycle, the counting of the Omer, is spelled out in the Torah as is the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year. The Sabbatical and Jubilee year  place a great burden on the people in that the fields cannot be worked, no food is produced so the only available food is that which is stored for future use. Poor planning and the people starve while good planning keep the people well fed during these periods of fallow.

Additionally, there is a rhythm to the seasons. Celebrations, holidays occur at specific times during the year: Springtime celebrates the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah; Fall celebrates the harvest as well as the process of amends and redemption focused in the spirit of the High Holidays; Winter brings the celebration of the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah. In between, but measured by the calendar falling in their appropriate times.

Measured together, the cycles of daily life to the annual cycles of holidays high and low, time in the Jewish perspective is focused backwards. We celebrate the historicity of the people who have called themselves Jews since the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai with a long historical record flowing backward toward Abraham, the patriarch who was ordered to leave his home by the creator God and follow all the instructions and he would be the father of a great nation. Going further back in time we look to Noah and before that Adam (roughly translated as man) and Chavah (Eve). It matters little to the celebrations fixed in time whether or not there was an historical Adam and Chavah, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Judah (the reason we are called Jews), or any other figure represented in scriptural texts. The fact that they appear in stories meant to provide lessons for living an ethical life makes them real. The fact that generations before me, for at least 2500 years, perhaps longer, looked to these figures and these holidays as representations of living a Godly life confirms the value of the mythology.

The cyclical nature of Jewish time and the singularity of existential time must be reconciled. The nature of Jewish time, in this sense, may be seen as a community trace of memory, a utopian trace  for sure, allowing members of the community to constantly and consistently look back across Jewish history that, at each repetition, provides new and fresh insights in the flow of life. The illusion of time creates room for cycles that build understanding through the textual references that constantly are studied and re-read.

Close to every Jewish life one finds a strong connection to study and texts. That those texts that are often read ritually is not important, that they can and must be read critically is. Reading these texts at the appointed times, another cycle present in Jewish time, helps one explore the foundations in the text which is quite different that merely reading the texts as a ritually appropriate act. While I am not a religious Jew, I find great connections to the texts of my ancestors, to the melodies of prayer, of the sing-song rhythms of reading and studying the texts with a melamed, a teacher, deeply attached to the text allowing that text to come to life. Texts and time are intimately connected.

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6 thoughts on “The Illusion of Time made Cyclical: Thinking In Jewish 37

  1. This is another lovely post. I see you honoring your Jewish background and embracing the very essence of it. Critically reading/thinking is the key.

  2. Hmmmm…There is much to embrace in my background. I think that the historical reliance on written texts and the tradition of commenting and interpretation of those texts coupled with the insistance of the love of learning from generation to generation requires one to embrace the idea of critical reading of difficult text. My quibble with the historical tradition of critically reading sacred text is that that reading relies on a closed set of references always turning back into itself. It was Spinoza who first had the courage to say out loud that there contradictions and conflicts in the sacred texts and suggested that they be read not as historical fact but as mythological allegory. This critique opened the door to modern readings of bronze age texts placing them in a fragile context. That being said, modern Jewish thinkers like Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Victor Frankel, Hillary Putnam and others have gleaned from these sacred texts a “universal” ethic that translates across all cultures, societies, and religions. What remained in the philosophers’ ideas was the idea of social action before the idea of faith. What I embrace is certainly not religious, it is, rather a sense of connection to the three or four thousand year old tradition of relying on texts and the critical reading of those texts to inform my idea of ethical action. I suggest that the historicity of the bible is of little consequence, rather reading that text as one might read literature brings those characters and stories alive, each one filled with the potential of teaching all of us with powerful ideas for living an ethical life. Like Emmanuel Levinas, I read the texts for what can be extracted as a universal, even utopian, ideal in order to understand how to live in peace in this world, the only one I expect to know.

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