This month is one of the more meaningful festivals in our calendar. Simchat Torah marks the end of our Torah reading cycle and the beginning of another.
It is a way in which we Jews measure time. There is usually great excitement and celebration around this festival, dancing and singing and yes, food. It is often associated with children. And yet, I want to try and put a little different spin on this. For, it is a marker of time, and for our generation, time is becoming more precious.
Time is one of our most amazing and puzzling inventions. It was the way human beings broke free from being totally bound by nature. Daniel Boorstin, in his book The Discoverers, makes this point.
He wrote that: “So long as man marked his life only by the cycles of nature–the changing seasons, the waxing or waning moon–he remained a prisoner of nature.” So mankind invented time in order to bring order and purpose to life. With that invention, however, came the realization that time, at least for us, is finite. That reality comes home to us as we grow older.
Mitch Albom’s new book, The Time Keeper, looks at this reality in a wonderful way. It is a story about Father time. Albom notes that while the world around us has no concept of time as know it, we humans have become, in a way, prisoners of it. “Man alone measures time”, he writes, “Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out”.
The Jewish response to this frightening reality is to seek to make each moment of time moments of meaning. Heschel wrote of the concept of the Holiness of Time, citing the cycle of Jewish life, from Shabbat to the holidays, as a way of seeking the sacred in life. For our generation this is a profoundly meaningful message. We look forward in life and are more aware than ever of it passing. We do fear that it will run out. So, the message of Simchat Torah can be seen as a reminder that we, in this new year, begin another cycle of life, just as we begin a new Torah cycle. The challenge is to make each moment holy, each season of our life an opportunity to make our “time” a reflection of something meaningful for us and for our families.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min.