From the introduction:
Some people count the moments – others make their moments count. This popular saying expresses the purpose of this book in a nutshell: to inspire and help people to actually accomplish this worthwhile goal. Since there is hardly anything in life as mysterious, nebulous, fleeting and ethereal as time itself, how can we hope to master time as the title of this book suggests?
We hope to guide the reader towards achieving this lofty objective by delving into the Torah’s teachings about time and their implications for us, on the spiritual, psychological and material level. In fact, the Torah’s wisdom in this area is rich and varied and spans the realms of the practical to the mystical. In addition, we will introduce numerous ideas about time from an objective, scientific point of view, as the more perspectives we have to work with, the richer and more relevant our conclusions. Thus, the more we understand about time in all its manifold manifestations, the more wisely we can appreciate and utilize the time we have at our disposal. Spanning diverse topics, we will explore the fascinating connection of time to dreams, prophesy, femininity, sexuality, eternity and reincarnation, as well as the wisdom and significance of the Jewish calendar. We will delve into Kabbalistic ideas about time and compare them with modern scientific inquiry concerning the nature of time.
We deliberately introduce practical and useful suggestions on how to become a master of time, as opposed to its slave, only at the end of the book, after establishing a more spiritual and psychological perspective. Our reasoning, as will become clear from the very beginning, is based upon the assertion that becoming a master of time depends on developing a proper attitude toward life, and subsequently, time itself. All the time management books in the world will not help if a person does not have a sense of purpose and a positive attitude to life. Time management only works when it is driven by vision, resolve and a broad state of consciousness. Therefore, we first present fundamental concepts that elucidate the Torah’s inner wisdom about time. These ideas naturally promote a constructive attitude towards life and a sense of purpose, which by their very nature motivate people to develop their potential and talents. Becoming a master of time is, to a great degree, the pre-requisite for fulfilling our goals and mission in life.
Another popular truism concerning time is that if you want to get something done – ask a busy person. At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive, as a busy person would seem to have far less time than someone with “time on their hands”. Yet, in reality, busy people are busy because they know how to get things accomplished and how to use their time effectively, while people who have time on their hands are usually in that position due to a lack of drive or purpose. This book is geared to those who wish to maximize their time and avoid seeing time continually slip through their fingers with few accomplishments to show for it.
Time and the Secret of Renewal:
The capacity to renew one’s self is truly one of the great secrets of attaining personal fulfillment and happiness. For without it life can quickly wear people down, entangling them in tedious and boring habits, rote thoughts and actions. Failure to renew one’s self dooms a person to an uninspired and frustrating life – poetically referred to by the famous American author Henry David Thoreau, as “a life of quiet desperation.”
I had the privilege to spend Shabbat with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on numerous occasions. I often saw him on Friday afternoons and due to his incredibly intense schedule, he frequently looked absolutely exhausted. I used to wonder how he could summon up the strength to lead yet another Shabbat for so many people. Yet, when he walked into synagogue on Friday night he would literally glow with light and vitality. It never ceased to amaze me how he was able to transform himself like that time after time.
On a national level, renewal is truly one of the great secrets of Jewish survival. For what other people has had to begin again so many times during its long and tortured history? No matter what the circumstances, the Jewish people has persevered and renewed itself countless times in communities around the globe, generation after generation. This essential power exists in every Jewish soul and is one of the secrets of Jewish survival. The miraculous ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the ancient homeland in Israel today clearly bears witness to this truth.
Taking this one step further, by breaking out of the confines of emotional and psychological slavery we are positioned to transcend the narrow straights of Egypt, as symbolic of linear time, and leap “over the sun” to experience a more Divine view of time. Notwithstanding the tremendous importance of renewal, the power to transcend our normative reality and even attain new insights and reveal new spiritual energies is an even greater achievement. This is what the verse in Ecclesiastes (1:9) implies when it states, there is “nothing new under the sun.” When life is lived under the weight of rote habits and fixed routines then one perceives “nothing new under the sun”; however, when one views life through a more elevated perspective on time and is inspired through the Divine power of renewal, one can always find something new “over the sun.” Interestingly, the Zohar comments that there may not be anything new under the sun but the moon is always changing and renewing itself, thus implying that there is always something new under the moon!
Throughout human history, the Jewish people’s incredible and disproportionate contribution in every avenue of human advancement, despite its history of great persecution, testifies that every Jewish soul is connected to the place “over the sun” or “under the moon” in the profoundest way. Through a long history of constant persecution and upheaval, the Jewish people have in fact been able to “begin over” countless times. Through exiles, slavery, expulsions, crusades, pogroms and holocaust, the Jewish people have managed to renew themselves in ways beyond historical precedent and logic. The ability to renew oneself and tune into a more Divine perspective of time is very much at the core not only of Jewish survival, but of the national and personal achievements of Jews throughout the ages, and constitutes one of the essential cornerstones of becoming a master of time.
Four Perspectives on Time:
Having explored the reality and importance of connecting to time as a cyclic phenomenon we must realize this is only one way to view time. In fact, time can be experienced in one of four basic ways. Firstly, time can be perceived as linear. In this scenario, past, present, and future follow a chronological sequence; as each moment passes it is gone, never to return. The river of time continues to flow and no one escapes its ongoing current. When we are slaves to time and not in tune with the secrets of cycles, time appears to be linear, a cold and impersonal force constantly moving beyond our control. When we start to understand the mysteries of time and cycles we begin to experience time as more circular, continually renewing and repeating itself.
Secondly, time can be experienced as circular, a cycle that repeats itself in phases of weeks, months, and years. This experience is strongly reflected by the Jewish calendar with its emphasis on the weekly Shabbat, the monthly celebration of the New Moon, and the annual Pilgrimage Festivals, all of which are intrinsically linked to the cycles of time manifest in nature, the seasons, and agriculture.
Thirdly, time can be perceived as a spiral that actually combines and integrates the two previous conceptions of time, in that it progresses in both linear and circular fashions. Time twists upwards in a four-dimensional spiral never returning to the exact same place, yet always returning to the same vertical coordinate on a higher plane during each succeeding revolution. Thus each moment of time is completely new; yet it is situated on the spiral above all the other points signifying that exact time of year. That is why, for example, a holiday can be experienced as absolutely new, while at the same time being infused with vivid memories and feelings connected to the same holiday in previous years.
Fourthly, time may be conceived as transcendent and above historical time. This is the way God experiences time, for on a Divine level past, present, and future all occur simultaneously. An allusion to this is found in the four letters of God’s four-letter name which spell “being” (havayah) when permuted. These four letters also comprise the Hebrew words for past (hayah), present (hoveh), and future (yiheyeh).
This understanding of the Divine experience of time is truly enlightening, for in order to become a master of time one must know how to connect with an aspect of Godliness in which time and all creation is renewed at every moment. By relating to a more transcendent experience of time, human beings are able to create the mental and psychological tools they need to become masters of time and truly free people.
Attitudes to Time:
In previous chapters we explored profound Torah teachings relating to the nature of time, the diverse ways in which time manifests in the physical world and in our daily lives, and an understanding of time through a Divine perspective. In this chapter, we will examine various subjects associated with the effect of our attitudes upon our comprehension and utilization of time – all of which subsequently have a cardinal influence on whether we ultimately become its slave or its master.
Time flies by, drags, and even “stops” altogether. We kill time, buy time, transcend time, waste time and are pressed for time. Though time is what we desire most, we use it carelessly. Time is money, time is running out, time gets away from us. All of these popular sayings are ultimately based on our attitude towards time at any particular moment. It is known that no two people ever experience a shared event in exactly the same way, because no two people are identical. This is also true with regard to time. No two people will experience the passage of time in exactly the same manner; depending on a host of physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual factors, each person will actually experience similar events quite differently. In other words, the concept of time and our appreciation of it is in the mind of the beholder.
In the section above on dreams, as well as in other sections, we discussed the central role consciousness plays in our perception of time. We saw how the more we connect to a Divine awareness, the more we can operate, as it were, beyond the normal strictures of time. We are not referring to miracles here, though these do sometimes occur; more precisely, we are talking about infusing our time with meaning and purpose, so that it works for us and not against us.
One of my favorite quotes about time, attributed to Charles Buxton, is “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it”. Time, according to this statement, is not there for the taking; rather, it is carved out of our mind’s determination to make time for those things important to us. We are not merely passive observers in relation to time, simply going with the flow, even if at times we may actually make a positive and conscious decision to do just that, or conversely act out of inertia, laziness and boredom. We must learn to adopt a vibrant and dynamic attitude to making time, creating order and setting priorities, thus enabling us to extract time’s hidden benefits from its infinite potential.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once explained, concerning his service of God, that he found that with great concentration and effort he could achieve in just a month what had once taken him a year to accomplish. As he progressed spiritually, he found that what had previously taken him a month to achieve, he could attain in only a week; and now, what had formerly taken him a week to do, he could complete in but one day!
Yet, there is also another approach to the use of time. The Talmud relates that “whoever forces time, time forces him; whoever yields to time, time stands on his side.” (Eruvin 13b). Rashi explains this statement as showing how success may be achieved. Impatience with one’s slow progress towards success might lead one to force matters that may better be left to transpire “in their own time”; however, if one is patient, success will certainly come eventually.
The Ba’al Shem Tov taught a similar idea which he called zerizut b’metinut; a paradoxical concept of swift, enthusiastic action nevertheless performed in a calm, calculated manner. For most people, one or the other of the two approaches, the enthusiastic or the calm, measured approach, will overwhelm the other. To achieve the above paradoxical state, in which both contradictory conditions exist simultaneously, one must truly be a master not only of time, but also of human emotion and innate tendencies.
Quantum Physics, Human Consciousness and Time:
Until recently, scientists thought that the electron is a particular particle with a defined position. Counter-intuitively, quantum physicists realized that the electron actually rotates within the nucleus of an atom in an ethereal “cloud” and that it can assume an infinite number of possible positions at any particular given moment. The human observer ultimately determines the approximate position of the electron, or in scientific language, human observation “forces” the electron to assume a defined position. The importance that science is beginning to assign to the role of human consciousness is one of modern physics’ most “spiritual” revelations.
As we mentioned above, the Sefer Yetzirah posits the existence of three spatial dimensions, one dimension of time and an additional dimension of soul or consciousness. Einstein united the dimensions of space and time and now science is on the cutting edge of what may be its greatest realization – that consciousness is also a “dimension.” The importance of this development cannot be sufficiently emphasized.
The following verse teaches us the fundamental role consciousness and choice play in determining reality: “For you are a holy people to God, your God, and God has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people among all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). The second half of the verse provides the underlying rationale for the first: because God has chosen you from among all the peoples, you are a holy people. God’s choice determines this reality. We will digress slightly in order to explain this concept more fully and then connect it to the art of mastering time.
The notion of God’s choice as defining reality is repeated several times in the same Torah portion as the above quotation; for instance, the Torah mentions several times that He will choose the place of the Temple in Jerusalem, to “put His Name there.” God’s choice makes this place holy, and consequently the Jewish people may only offer their sacrifices and celebrate the three Pilgrimage Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, there. The Temple becomes the only place where the nation’s communal service may be performed.
The word for holiness in Hebrew (kedushah) literally means “set aside” or “separate.” The act of setting something aside is the result of conscious will or choice. Those entities or objects designated as holy by the Torah are all intrinsically connected to conscious choice. The first time the word “holy” appears in the Torah is when God chooses Shabbat as a day of rest. God’s designation of the seventh day as a day set apart from all the other days is what invests it with holiness.
The Land of Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Torah are three other entities referred to by the Torah as holy. The inherent holiness of the Land of Israel is apparent from the first instruction God gave Abraham: “go … to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Clearly, Abraham was not instructed to wander until he happened to find a place he liked. Rather, he was led to a specific land that God had already chosen. The popular term for the Land of Israel, the Promised Land, conveys the same message – that there is an intrinsic connection between God’s choice of this specific land for the Jewish people and its holy status. The spiritual center of the Land of Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem, is holy because it is the place where God chose to place His name. The Torah, which is also defined as holy, was given to the children of Israel, because they – and not the other nations – consciously accepted it by saying “we will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). In all these cases the aura of holiness is initiated by God’s choice and then “confirmed” by the people’s decision to sanctify the object as well.
Significantly, the Jewish people imitate God by sanctifying their marital relationships through a process called kiddushin. When two people marry, they choose one another out of all the other possible people on the planet and commit to a monogamous way of life. This conscious choice invests their relationship with holiness.
In contemplating these notions of choice and holiness we are reminded of another verse in the book of Deuteronomy which recounts how the eyes of God are on the Land of Israel from the beginning of the year to the end of the year ( Deuteronomy 11:12). The entire world is subject to Divine Providence, but God’s focus on the Land of Israel is first and foremost.
Returning to the beginning of this section, just as an electron can theoretically be positioned anywhere, so too, human beings have infinite possibilities open to them, and unlimited directions are available to them at any particular moment in time. If we adopt this “electron mentality,” we too can be here or there or anywhere. In human terms, however, this usually translates into being nowhere at all. Focus, limitations, choice, and will are the ultimate factors determining a person’s capability for success, both materially and spiritually, and in mastering time. Paradoxically, we gain far more in life from limitations and focus than from imagining that we can do it all and be everything for everybody. The more we focus our full energies and consciousness on the present moment, the more that moment yields. Ultimately it is our own ability to fill time with the dimension of soul that determines the measurement of time.
The Hebrew word for “will” is ratzon and its two letter root is ratz, which means “to run”. As we have discussed in numerous ways the secret of becoming a master of time is the ability to focus our mind and direct our will. Focusing thought and will power is similar to the concept that the faster something moves through space the more time slows down. It is now known that the brain is an incredibly complex communications center, a sort of super computer, processing and reacting to an immense amount of input per second. The brain contains hundreds of billions of neurons, specialized nerve cells that process and transmit information through a complex interaction of chemical messengers and electrical signals carried through nerve fibers. The brain is an electric transformer, a pulsating system of live wires of light.
The term, “to see the light,” analogous to experiencing a lightening flash of new revelation streaking through the mind, can now be understood to parallel the biological reality of new information transmitted in the form of electric impulses. The neurons are connected by synapses that transmit electric nerve impulses by way of neurotransmitters, carrying signals and information between brain cells. The ancient, intuitive understanding of the connection of light and intellect can now be seen in modern science’s understanding of the functioning of the brain.
On a more spiritual level “seeing the light” or being “enlightened” means plugging into Divine intelligence that literally pervades every moment of time and every point of space. That intelligence is encoded in every cell and every atom in the universe, and is literally mind-boggling in its complexity. The more we understand of the physical laws of the universe the more we become aware of the hidden and unified spiritual force behind the material world. Maimonides taught that if we want to understand God we need to look at the world He created. All existence is, in truth, the ongoing manifestation of God’s Divine wisdom; in fact, the Targum Yerushalmi, a two thousand year old translation of the Torah into Aramaic, renders the first verse of the Torah as “With wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.”
Therefore, the more we concentrate our willpower and connect to a higher Divine will, the more time becomes an ally in accomplishing our goals on both a physical and spiritual plane. In this sense, time’s “slowing down” reflects our ability to fill our time with directed purpose and meaning, so that we can accomplish our goals to the best of our ability and in the time available to us.
There is one additional insight to share regarding the role of consciousness in mastering time. In the book of Zechariah the prophet is shown a vision in which Joshua, the high priest, is condemned by Satan for a certain moral lapse. God defends Joshua, and then an angel speaking in God’s Name both warns and encourages him: “If you walk in My ways and guard My directive, then you will administer My Temple and safeguard My courtyards, then I will place you as a walker among these standers” (Zechariah 3:7). The commentaries explain that those “standing” are the angels while the “walkers” are human beings. The difference between them is that angels, who lack free will, do not have the capacity to truly move spiritually, and thus are deemed to be immobile despite their elevated spiritual status; whereas humans, who are endowed with free will, together with all the trials and challenges that accompany this God-given quality, can actually progress in ways angels can never hope to achieve.
Parenthetically, it should be noted that angels are spiritual energy forces existing in all the created worlds. They help direct different aspects of creation, as the Sages declared in Bereishit Rabbah 10: “No blade of grass grows until its [guiding] angel above strikes it and says: ‘Grow!’” Not only does each individual facet of creation have a guiding spiritual force, but all the specific and collective forms, orders and species of creation have corresponding spiritual forces as well. These animating root forces direct and sustain physical development. This incredibly complex hierarchy of spiritual energy forces, called “angels”, exists in the various created worlds. However, according to Jewish tradition, the soul’s source is rooted in a higher world (that of Creation, Briah) than the angels’ source (that of Formation, Yetzirah) because angels lack free will. Without free will there can be no ultimate spiritual advancement. In fact, free will is perhaps the most important characteristic distinguishing human beings from angels and is intrinsic to our understanding of humanity’s creation in the “image of God.”
The above verse in Zechariah presents us with an incredibly powerful description of the elevated potential with which man has been endowed. Additionally, it offers us deep insight as to how we can move through time as walkers, should we so choose, and not remain as static standers, whom time passes by.
With these ideas in mind we can now address an extremely important phenomenon concerning the passage of time. Throughout this book we have mentioned the various ways in which time appears to slow down as an object accelerates through space. We have used this as a metaphor for becoming a master of time by means of “squeezing out” time’s infinite potential. According to science, time would tick at a slower rate for a person travelling through space in a spaceship at enormous speed. On his return to earth he would find that everyone had aged; he would be younger as a result of having experienced a slower passage of time. Yet science claims that it is not just time that slows down for the person in the spaceship – everything he does is also experienced, as it were, in slow motion. However, with regard to what he can accomplish, there is no real difference between him and a person still on earth. This would seem to challenge much of what we have proposed from a conceptual point of view regarding becoming a master of time.
However, for a master of time there is a vast difference between the scientific conclusion described above and our metaphor of time slowing down. This difference is to be found in the role of consciousness, which, as we have mentioned before, lies at the cutting edge of modern quantum physics today and is alluded to in our verse from Zachariah. Our example of a person in a spaceship in relation to people on earth is based on purely physical factors. However, the soul, which is Divine in origin, connects us to an entirely different level of reality – we have the ability to be “walkers”, to project ourselves above the stars like Abraham, to experience and act within the boundaries of time in a more Divine way, allowing us the potential, and when fully focused, the ability to transcend, dilate, stretch and squeeze out of time more than the laws of nature would normally permit. Yet this should not surprise us at all, since modern physics and its description of the physical universe contradict our normal experiences and are paradoxical and counter-intuitive to the extreme. When fully comprehended, consciousness will open new, until now unimaginable worlds, and unlock the awesome potential we possess as human beings to fully utilize the amazing gifts God has endowed upon us.
At the beginning of this book we discussed why we planned to defer practical suggestions for time management until last. In general, the main factors required for becoming a master of time are to be found in one’s sense of purpose in life, and more specifically, in one’s personal mission and basic understanding of how time can be used effectively. All the time-management books in the world will not be of any avail if a person’s basic level of motivation, self-esteem or drive and ambition to achieve, are lacking. Therefore, we have seen fit to present various Torah ideas, perspectives and attitudes about time and life itself that are conducive to equipping an individual with the ability to use time to his or her advantage and to avoid becoming a slave to the impersonal and deterministic nature of time.
Now that our overview is complete we can conclude our book with a number of suggestions to help the reader consider some of the more philosophical ideas regarding time and apply them in an effective and relevant manner.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson in his book Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1902-1994), cites one of the Rebbe’s important statements about time: “The world says time is money; I say time is life”. This declaration sums up much of what we have tried to present in this book: that the way in which we relate to life is the way we relate to time. If we see life as constantly renewed and full of purpose and Godliness then we approach each and every minute as an opportunity to do something meaningful. If, however, we plod along a path devoid of higher meaning and instead concentrate all our energies solely on material attainment, then life can quickly turn bitter and shallow with the perception of time as an invisible burden, constantly threatening an end to life’s joy ride.
In the above mentioned book, a story is related whereby the Rebbe inquired as to when prayers were due to begin. When told, “either 9:10 or 9:15” he replied: “Which one is it? In five minutes so much can be accomplished”.
A similar story recounts how Rabbi Shalom Rokeach (1779-1855), the founder of the Belz Chassidic dynasty, succeeded in giving up smoking. An avid pipe smoker, he enjoyed smoking in the Beit Midrash, the house of study. Once, as he began studying a page of Talmud, he noticed that another student had taken out his pipe and had embarked upon the time consuming process of cleaning it. It then took him even more time to carefully load his pipe with tobacco in just the right manner. Finally he noted that it took the man a number of attempts to light the pipe. By the time he took his first puff the Belzer Rebbe had finished reviewing an entire page of Talmud. When contemplating what had just occurred, he quickly concluded that smoking was too time consuming and simply not worth his while. Thus, the Belzer Rebbe was able to stop smoking (Tales of Tzaddikim; pp. 303-304).
Finally, a personal story: Once, when my son had completed a certain Talmudic tractate for the second time, he said, “I learned this tractate in five minutes – five minutes here, five minutes there”. And he meant it! This is precisely what the Lubavitcher Rebbe had in mind.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe also taught that the way to unify our all too often fragmented lives is to approach life and time with a more spiritual outlook. He strongly recommended tackling life’s activities from the perspective of one’s soul. If life is important and infused with meaning, then every activity, no matter how mundane, can be considered an opportunity to connect to one’s Godly soul, thus fulfilling the soul’s very purpose – to refine itself and the world we live in.
This is a cardinal concept in Chassidut and is based on the Ba’al Shem Tov’s interpretation of the verse in Proverbs (3:6): “In all your ways, know Him.” He explained that all of life’s activities, including the most mundane, are an opportunity to know God – to learn about and experience Godliness. In this way, the dividing lines between the physical and the spiritual, secular and religious, disappear; all life, and in turn, all time, becomes spiritually meaningful.
Time may consequently be understood as a vessel waiting to be filled. The way in which we make use of our time and the manner in which we treat each moment, governs whether time is seen as neutral and deterministic or a positive force to be utilized to our advantage.