As I write this, I am, again, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at the Fifth Forum for Promoting Global Peace. I am continuing to build bridges with Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith leaders from Phoenix, the United States, and religious leaders and scholars from around the world (but that is an article for another day).
Earlier today, I was sitting at a table with religious leaders from Africa. My new friend, pointing to his bare wrist, asked me, “Please, what is time?” It was a nice exchange: I gave him the time, and he gave me this article.
“Please, what is time?” What indeed is time? Time is perhaps the one thing in the world of which the most use is made and of which the least is known. Regardless of our concept of time, our perception of time is usually negative. We allow it to exercise control over our lives. “Time to go to bed,” “Time to get up,” “Time to take a shower,” “Time to go to work or to school,” “Time to mow the lawn, to go to the dentist, to catch a plane.” And then, “Time to retire.”
We often say, “Time flies when you are having fun.” (Or as Kermit the Frog might say, “Time is fun when you are having flies.”) Time drags when you are bored; and things are timely, timeless or time worn.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, when Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt, Joseph brought Jacob, his father, to meet Pharaoh. The first words Pharaoh said to Jacob were: “How many are the days of the years of your life?” (Genesis 47:8) Of all the things that Pharaoh could ask Jacob, why did he first want to know how old Jacob was? Or did he?
I do not think Pharaoh really cared to know Jacob’s chronological age. Rather, Pharaoh wanted to know how many days that Jacob actually felt alive in his life. Just how many days were there where Jacob lived life to its fullest?
Muhammad Ali is famously quoted as saying, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” What is fascinating to consider is that each of us gets the same amount of time each day. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor we are. It doesn’t matter how young or old we are. It doesn’t matter what continent you live on or whether you live in the city or the country. Each person on planet Earth gets the exact same amount of time each day. It is what we do with our time that differs. And isn’t it amazing that two different people can make such different use of the same amount of time. Benjamin Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again.” And it’s true. The Earth spins round, and when the day is done, the day is gone. You never get it back. There are only so many hours in the day.
So, from this week’s Torah portion, let us remind ourselves to learn to live in the present. Don’t waste time worrying about the future or regretting the past. You only have each moment as it comes, so make the most of each one. When you worry about the future or regret the past, you are wasting the present. There’s an old “Family Circle” comic strip by Bil Keane which says, “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”
So, my new dear friend, that’s what time is. JN
Rabbi Jeremy Schneider is the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale, and the Immediate past president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix.