Friday, October 12, 2012

Breishit - Is Time On Our Side?

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann


In the beginning
G-d must have created time
Thus, “the beginning”

Introduction : Using Time To Increase Space

Once, a man got to ask G-d any question he wanted. The man opened with – “G-d, what’s a million years to you?” And G-d replied, “A million years to me is one second.” The man then asked, “G-d, what’s a million dollars to you?” And G-d replied, “A million dollars to me is one penny.” So the man asked G-d, “G-d, can you spare a penny?” And G-d replied, “Sure I can, in just one second.”

To us, time and money are everything. We run through time trying to get more money and more things worth money. It is important to remember that time and money are figments created for us. For G-d time and space (represented by money, which buys us things that exist within space) do not exist.

Rabbi A.J. Heschel (The Sabbath, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York 1951) explains that we try to grab and gather things because we feel intimidated by the passing of time. In the end we are left feeling unfulfilled and embarrassed, knowing that the point of time is not merely to accumulate things. He writes: “It is impossible for man to shirk the problem of time. The more we think the more we realize: we can not conquer time through space. We only master time in time.” Shabbos is a day when we no longer treat time as the enemy but recognize time as special in and of itself. The ultimate goal is for the approach of Shabbos to spill over into the week, so that on a daily basis we see time as a thing itself.


What came first the chicken or the egg? According to the Ramban the answer is neither, rather there was something that preceded both. The Ramban writes that before G-d created anything He created a giant mass from which everything else was created – Something From Nothing – Yesh Mei’Ayin. From that original mass, known as Chomer Hiyuli, everything else was created (Peirush Ramban Al HaTorah, Chavel Hebrew edition pg. 12).

The Rabbis state (Breishit Rabah 68:10, Rashi on Shemot 33:21) that G-d is called HaMakom because “He is the place of the world, and the world is not his place.” After Moshe asks G-d, in 33:13, “show me your honor,” G-d shows him a cleft on a mountainside and says, “Behold there is a place by me. Rashi cites the Tanchuma, which explains that G-d does not say that He is in this place, but refers to it with this seemingly awkward phrasing, because of the following idea: Space is a creation of G-d, secondary to G-d. The Ohr HaChayim in his commentary on Bamidbar 1:1, cites this Medrash and applies it to his explanation of the word BaMidbar – in the desert. 


Pardes Yosef points out that while time is clearly something that was created for the sake of people, its creation is not overtly mentioned. He explains that the word “Breishit”, which means “in the beginning of G-d's creations,” implies the creation of time, because without time things could not be called earlier or later.

Dovid HaMelech – King David states that the average life of a man is seventy years (Tehillim 90:10). Chazal break down the years of a person’s life in Pirkei Avot and say what the purpose is for each stage of life. The Maggid of Dubno cites these and other examples in his development of the parallels between time and space. Just like a physical body is comprised of a myriad of intricate pieces that contribute their part towards completion, so too time is a measured entity made of up of specific details. Just as our bodies need to be developed and do not get fit if we don’t maintain them, time is also potential that needs to be worked on and refined. Segments of time do not automatically fill up with their tasks unless a person struggles to make it so. (Sefer HaMidot - Book of Traits Chapter 12, the Maggid of Dubno)

In the time of the Talmud, Ptolemy gathered 72 Torah scholars and sequestered them in separate rooms with the command to translate the Torah into Greek (Megilla 9a). A miracle occurred that they all made the same judgment calls in making changes from literal text to translation in order to avoid insults, misunderstandings, and repercussions. One of the changes they implemented concerned the order of the first three words of the Torah. As Pardes Yosef sees it, they reordered the words to read Elokim Bara Breishit – G-d created in the beginning to convey that G-d created time.

When we take time for granted, we take life for granted. Rabbi Noach Weinberg notes that we would all be shocked if we saw someone sitting on a speeding bus throwing dollar bills out the window into the wind. But when we see people making inadequate use of time this is a tragedy too. 

Once an American man was vacationing on an exotic island. He sees a local man sitting and fishing. He speaks to the fellow and learns that the man happily lives on the island and gets by via fishing and eating the fish he catches. The American explains to him that he could get better equipment and catch more fish. So he does. And he sells the extra fish and makes more money. Then the American advises him to buy a boat. So he does. And he makes more money. In time he buys several giant boats and then opens a store and eventually a franchise. The company goes public and the old fisherman is on the board of trustees of several major banks. Finally he retires. His friend asks him, “What are you going to do with your time now?” The fisherman says that he’s looking forward to sitting on the shore and catching fish.

We often run through time accumulating things that we think we need. In the end what we need is health and happiness and closeness to G-d. It behooves us to think well about what we expend energy acquiring as we journey through our one, only, brief trip on this planet.

May our reading about the creation of time and space remind us to cherish every second of life on this earth with which we are blessed.

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