"The holidays are so late this year!"
If you are like me, you have remarked with surprise, or delight, or regret, that Rosh Hashanah is not until the end of September this year. It doesn't seem to matter that I have had more time to prepare, because no matter when the holidays fall, I don't seem to be ready!
This dilemma made me think about what time means both in Jewish tradition, and in Indian society.
"Jewish time" is legendary, meaning that events never start at the time advertised. Through this lens, the holidays are not really late at all, just running on "Jewish time!" On the other hand, the Jewish calendar is punctilious about time: we light candles, make havdalah, break our fasts, at times that are precise down to the minute. How do we make the most of our time? Arguably the most famous advice comes from Hillel: "If now now, when?"
The Indian attitude towards time is cyclical: the Hindi word for yesterday, kal, is the same as the word for tomorrow. Salman Rushdie jokes about this sameness in Midnight’s Children, “No people whose word for yesterday is the same as their word for tomorrow can be said to have a firm grip on time.” The Indian novelist R. K. Narayan wrote, “In a country like ours, the preoccupation is with eternity, and little measures of time are hardly ever noticed.”
I was intrigued to find out that Mahatma Gandhi's attitude towards time was the opposite: His pocket watch was among the handful of material possessions he owned, and he attached it to his dhoti with a safety pin and a loop of string. He would apologize if he were even a minute late. “You may not waste a grain of rice or a scrap of paper, and similarly a minute of your time,” he wrote.
One of my favorite images of time, one that is both Jewish and Indian, is of the clocktower of Calcutta's Maghen David Synagogue. My daughter Shoshana and I loved being so close to the clock that we could almost touch time!
Tizkoo l'shanim rabot! May you merit many years!