Abraham Joshua Heschel famously wrote, “Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space… Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.”
For thousands of years, humankind has fought against time. How to prolong it and how to speed it up. How to control it. How to bend it and shape it. How to leave our mark on it. Spiritually speaking, the question is not whether we can stop or start time, but rather how to transform time from a linear conceit into an unending unfolding of life- and God-affirming experiences. Heschel called it the consecration of “sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.”
This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, brings us to the culmination of Jacob’s life. Timewise, his is a life spent in transition. Following the powerful scenes of his revelation of his identity to his brothers and his reunion with his father, Joseph brings Jacob before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” To which Jacob answers, “The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years; few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.”
“Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life,” says Jacob. There is emptiness and regret. There is living, and there is existing. Jacob sees his life as a series of unhappinesses and of discontents, his moments incomparable to those of his father and grandfather.
Time can be a measure of a life’s passing. Or time can be a bejeweled continuum, from night into day, season into season; each moment linked, one to another, in honor and sanctity, in intention and fulfillment.
The lands where Jacob once walked, we have now redeemed. In the past few weeks, our shared efforts have helped rescue the remnants of the Ethiopian Jewish community. They are being brought home to Israel, where they will be reunited with loved ones. Locally, our annual Christmas Mitzvah Project touches the lives of thousands of our neighbors and community members. In this way and together, here and around the world, we are, as Heschel said, sanctifying time.