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The Gift of Time - Sermon by Rabbi Tina Grimberg, September 21, 2017

24/01/2018 01:08:07 PM


What makes somebody an extraordinary friend? Most will probably respond by saying that a wonderful friend is someone who understands you – somebody you can trust and, above all, somebody who is willing to make time for you. There is no extraordinary friendship without the gift of time. That is one of the messages of Genesis. Our beloved narrative of Avraham standing up for injustice leaves us in awe of his courage and boldness. But what allows somebody to be so honest and so forward if not the investment of time in the relationship.

That is why God’s rhetorical question on account of Sodom and Gomorra is a form of invitation:

“Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am about to do?”

Preceding these verses is Abraham’s profound loyalty and generosity of his gift of time to three messengers that come to represent God in his tent. This allows Abraham to shine forth his incredible human qualities. Only an outstanding human being is willing to give so much of oneself.

Abraham, feeling unwell after his self-inflicting wounds, forgets his discomfort and dashes to bring them into the tent. He asks Sarah and a young servant to prepare a meal. While these 3 messengers are strangers they now become his guests. Abraham seats them and he waits upon them and looks after them.  As the Torah says Vehu omed aleyhem – he stood over them in full attention and presence.

The fate of Sodom and Gomorra is sealed but it is Abraham who will challenge God to do the right thing, just like a good friend challenges the other in a friendship that is built on trust, understanding and shared time.

“Time is our most valuable possession.” This statement that is often used in North America as we painfully equate time and money. I will argue that it is not.

We can potentially make more money but we cannot make up the lost time.

Once the moment is lost it is never to be repeated.

It makes life both thrilling and dangerous.

I often watch people enter a restaurant or a meeting and the first thing that gets placed on the table in front of them is their phone. I am not here to speak of their benefits; I am here to say that the true and most precious relationships are marked by how much eye contact we make with one another.

How much we multi-task and how fast we try to escape intimacy and meaning, even if the high-speed devices assist us, they will never give us back what we have allowed them to steal from us. When Abraham stands over his guests, washes their feet, walks them out as they journey on their way -- he does so without knowing that there might be an incredible pay off in the end: that he and Sarah will become parents.

What Abraham gives them is his full presence. In Jewish tradition, guests are the equivalent of God’s presence in our house. Rabbis picked up on that nuance and called Abraham God’s friend. He is a friend who can stand up even to God. To argue for the ten righteous in Sodom and Gomorra.

But, in trying to understand the preciousness of time, I must say that we have a dual sensibility about it.


Time – Friend or Foe? By Margaret E. Mulac

One of the most common reactions to the beginning of a new year is a comment on the speed with which the last one blew past us.

But whether the last year flew by or crawled by, it has been ours. It has been woven into the fabric of our being. It is part of the immortal record. A new year has just dawned. How shall we greet it? Is time friend or foe? Ziggy, our friend on the comics page, believes that “God invented time to keep all our bills from happening at once.”

Time is a great healer but a poor beautician. Time is a tailor specializing in alterations. Some changes are for the worse, some for the better. Actually, time is neither an ally nor an enemy. It is what we do with time that matters...

For us time will not turn backward. Only the TV camera permits replays. The film of life cannot be rewound.

Horace Mann, the great American educator, once put this announcement in a newspaper’s lost-and-found column: “Lost somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with 60 diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.”

What can we do with time? Many things. We can kill it. We can waste it. The speeding motorist makes time. The prisoner does time. The idler passes time.

There is something else we can do with time. We can sanctify it. Certain days have been set aside as holy days.

There is a special urgency to the prayer of the Psalmist: “So teach us to count our days, that we may acquire a heart of wisdom”

Time is a man’s most precious possession – his most precious commodity. To take a man’s time, is to take a portion of his life. To give a man some of your time is to give a portion of yours.


A Man Doesn't Have Time In His Life, by Yehuda Amichai

A man doesn't have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn't have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn't have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn't learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.

He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there's time for everything.


Time – the Thoughtful Thief by Rabbi Sidney Greenberg

Is time an ally or an antagonist? It depends on how we look upon time and how we use it.

Time has been called a thief. There is much truth in that designation. Time robs us of our loved ones, steals the spring from our steps, the bloom from our cheeks, the smoothness from our skins.

But, if time is a thief, it is not without a core of compassion. For everything it takes, it thoughtfully leaves something behind.

In place of loved ones, it leaves undying and enduring lessons. The bloom it stole, time replaced with lines it gently etched in bright moments of shared laughter and somber moments of chastening sorrow. If we can no longer run as quickly as we did yesterday, we can stand today with greater poise. And while time was stealing the smoothness from our skins, it was giving us the opportunity to remove the wrinkles from our souls.

Time does something else, too. Time converts knowledge into wisdom, energies spent into experience gained. Time leaves us richer for what we have had.

And time thoughtfully permits us to use the fire of youth to drive the engines of age. We can be young and old at the same time.

We can be young enough to believe in people, but old enough not to expect more from them than we are prepared to give.

We can be young enough to believe in people, but old enough not to expect more from them than we are prepared to give.

We can be young enough to enjoy pleasure, but old enough to know that we miss the whole point of living if pleasure is all we pursue.

We can be young enough to acquire a new idea, and old enough to surrender an ancient prejudice.

We can be young enough to strive for success, but old enough to treasure the things that money cannot buy.

We can be young enough to wait to be attractive, but old enough to appreciate the beauty that is manufactured inside ourselves.

We can be young enough to seek companionship, but old enough to appreciate solitude.

We can be young enough to crave happiness, but old enough to know that the harvest of happiness is usually reaped by the hands of helpfulness.

We can be young enough to want to be loved, but old enough to strive to be lovable.

We can be young enough to pray as if everything depended on God, but old enough to act as if everything depended on us.

Our most precious commodity is time: you cannot make time up and you cannot bank time. From the storeroom of God’s treasures this is the most precious gift – Shabbat. And through Shabbat, time management is Judaism’s greatest gift to the world – a day of rest – it buys us time and it buys us time with each other.


How does time become holy? It becomes holy when we use it for holy purposes. Every religion sets aside such holy days. For the Jews the most important of these are the High Holy Days. They are a time to be reminded of the preciousness of every moment. They are a time to pause, to evaluate, to resolve; a time to forgive and to ask for forgiveness; a time to remember things forgotten and to forget things too long remembered; a time to reclaim sacred things abandoned and to abadon unworthy things too highly cherished; a time to ask, “How are we using time?” Yes, time flies, but we are the navigators. More important than counting time is making time count.

- Rabbi Sidney Greenberg


Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy (paraphrased)

A king had three significant questions to ask for which he could not get a satisfactory answer from his advisors:

1. Who are the right people to listen to?

2. What is the most important thing to do?

3. When is the right time to being anything?

So, to satisfy the king, the advisors learned about a Monk that lived deep in the forest who others suggested was the wisest of all and possibly could shed light on these three questions.

After traveling a number of days, the king found the monk planting radishes. He posed these three questions to the monk:

1. Who are the right people to listen to?

2. What is the most important thing to do?

3. When is the right time to being anything?

Instead of answering, the monk asked the king to help him with his task of upturning the soil, and they began working together. The king waited for the monk to answer the three questions.

While they were working they heard a terrible noise:  a man crying for help

They ran to the man, who was coming out of the woods and was bleeding. The king ripped his cloak and the monk assisted.

They carried him into the monk’s low-rise dwelling and the king, forgetting his status, looked after the man. Weeks passed and the man got better.

When the man got better, he sat up in bed looking at the king and burst into tears. He said, “I owe you the biggest apology. You do not know me but I know you. You convicted my brother to death for a crime and I swore that I would kill you. I followed you in the forest with intention to murder you but I was attacked myself. You showed me kindness and now I can only ask your forgiveness and express my gratitude.

“Because of your kindness, you repaired not only my physical wound but my heart as well.”

The two men embraced. The king walked out of the small home and found the monk planting radishes in the yard. He asked if he can finally get the answers to his three questions:

1. Who are the right people to listen to?

2. What is the most important thing to do?

3. When is the right time to being anything?

The monk put his shovel down, wiped his brow wet from perspiration from the sun and said:

1. Who are the right people to listen to? The ones in need.

2. What is the most important thing to do? Good for those who are in need.

3. When is the right time to begin anything? Right at this moment.


Because you did not wait and ask questions before helping a wounded man, you were able to make peace. His need was the most important need and, because you did not wait the most important time was that moment.

If I could narrow my message into one sentence using this story as an example we do not have as much time as we think.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is opened and we all hope to exit the sanctuary with our name inscribed for the next year. And the year after that. But life has other plans for us. What would any of us do if we knew we only have a year left?

I find the language of time profoundly problematic. Statements such as “I have time to kill” or “time is money” or “I’m passing time.”

Abraham, being a wealthy man, because he gives to the three strangers that happen to be angels, he gives them the ultimate gift and that is the gift of time. Because he served them himself – rather he could have offered his servants but he did it himself.

What makes an outstanding host? Being present.

Thu, 23 May 2024 15 Iyar 5784