How do you measure time? Is it by watching your kids growing up, your parents growing old, or the wrinkles on your face growing deep? Our tradition measures time from one Shabbat to the next and from one Torah reading cycle to the next. Some measure time by following the agricultural seasons, others the geological periods. This, to us, is really “time.” The time that our watches and digital clocks measure is not as real. The hours and the minutes only exist because we have appointments and deadlines. Without appointments we wouldn’t need them. The cab I took from the airport to Jerusalem doesn’t need a clock for example. It doesn’t leave the airport at the top of the hour or the bottom of the hour. Each cab can take ten passengers at a time and only leaves the airport when it is full. Don’t ask the cab driver at what time he will be leaving. You sit in the cab and you wait. Imagine doing that to catch a plane. You go to the airport when you need to fly, get on the plane that will eventually fly to where you want to go and wait for every seat to be filled so that the plane can take off. Running an airline might become a profitable business again and, we, we would be able to throw away our watches. No appointments, no clocks. That’s why we like vacations so much.
I became deeply aware of this construct, this idea, this concept we call “time,” walking through the Avshalom Caves this morning in Israel. The sheer beauty of the stalactite and stalagmite structures there was in and of itself breathtaking, but to be faced with trying to grasp the time it took for these incredible structures to take shape remains beyond our understanding. When a stalactite protruding from the ceiling 30 feet about you meets a stalagmite rising from the ground, their two-ness becoming one creates a pillar or a column within the cave. One such enormous pillar was dated by scientists to be 5 million years old. When one knows that both stalagmites and stalactites are formed one slow-dripping rain drop splashing at a time, one can’t help but feel overwhelmed in front of that pillar trying to contemplate what its existence entails in terms of time. Through the eyes of this pillar time feels very different. If the pillar could see us, we would appear to him as blurry figures traveling at lightning fast speed. Our own life span would be measured by the pillar as an expression of a few hundred rain drops and then we would be gone.
This pillar was an inspiration. It taught me to slow down, to appreciate time differently; to place what seems so important to me in the context of a few hundred rain drops falling in this cave. It helped me gain perspective as it expanded my heart and mind. I remembered that time is completely subjective and needs not be our master. Perhaps these Israeli cab drivers understand something we don’t after all. Perhaps we would be better off taking a page out of their book and use our “real” time more wisely. It is one of the most precious commodities we possess.