Tag Archives: Heschel

The Tyranny (and Salvation) of the Clock

The New York Times just ran an utterly fascinating opinion piece, exploring the sociological and psychological dimensions of our battle with time and the response of procrastination. I’ve meditated quite deeply and personally on these questions and challenges for most of my existence—and the number of unfinished drafts here on WordPress and other writing ideas floating in my mind for decades are testament to the living reality of these issues in my life.

A few responses:

1) I love the phrase “passive obstructionism” as it applies to procrastination.

2) The disciplined, regimented approach to productivity—discussed and partially ridiculed in the column—while it is generally anathema to my default, relaxed style, has been a blessing to me. Since I returned to full-time work this summer—with the especially regimented schedule of a secondary school (life is measured out in eight 42-minute increments!), I have been reenergized and refocused, more productive and more fulfilled in terms of a sense of purpose. The great irony is that I’m writing this reflection while home today with a sick child and therefore not tied to the yoke of the clock. And I encountered the article that inspired this post because I was browsing Facebook more thoroughly than I have done in the last six weeks. Such browsing is a habit I have generally not missed in my new existence but I’m now aware of how I have indeed had less time for reflection and personal writing. So, an occasional release from a tight schedule can bring some good, but it’s likely the case that having such a regimen as the norm is better—for me—both for daily fulfillment and also for more productive “downtime.”

3) Many ideas here are particularly relevant during these Days of Awe, since so much of the author’s focus here is on the guilt and shame associated with procrastination and our society’s responsibility for fostering that mentality. Much to ponder there.

4) The classic rebellion against the tyranny of the clock (that predates the literary examples in the column) is an ancient gift from the Jewish tradition that comes every 7 days: SHABBAT.

May this coming Shabbat—Shabbat Shabbatonim (the Sabbath of Sabbaths), the Day of At-ONE-Ment—both allow us to escape the pain of time’s oppression and also re-empower us to embrace the peculiar miracle that is time: Let us recommit to maximize our fleeting moments in this world so that we can accomplish our greatest aspirations and fulfill our creative potential with purpose; let us recommit to interact with each other (interpersonally and societally) in a synchronized fashion that enables us to relate with others in time; let us relieve ourselves of the torment that comes both from seemingly unending deadlines but also from the shame and self-deprecation that we inflict when we believe we have “failed” to win the battles against those (often self-imposed) pressures; let us attain the wisdom to know when “getting it done now” is what matters most and also when it’s important to just be present in the moment and less focused on beating the clock. And let us allow the coming sacred day and our own work of t’shuvah (turning) make us whole once again in our messy time-bound journey through life.


“The essence of Jewish religious thinking does not lie in entertaining a concept of God but in the ability to articulate a memory of moments of illumination by His presence. Israel is not a people of definers but a people of witnesses.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel

Thanks to Jimmy Taber, one of the writers of D’var Tzedek for AJWS, who offered this citation in his post for this week, Parashat Vaetchanan: http://blogs.ajws.org/blog/2011/08/08/dvar-tzedek-parshat-vaetchanan-5771/#3

The Touch of the Divine

In my theology class this morning, I was facilitating a discussion that was building a bridge between Yehudah HaLevi’s rejection of the philosophical approach to God and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s similar effort to transcend the realm of rational speculation in theology.  One student hit upon an idea that I have distilled in the following manner, with additional commentary:

The philosophical or scientific approach to religion is trying to touch God; the truly religious or spiritual path is one of being touched by God.

I think this sums up so much of Heschel’s approach.  After all, one of his books is “God in Search of Man.”  To clarify beyond the sound-byte, Heschel definitely sees a 2-way (I-You) relationship with God in which we have an impact on the Divine, but he’s more interested in framing God as the “I” (subject) and us as the “You” (object).  He also doesn’t dismiss the philosophical or scientific approach and there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to “touch God,” by which we meant today being able to point to God, identify God — as if under a microscope.  It’s just that such “contact” is inherently objectifying and limiting and so simply isn’t enough; it therefore can’t be our chief activity in the religious enterprise.

We can also, by the way, say that the philosophers are trying to figure out the ways that God “touches” us from a sensory or rational perspective, but are not necessarily in touch (no pun intended, at least not consciously!) with how God might be touching us in a more penetrating, transforming, soulful manner.