Rabbi Shefa Gold
Time, Space, Shabbat, Galut and IsraelShefa Gold
When I asked a group of 8-year-old Hebrew school students, "What is the most important question that you have about Judaism?", one boy responded, "Why does everyone want to kill us?" The whole class nodded in perplexity.
The question is asked again and again as we encounter persecution, as we remember martyrs, as we try to understand our history. What was the cause of this tragedy or that? What were the factors that led up to it ? How could it have been prevented? Was it deserved? Why? What is the meaning of this suffering?
Sometimes I avoid the question. Sometimes I am paralyzed or numbed by it. As every attempt to answer falls short, the question deepens, changes forms, or perhaps becomes the fuel for sadness, cynicism or courage. What I have noticed about these attempts to answer the question is that they all try to explain events in terms of what has preceded them. History looks back and understands the "causes" which have produced the "effects". These attempts and the methodology that they represent are often brilliant, insightful and thorough (in terms of that methodology), and yet they do not suffice. The question remains ....
This failure of history is based on a certain understanding of Time. Time moves forward. The past causes the present. The present causes the future. When we want to know why something is the way it is, we look to the past that formed it. And through an historical consciousness, we see present circumstances as forming our future. Since this strategy has so often proved unsuccessful in explaining events to me, I am challenged to re-examine the foundation on which that strategy is based, namely our concept of Time.
Immanuel Kant, in his Prolegamena to a Future Metaphysics, suggests that Time is a construct of the mind that allows us to order the world and thus experience reality by laying it out in consecutive moments. Imagine all moments coexisting at once. My experience with both meditation and psychedelics confirms the fact that the mind is capable of different, equally valid models of Time, and that the consciousness that we term "normal" is only one of many. Suppose we accept Kant's thesis and suspend our ordinary understanding of the flow of Time.
Even though the language of cause and effect seems inadequate....from this standpoint outside the course of Time, couldn't the future be as much as a "cause" as the past?
The truth of this suggestion shines out to me through the microcosm of my life. I see that my own experience of suffering (physical and emotional), has offered me the possibility of becoming more compassionate and wise. If I step outside of the construct of time, would it be true to say that the impetus for the growth of compassion "caused" my personal suffering (in collusion with the World-out-there)?
From that perspective, the answer to the boy