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The Jewish concepts of time

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Kabbalah of Time: Teachings on the Inexistence of God
By Rabbi Nilton Bonder, Tr. by Diane Grosklaus Whitty, Trafford Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4269-1869-8, $9.95, pp. 184.

by Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

WINCHESTER, California–Ask a classical physicist about the nature of time, and you might get the response that time is the independent variable of all physical equations. A quantum physicist might tell you that at the subatomic level time is reversible, and relativistic physicists could say that the length of an interval of time is relative to the motion of the observer.

The famous eleventh century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who aligned Judaism with Aristotelian thinking similar to the way Thomas Aquinas united the philosophy of Aristotle with Christianity taught that the universe is unchanging and eternal. Maimonides proposed that God created the universe from nothing. He argued that matter and time came into existence at the moment of creation. Today, cosmologists believe in the Big-Bang Theory. For them, before the moment of the “Big Bang”, time did not exist.

There is a story told about the Baal Shem Tov. One Friday afternoon, the Baal Shem Tov was travelling home from a far off city on his horse and wagon. He soon realized that he would not make it home by the start of the Sabbath, a time when neither he nor his horse could do any work. Therefore, the Rabbi uttered a prayer allowing the time of the Sabbath to come to his left, his right, and behind him. However, the prayer suspended the start of the Sabbath in front of him until he arrived home.

The Kabbalah of Time, by Rabbi Nilton Bonder, is a book about our conception of time. Based on the rabbinic assertion (the concatenation of Psalm 97:1, Psalm 93:1, and Ex. 15:18) that “The Lord is king, the Lord was king, the Lord will be king forever and ever”, Bonder concludes that there are four dimensions to time: past, present, future, and eternity. Everything that has form, both the animate and inanimate, is subjected to time. God, however, is formless, and not subjected to time. Therefore, God is “Everlasting.”

Bonder continues his argument that since we are created in God’s image, we are part of eternal time, and can understand how we fit into eternity. The hint of this idea, according to Bonder, is the expression “And God saw that it was good”, which is uttered at the end of each creative act, except on the sixth day where God called the day “very good.” On this day God created all animate life. The following day God rested. The idea of rest implies sleep,  euphemism for death. For Bonder, the expression “very good”, and the fact that God rested means that there is an eternal time, and we have a place in eternity.

The Five Books of Moses are not meant to be an historical accounting, or a manual of religious laws and ritual behaviors. The Five Books of Moses, which Bonder says can be summed up in the books of Genesis and Exodus, are “meant solely as an introduction to, or map of, the divine.” Thus, he translates the Hebrew word Torah, as “path” or “way”, which leads us to an understanding of God’s name, that is, God’s essence.

God discloses two names about Himself in the Book of Exodus. In the first revelation, God says to Moses, Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, meaning, “I will be that which I will be” (Ex. 3:14). This statement contains the verb “to be” and a dimension of time—the future. The second is the Tetragrammaton, YHVH (Ex. 6:2-3). This word is composed of the Hebrew present-tense verb “to be”, HVH, combined with the Hebrew prefix, Y, which implies the future tense. Bonder interprets these to mean that God is “the one who pushes the Present towards the Future.”

The greatest roadblock to understanding God is our limited grasp of time. To this end, Bonder distinguishes between the scientific and impersonal concepts of past, present, and future and the personal constructs of Before (birth), Now, and After (death). For us, time moves sequentially and linearly. We exist in the present, which passes in an instant. Then it becomes the past—irretrievably lost, and the future directly ahead. For God in the supernal world, there are no such things as time. Higher time is eternal time. The past, present and future co-exist simultaneously.
Bonder tries to link the four dimensions of time to the Jewish mystical concepts of the four elements and the four worlds. This is not successfully accomplished. The Kabbalah of The Kabbalah of Time is not a revelation of secret wisdom divulged to Moses on Mt. Sinai and transmitted covertly through the generations. Rather, it is an exegesis on the theological and personal implications of combining the notions of a God shapeless in form and eternal in time. Readers predisposed to the belief in an afterlife might come away with personal insights about how an understanding of the Before and mastery of the Now can lead the Me to the doorways of the Everlasting and a connection with the eternal God.

Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of  Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

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