OLAM= the Jewish Emphasis on Time

1,

Eros religion ‘orients’ [harmoniously locates] itself in space, while Daemonic religion is ‘thrown’ [unceremoniously dumped] in time.

Eros religion is hostile to time, and seeks to ‘spatialise’ time. Both circle and line as pictorial representations of time are equally spatialised, because they seek to assimilate time to space, and regard time as merely a ‘succession’ of points moving around in space. Hence, it makes no real difference whether time is seen as ultimately circular, as in the ancient ‘Myth of the Eternal Return’ [Mircea Eliade, ‘Cosmos and History’, 1959]; or time ‘revolves’ in cycles [tracing repeating circular transits of space, as in the four seasons]; or, time ‘proceeds’ in a linear fashion, with past, present, future, laid out like points on a straight line, as in the modern ‘Myth of [unstoppable] Progress.’ All these spatial images misrepresent and basically falsify time, because they miss its key feature, which is not any succession of points in space, but what Henri Bergson [‘Time and Free Will’, 1910] termed ‘duration.’ Time is like a mighty river rolling head-long in a certain direction, with no disruptions, no pit stops, no pauses for reflection; and you cannot go back, you are going forward, like it or not, ready or not..

As space is inherently static [stable], so time is inherently dynamic [labile]= it is moving everything along, and the movement cannot be interrupted at any point. Nor can time itself ever be pictorially represented. We do not ‘see’, nor can we ‘visualize’, the actual ‘en-during’ that time accomplishes, linking each moment to the one that came before and to the one that will come next. The actual and very peculiar ‘unceasing’ of time, its relentless forward push, is inherently mysterious. We are thrust into this dynamic ‘ongoing stream of events’, and because we are not proof against time, so for us to endure through time is an accomplishment. To go with time, to be swept along by time, yet not be swept away by time, takes courage, and strength, and requires energy. We speak of bearing and enduring, of patiently waiting, of fortitude, persistence, resoluteness, because time, not space, is the main dimension of human existence in this world.

For the Jews, the only reliable measure of ‘repeating’ time is not astronomical, sought out in terrific cosmic spaces where cold and distant round orbs migrate, but to be found within the living warmth, in the pulsing heart-beat.

The heart lives in time.

Passion journeys and battles through time.

Everything important for the Jews, as for the Celts, is in 3s. Eros religions are binary, and go from 2 to 4, to 8, and further multiples.

In Shamanism, 3 signifies ‘danger.’

The Daemonic brings danger, and risks danger.

Time is the Reversal of the sacred geometry of Eros religions. We can only ‘belong’ to that sacred geometry, finding ourself ‘a part of it’, if we evade, suppress, escape, time. We must down play time to ‘maintain’ our experience of, and belief in, the harmony, the beauty, the luminous coherence and architectural wholeness, of sacred space.

Greeks= ontological; we contemplate being in knowledge.

Jews= existential; we trust the unknown in action.

Eros religions are always spatial in their approach to divinity, and the ‘inherent connection’ of divinity to humans and all things. Divinity is a marvelous place, and ‘everything that has being’ is another and distinct place, yet the two can be, and really are, ‘as one’; or, the two places are more differentiated, to signify they are inter-connected and inter-dependent, but not merged, rather in some kind of ‘friendly mutuality.’ Whether more totally fused, or more contrasted yet still unified, all these varying religious stand-points within Eros can be ‘personified’ in symbolic imagery that is essentially spatial. Thus: Void and Form [Buddhism, etc]; the Mandala or Cosmic Wheel [Hinduism, etc]; the Centre and Periphery of the Sacred Circle [Shamanism, etc]; Higher Realm of the Source and Lower Realm of Generation [Platonism]; Heaven Above and Earth Below [Christianity, etc]. Or, there is a space where divinity and humanity initially overlap, and humanity is no longer in the right place, but has gone out of it into a place of Exile where degeneration is inevitable [Judaism, etc].

The heart-beat in time is 3= it rises, it falls, it rises again; it is coming, it has arrived, it is gone= this is the real existential thrust of past, present, future. The heart must acknowledge each moment, let it pass, and then revive to meet the next moment.

Every significant process in time is three-fold. The dying, the tomb, the rebirth, is also 3.

The earliest trinity in the religion of the Jews is God, humanity, world. This trinity is held together by time, is ventured through time, is only fulfilled in time.

The innocent Beginning [Paradise], the fraught Middle [the Fallen world], the climactic End [the New Jerusalem and Sacred Garden, the Parousia, or, the world ends not with a bang but a whimper].

Daemonic religion is focused upon the ‘passible’ heart of humanity, in its calling to the ‘passible’ heart of the world. God, in relating to humanity and the world, works through the passible. The passible is a chance, but it must be seized hold of in time, not allowed to pass us by due to losing the time, to distraction, folly, evil. The chance= to pass through the passing to the far shore= to arrive at the destination, over the span of time, for all time.

We are not saved from time’s passing. We are called to redeem the time= to not let it pass without making the action that changes its passing, by changing the direction, and impetus, of its movement..

One of the phrases central to Hasidism is, ‘tikkun olam’= repair of the world; rectifying the world. Repair the time; rectify the time. The time, in Hebrew, implies the world. The world is where time is always passing.. The time is passing= the time you have to commit to the world, and do what only you can do to redeem the world ‘in time’, before the time to change it has passed, and the chance to change it is squandered.

The Daemonic blow sharply reminds us of urgency; focus so our action ceases being too late, and finally gets ‘on time.’

2,

‘Olam’ is Hebrew for time. It can mean a former time, as in ‘it was like this in the old time’, it used to happen in the ‘olden days’.. It can mean from ‘age to age’, and when applied to God, it means ‘from age to age without beginning and without end.’ No Greek philosopher would ascribe unending duration within time to God, rather, eternity as beyond time, contrary to time, transcending time, unsullied by the corrosive bite of time, would be ascribed to the ultimate divinity. Such eternity secured against time is not the ‘everlastingness’ of God revealed to the Jews. Translations of ‘olam’ that suggest God never changes, because of being above and outside the rigours of existential existence in time, are Greek, not Jewish, in ethos. The passion of God changes the heart of humanity, in time, and the passion of humanity changes the heart of God, in time.

‘El Olam’ is one of the most mysterious names of God, according to Jewish tradition. Indeed, it is virtually the secret name for God. The scholars who wrote this name on parchment for their students used to misspell it intentionally, by writing ‘alam’ instead of ‘olam.’ This is the Hebrew term meaning ‘the hidden’, or ‘to conceal.’ Such a mistake is not only saying God is mysterious, inscrutable, beyond human grasp, it is also saying, more subtly, that God is hidden in time, concealed in time, and must be searched out and found in time to redeem the very open-endedness of time which the Greeks feared so much that it had to be banished from the very notion of divinity. No genuine divinity can be, in any way, subject to the passing of time, or vulnerable to the variable outcomes of time.

El Olam is first used in the story of Abraham [Genesis, 21, 33]. Up until this point in time, several names for God had been revealed, including= Elohim, which among many meanings implies ‘my Creator’, or ‘the strong Creator’, the Power who has many powers in nature; El Elyon, which means ‘most high God’, or ‘sovereign over all’; El Shaddai, which means ‘mighty God’; and El Roi, which means ‘God who sees.’ El Olam means not that ‘God is timeless’, as Hellenism or a Hellenising Christianity, would prefer it, but God is dynamically present in time, and indeed, is not only the meaning or purpose, but the actual thrust, the spiritual impetus, for the movement of time, the changing of the times. This links time and the Ruach, the moving power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit moves times in their truest directionality, against demonic and human forces against this directionality, and the prophet reads the times, ‘how it is going’, and ‘where it will go’, inspired by the Spirit.

The Jewish El Olam= Everlasting God. But not ‘Eternal God’, not ‘the Unchangeable God.’ The Jewish El Olam= God of all time, from the ages to the ages, from before the beginning and going on and on endlessly after the end. Not so much ‘the God of Perpetuity’, whose dictates and plans cannot be altered, but the God without beginning and end, whose unendingness is in time, to change us and change time. Thus, El Olam is the God who is our only ‘help’ in confronting this world, and wrestling with this world, for an outcome ‘against the run of play.’

El Olam is the God of history. God of time= God of the world only lost or gained in time. It means the onward rush of time in which we are swept away or driven forward, matters more than any eternity preserved from what is ‘going on’, what is done moment after moment here and now. It also means God intervenes in time in his unknown manner [Isaiah, 40, 28], yet his commitment to time is for all time. Thus, his covenant with the Jews, and through them with the entirety of humanity, is ‘forever.’ It does not wax or wane, it is not forgotten in time, it is not a fair-weather friend to stick when things are going well and flee when things are unravelling. El Olam means God is in it for the long haul, God will see it through to the end.

Thus with Abraham God establishes the first covenant. Genesis, 17, 7= “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you through-out their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”

El Olam means God ‘remembers.’ He will remember his vow of commitment, from his unwavering passionateness of heart, to our wavering heart, whose vow of commitment struggles to meet God’s gamble and sacrifice with its own gamble and sacrifice. God does not back off, God does not weary, God remains staked to the ground of human existence, where our sweat, tears, and blood, stain the earth from which we were made. He was always staked, and he will always be staked, through all the ages of humanity, from ages to ages, olam to olam.

Indeed, the first covenant, the ‘natural covenant’, is with the creation itself. Genesis, 9, 16= “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

El Olam means God will forget what sundered us from him and sent us adrift in time, not just in the wrong space, an exile from the primal garden where we were initially placed, but ‘lost in time’, no moorings, a prisoner to evil forces, a slave to our own armouring against God so that ‘the divine force’ of passion in us loses its spark and intent, and is tempted into ways that use up the time and at the end of our life, take us nowhere and accomplish nothing, for the world.

El Olam is tacitly implied even when Moses received the personal name of God, for the mystery of divine existing revealed by Yahweh was not confined to the now, not even limited to ‘the eternal now’, but was ‘I am’ and ‘I will be.’ God has no beginning and no end, God continues. This ‘continuing’ through time, not having to ‘get out of time’ or be destroyed by its passingness, is the real power of God. This power is at work in time, and its everlasting continuing will arise wherever God goes, and will be passed on to us who lean on God for our existence. An old theological formula declares that we will acquire by grace what God is by nature. This is happening in time, long before time ends; it is by no means some deus ex machina that will ‘rescue us’ after our time runs out. Already, in this world, in this existence, redemption forges changes in us and changes in the world that are everlasting.

El Olam is particularly emphasized when David’s kingship is established as the ancestor, the root, of the coming Messiah. In 2 Samuel, 7, 16, Yahweh promises David= “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever [olam]; your throne shall be established forever.” This is really referring to the Messianic Kingdom — not some Jewish dominance over the totality of the globe — that will redeem all humanity.

Psalms, 111, 9= “He has sent redemption to his people; he has ordained his covenant forever [olam]. Holy and awesome is his name, everlasting God [olam].”

Psalms, 90, 1- 4= “Yahweh, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or you had ever formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. You turn humanity from destruction, and declare, return.. For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it has passed by, or like the watch in the night.”

Yahweh is not a dwelling space, a location, but God’s relentless continuing in time is what sustains us in our faltering continuing. We are like grass, flourishing in the morning, cut down and withered in the evening. Even our strength, which prolongs our life, is ‘labour and sorrow’, effort and pain. Soon it is cut off, and we fly away; really, we slip away, lost to time..

We should be aware of our limited time, and apply our hearts to the getting of wisdom.

Yet time will unsettle us to the last, because time is always running out, and there is not enough time to do what the heart urges we must do.

Yet, the news is not all bad, and the good news is unburied right in the midst of the worst case scenario.

Lamentations of Jeremiah, 3, 22-23= “Yahweh’s loving kindnesses never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Yahweh’s faithfulness.”

The secret of time, hidden in time, is cryptically, evocatively, tersely, alluded to by the wise king Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, 3, 10-11=

“I have seen the travail which God has given to mankind to be exercised in it. He has made everything beautiful in his time: also he has set time in mankind’s heart, to ponder its whole sweep, but mankind cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.”

Olam is set in humanity’s heart= time is set in humanity’s heart, the world is set in humanity’s heart, the mysterious everlastingness is set in humanity’s heart. This combustible trinity of forces holds the key= let them ignite, from within their tensions, and you will drive ahead.