21st Elul - nothing is so precious as time

Yom Kippur is no longer a day simply of general and ritual atonement. It is a day for us to restructure our lives, to reconcile our realities with our requirements. Loud and clear through the prayers comes the reminder – we are mortal, we, and those around us do not have all the time in the world, and so if there are things we want to do, we should be planning to do them now, if there are things we need to change, we should be arranging to change them now, if there are things we want to say, we should be saying them now.

Nothing is so precious as time, nothing is so consistently abused. We waste time, we kill time, we fill in time – rarely do we actually use time appropriately. Yet our tradition has been able to transform a day of communal awe and professional ritual activity, and give it to us in a new form – personal time for us to spend reconciling and reconstructing the lives we are living with the lives we already know we could be living.


As a community rabbi I have sat and listened so many times to the laments which begin ‘if only’, I have witnessed the rapprochements which have sometimes come too late, I have heard the stories of fractured relationships which have entailed years of lost possibilities; I have met broygas individuals who are determined that the other person should make the first move towards reconciliation – sometimes about an argument the reason for which is lost in history. We don’t tend to use the word ‘sin’ for such behaviours, but surely to fail to make or maintain relationships in this way is one of the biggest sins we currently commit. We all live within the constraints of time, we all know what is truly important to do in that time, yet most if not all of us regularly fail to acknowledge that we should be making our priorities so that when the time runs out – be it our own time in this world or the time of a loved one – we have done what was important and responded appropriately, addressing the most meaningful issues of our lives rather than reacting to what is presented as the most urgent.


Sylvia Rothschild London and Milan LBC 1987