Never Too Early, Never Too Late

On the 9th anniversary of my father’s death—

It seemed to some ancient sages that the Book of Ezekiel opens years after the start of the prophet’s career. Instead of beginning in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, some suggested that the book might better begin with Ezekiel’s call to prophesy or with God’s command that Ezekiel employ image and metaphor, the tools of the prophet. A fitting opening, they argued, would be:

Son of man! Stand on your own two feet and I will speak with you! (Ezekiel 2:1). Some say that a more fitting opening would have been, Son of man! Riddle a riddle, imagine an image for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 17:2). Why, therefore, was the first verse put in its place? It is because there is no early or late in the Torah.

(Click here for midrash in Hebrew and English)

There is no early or late in the Torah. For the sacred text, chronology is not the only framework of meaning. Torah is not only a story. The “enstoried” image is but a timely occurrence of a timeless motif. Trust the image more than the order.

The poet, Yehuda Amichai, suggests that when a life ends, early and late cease to determine meaning. A life story ends, but a life joins a larger set of images that are timeless and divine:

And every person is a dam between past and future.
When he dies the dam is broken and the past breaks through into the future
And there is no early or late. Time is one
Like our God, our time is one.
And the memory of the dam is a blessing.

(Click here for Amichai poem in Hebrew and English)

When my father died, his wallet contained $26. I found myself wondering: Where had he spent his last dollars? Did he have a plan for the money that remained? He died, the dam broke; his wallet now had no story. What remained was an image now freed from early or late. 

The money still remains in his wallet; not a tally, but an inspiration. (Ironically, the number 26 is the numerical equivalent of the Divine Name.) Every year on the anniversary of his death and on his birthday, I donate $26 to a cause of “our” choosing.

In this way, my father’s past enters our shared future.  I do not need to find myself within his story. Rather, I need to found myself upon a shared image that makes larger meaning possible.

Even in the presence of timeless images, we live and love time bound stories wherein beginnings and endings bear meaning. We do, after all, mourn the loss of a life, the breaking of the dam. The ancient question of how the Book of Ezekiel begins remains intriguing to the part of us that loves a story. Just so, I have an opinion on the matter:

Son (of man)! Stand on your own two feet! Such is a plausible beginning for a time bound story. (It also sounds like my father’s advice.) However, if there must be a beginning, I prefer:  riddle a riddle, imagine an image. Honor an image that rises beyond its story. Prize a moment and make it endlessly momentous.

For the pursuit of such meaning, it is never too early, never too late.

This entry was posted in Events, Life cycle, Memory, Midrash, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Never Too Early, Never Too Late

  1. David says:

    יישר כח, מאד יפה ומעורר השראה, כל הכבוד

  2. Mitchell Levine says:

    Steve,

    Thank you for including me on the Sicha emails. I really like your dvrei Torah. I think there is a kind of poetry to the way you weave the midrashic pieces into life experience and the modern poems. The brevity adds to the impact and I’m going to copy you in providing links to the sources – great idea!

    Mitch

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Ariele says:

    Thank you for this, Abba. It DOES sound like Grandpa’s advice! I love to know that you donate $26 each birthday and yartzheit. I find comfort in that. May Grandpa’s name be of blessed memory. I’m glad that Danyiel Reuven carries one of his names and keeps his memory within OUR time- right on time!

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