Let us continue our exploration of community. In most definitions of community, two concepts are central to our understanding: time and space, specifically the present and public. It is difficult to envision community without the presence of others (the very definition of public) or that we are in the presence of others in the present.
Let us begin with space, particularly the public space. The most common uses of the term “public” are a space accessible to all members of a community and an organized body of people. The most obvious thing of note is both definitions involve an aspect of community. Community and public are almost synonymous. Of particular interest to us in a Jewish discussion of community is the idea of public as a space accessible to all members of a community. When Jews are in a public, especially ritual, space, we say we are standing with all of Israel. And we say, we mean ALL!
The perfect tenses are not present in Hebrew. No past perfect, no present perfect, no future perfect. Aside from the obvious advantage of three less conjugations for students of Hebrew to learn, the implication of no perfect tenses in a language is profound. The perfect tense allows to conceive of a point in time when actions are completed. Without perfect tenses, actions are continuous: there is no point in time (past, present, or future) at which the action is completed. Think about it. An action begun in the past, because we cannot identify when in the past in ended, may still be going on in the present. More importantly, an action, regardless of when it began, will never be completed; it will be forever ongoing. The absence of perfect tenses in a language permits a concept of time not as creating boundaries but rather as time as borders.
The fluidity of time is evident in many holiday rituals. Many of these rituals are designed to not only remind us of the past but also to experience the past in the present. For example, at the opening of the Passover Seder, a small child asks why we do all of the rituals of Passover, such as reclining, dipping twice (that’s dipping two separate things two separate times, NOT double dipping), eating while reclining, and eating only matzah. The answer to these four questions is,
ּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְהֹוָה לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם
“It is because of that which HaShem did for me when I came forth out of Egypt” (Shemot 13:8) [emphasis added].
Notice the verse does not say, “It is because of what HaShem did for our ancestors.” We are commanded to include ourselves in the Exodus from Egypt. Many Rabbis have commented that we include ourselves in the Exodus in order to participate in the redemptive act. But, that participation redemption is made possible only if we truly are counted as present at the time of the Exodus. Jewish tradition, and its language, make that presence possible.
This is one example of “Jewish Time.” There are many others. What is important here is the result of this community that exists across generations and times. By counting ourselves among all of Israel, we have access to mythology, archetypes and motifs of Judaism. However, unlike the collective unconscious as conceived by Jung as innate and below the detection of the conscious mind, Jewish ritual practice instructs and makes directly available to us this datum. We then can describe Judaism as having a collective conscious.
Jews live co-temporaneously in the present, past, and the future. We have direct access, through repeated ritual practice, to the archetype-layer accumulated over millennia. Israel is a community unstuck in time.