A Time for Everything

Whether because of COVID-19 or due to governmental reaction to the virus, these past months have provided a stark message to the world that many things are outside our control. Businesses have failed no matter how hard their owners labored; people have fallen ill no matter how many health foods they consumed, and political currents have destroyed cities no matter how decent the people who live there.

Imagine a baby newly aware of his ability to deliberately move his arms, hands and feet. Lying on a blanket near a window, he sees that each time he waves his arms, the leaves outside the window dance. Delighted with this power, he repeats his gestures. Suddenly, the leaves stay rigidly still and our baby bursts into tears. Unbeknownst to him, the leaves were responding to an autumn wind, not to his machinations.

There are things in this world that we can influence and other things that we cannot. One of the secrets to sanity and happiness is recognizing the difference.

The world-record for the biggest-selling popular song with the oldest lyrics belongs to The Byrds’ rendition of Turn, Turn, Turn from 1965, containing words from the third chapter of King Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes. This book, Kohelet in Hebrew, is read during the holyday of Sukot each year, a joyous week that we are currently celebrating. It contains a credible explanation for our mystery.

A time to be born         And a time to die

      A time to plant             And a time to pluck…

(Kohelet 3:2)

The seven verses of Ecclesiastes we are examining (3:2—3:8) contain twenty-eight events for which “there is a time.”  Some events are under our individual control. Other times, we can only respond to events in our world.  By scrutinizing each verse from the perspective of strong individual control, we find that verses (3:2—3:4) deal with events in our lives where we need to follow external triggers.  Verses (3:5—3:7) deal with events under our control.

In Kohelet 7:8, Solomon provided the clue to the pattern he followed:

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…

This verse tells us to look at the end of the section we are studying for a clue.

A time to love         And a time to hate

A time for war       And a time for peace

(Kohelet 3:8)

This verse contains both types of events. Loving and hating are decisions made by each of us.  Whether our nation is at war or peace lies outside our personal choice.  King Solomon teaches that our lives contain both kinds of events and we need to learn to distinguish between them.

Fatalistic people deem everything in life to ‘just happen’ so they attempt little and achieve less. Foolish people imagine they can control every aspect of their lives and fritter away their time and energy fighting reality. Those of us who follow King Solomon’s guidance recognize that while everything is ultimately in God’s control, we must spend our time and efforts on those things our endeavors are likely to impact while adapting to and accepting those things the wind blows our way.

It is always the right time for Biblical wisdom
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Updated and reprinted from 2012

12 thoughts on “A Time for Everything”

  1. Timely words and insight. I never noticed that some of these verses were about things out of my control and the other about things I can control. I’m working at the latter right now and trusting a loving God with the former. Today I’m relating to v3(b)“… a time to tear down and a time to build…..” but I’m trying to understand if these two things are in or out of my control? Or do you think it’s possible that this verse is a combination of being in and out of my control?
    Thank you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Brea–
      No, not a combination. It is actually just as we explained. Those things are very much in your control but they are triggered, not by your choice but by external circumstances. You might find yourself in a difficult situation in which the absolute best thing is to walk away from all you’ve built and start all over again. Few have the courage to do so. Solomon teaches that though you didn’t choose to be in this situation, it is now time to break down and rebuild.
      Hope that helps.

  2. Cristina Almanzar

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Could you advise parents to protect our children during this technological age? There is so much information coming at once and what boundaries and limits as parents we set to protect them. Please talk about the difference when a parent should be authorial vs liberal/coach for our children.

  3. I love these words of wisdom. I was at the lowest point in my life when these words literally lifted a heavy Biden from my shoulders. I place all things in the hands of God and pray for his will in all things.

    My life, as I had known it had ended. All of the things I had counted on, the people who I cared about most, and a future I had deemed certain were all taken away. Yet, when these ancient words of wisdom came to me, it was as if I had been lost in the darkest valley and a beacon of life illuminated a path of hope and life.

    Many of your thought tools have helped me to look more often to God and His word. Thank you Rabbi!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      I am saddened that you are encountering stormy waters, Nate,
      and I pray that this 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes continues to provide you with signposts back to tranquility.

  4. Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin- thank you for sharing your ancient Jewish wisdom on these verses. I have always thought Ecclesiastes was a difficult book to understand and that it was mysterious and somber. Thank you for sharing the clues you have discovered. It is encouraging to be reminded from the wise king Solomon that God wants us to focus on what we can control and not merely be a tennis ball floating down the gutter of life.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Cassie–
      Wonderful to hear from you and read your uplifting letter including my favorite admonition to never be tennis balls floating down the gutter of life. One small correction–We never ‘discovered’ the clues you thank us for sharing. No, we’re not that smart. Neither are we arrogant enough to publish anything we discovered. How could we know if it is reliable? No, what we teach is what has been passed down as part of the vast enterprise known as ancient Jewish wisdom which we were privileged to have been taught.

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