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Originally published January 3, 2014 at 4:59 PM | Page modified January 3, 2014 at 6:01 PM

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Filling mysteries of the future with lessons of the past

The past overflows with memories, while the future is but a blank slate, waiting to be filled with whatever we put there.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Faith & Values

OK, folks, now that we’re into the New Year, it’s time for a little schedule planning, Jewish style.

Do you have your 2014 calendar in front of you? My guess is that most of it is pretty blank. Oh, you may have your next dentist appointment there, perhaps some monthly book-group meetings, and maybe even a nice vacation.

But the majority of it, I’m guessing, is blank. Next summer? Blank. Most Thursdays? Blank. Thanksgiving? Blank except for the pale gray word, “Thanksgiving.” If you’re like most of us, your 2014 calendar is still wide, wide open.

Now, please turn back to your 2013 calendar.

This one’s much fuller, isn’t it? In fact, I’d be willing to bet it’s slathered with appointments, engagements and activities of all kinds. Plus, now, having lived through that year, I imagine you could give that calendar a color commentary that would put John Madden to shame. Your trip to Leavenworth last May? Beautiful. That last staff meeting at work? Boring! The place where you and your friend ate lunch a few weeks ago? Delicious!

The past overflows with memories, while the future is but a blank slate, waiting to be filled with whatever we put there.

What connects future and past, of course, is the present — and here’s where Judaism comes in.

If you would, please point to the present — to “now” — on your calendar.

No, don’t point to “today,” point to “now.” You folks with the monthly grids, what you’re pointing to is “today.” But today lasts 24 hours; now is far briefer. Ah, I see that you with computerized calendars are switching from month- to day-view — but I’m afraid that you won’t find “now” there, either. You might find hours or minutes, but they, too, consist of nows too numerous to count.

I’ll confess. My request was a trick. In truth, there is no “now.” There’s a “this hour” and a “today” and a “this month,” but these are segments of time. “Now” is simply the meeting point of past and future. And even if you could put your finger on it, once you did, “now” would be gone.

Judaism recognizes that the present doesn’t exist, and that without it, all that remains for us to use in future-building are our memories.

In Jewish worship, when we pray for a better world, we do so by recalling our rescue at the Red Sea — just as God rescued us from our enemies, so, too, do we hope God will soon save all humanity from all that makes us suffer.

In Judaism, the Garden of Eden was not only home to our earliest ancestors, it’s our dream of what the world can be for our descendants. Our Passover Seders celebrate the Exodus from Egypt while urging us to work as God’s partners in building a future free from slavery and oppression everywhere.

In Judaism, we strive to fill the mysteries of the future with the lessons of the past.

No, I’m afraid you’re never going to find “now” on your calendar. But in what came before it, you can find a history that is rich, eventful and very, very instructive.

Use it as you plan for 2014. Find heroes in your past. Recall your glories and ecstasies, your pain and your despair, bliss after bliss after bliss.

Remember that the best way to plan ahead is to look back, and it is from the fullness of what was that you can learn how best to face the challenge of what will be.

For now, with memories abounding and hope renewed, let’s put our calendars away, take a bold look forward and have a great 2014.

Happy New Year.

Rabbi Mark S. Glickman leads Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville. Readers may send feedback to

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About Rabbi Mark Glickman

Rabbi Mark S. Glickman leads Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville.

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