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The Neurology of Time

The Neurology of Time


On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die . . . who shall rest, and who shall wander . . . who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise . . .

From the Musaf prayer for
Rosh Hashanah

“It’s all in the head” is a fairly accurate description of every person’s reality. If you stub your toe, the event has significance to you only because it has been detected by your brain; if you cry out in pain, it is only because your brain has so chosen to so react to the experience. Everything you sense, know and feel relates to the universe between your ears; any action you take is first conceived, considered and executed inside the head.

And whatever occurs within the head has a profound effect upon the external person: an injury to the brain, G‑d forbid, or the alteration of its chemical constitution, will affect the function and behavior of the body, even if there is no discernible change in the external organ or limb. Neurologists have even learned to evoke certain external responses, or improve the function of a certain faculty, by stimulating the corresponding area of the brain.

What is true of the human being is also true of another of G‑d’s creations: time. Time, too, has a body and a brain, a persona and a mind.

We are accustomed to regarding time as a string of segments: second follows second, hour follows hour, Monday follows Sunday. Special days—Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Passover—each have their place in the sequence of days and months portrayed by our calendar, preceded and followed by the “ordinary” days that separate them. This, however, is a most perfunctory perception of time, just as a description of the human body in purely physical terms—hair, skin, bone, blood, flesh, sinew and brain tissue classified solely by their spatial juxtaposition to each other—is a most superficial vision of man.

Time is a complex organism whose various organs and faculties interact with each other, each fulfilling its individual function and imparting its effect upon the whole. G‑d created the whole of time—every age, millennium, century, year and second of it—as a single, multifaceted body. It is only that we, finite and temporal creatures that we are, encounter its “limbs,” “organs” and “cells” one at a time, regarding the past as passed because we have passed through it, and the future as yet to be because we have yet to experience it.

Just as time, as a whole, consitutes a integral organism, so it is with the various time-bodies—the day, the week, the month, the year, etc.—designed by the Creator of time as distinct components of the universal time-body. Each of these has its own “head,” a neurological center which generates, processes and controls the stimuli and experiences of its “body.”

So if we learn to be sensitive to the structure of time, we can transcend the “sequential” timeline of our lives. If, upon entering the “head” of a particular time-body, we imbue it with a certain quality and stimulate its potential in a certain way, we can profoundly affect the days and experiences of that entire time-body, whether they lie in our “future” or our “past.”

Forty-Eight Hours

The two days of Rosh Hashanah, the “Head of the Year,” are forty-eight hours that embody an entire year.

On Rosh Hashanah we recommit ourselves to our mission in life, reiterating Adam’s crowning of G‑d as king of the universe—a commitment that becomes the foundation for our service of G‑d throughout the year. Rosh Hashanah also commences the “Ten Days of Teshuvah” which culminate in Yom Kippur, days for soul-searching and undertaking new initiatives; resolutions made on these “neurological” days of the year are far more effective—having stimulated the brain, the body readily follows suit. On Rosh Hashanah we also pray for life, health and sustenance for the year to come, for this, the head of the year, is the day on which the deeds of man are weighed and his sustenance for the year allotted by the supernal Judge and Provider.

It’s all in the head. On Rosh Hashanah we enter into the mind of the year; our every thought, word and deed on this day resonates throughout its entire body.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
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Michèle Toussaint Nancy, France September 13, 2012

Time as an organism This text is a precious help to enjoy the very special taste of our own life. Reply

aubrey jacobus London, Not USA or Canada September 12, 2012

Rosh Hashona On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die .

Always puzzled me as to how this dictum can be reconciled with "free will" - It suggests predestination which makes us puppets Reply

Valerie Beverly hills, Ca via September 12, 2012

Beautiful Thank you for this article Reply

Felipe Grytz Sao Paulo, SP/ Brasil September 11, 2012

A very helpful text! Thanks. Reply

Michelle uk September 11, 2012

thanks i was blessed by reading this today may all those who visit chabad be further blessed also. Reply

R Narz Saskatoon September 9, 2012

Makes sense to me, there are events of ten years ago which seem like yesterday and events of last year which seem like a century ago. Reply

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