The Time of Your Life

Similar advertisements abound, but this one took the cake.

I’ve always been simultaneously amused and saddened by pitches for “high-end timepieces,” more accurately known as overpriced wristwatches.

Amused, because the most intricate Swiss movements consisting of scores, if not hundreds, of near-microscopic moving parts are no better (and often worse) at keeping accurate time than simple quartz or digital watches available for less than a thousandth the price. And saddened, by the thought that there are actually people out there whose self-image is so fragile (and whose understanding of money’s worth is so distorted) that they actually waste large amounts of cash for such status symbols.

Enter now, in the ad I saw, the French luxury goods house Hermès. It is presenting marks—pardon, discerning fashion-conscious folks—with the opportunity to purchase a truly revolutionary timepiece, one that can… make time stand still.

This is not a joke, or at least it’s not being presented inaccurately. The ad copy, in its entirety, reads:

La montre Hermès reinvents time and set it to the tempo of your desires.

Press on the pushbutton and suspend time.

Beneath the dial, time continues to run within the heart of the mechanism.

Another push on the button sets the date and hands running again.

Time resumes its march, and you the course of your day.

This exclusive Hermès Calibre is a world première.

In other words, this amazing watch, “Le Temps Suspendu,” allows its wearer to pretend that time has ground to a halt (or that his watch is broken). Now of course, the owner of so well-adorned a wrist could as easily opt to just not look at his watch and imagine the same. But let’s not rain on this magical thinking (particularly since the ad says nothing about the timepiece being waterproof).

And, perhaps most amazing of all, this wondrous machine can be yours for a mere $17,150. (The steel version, that is. The pink gold one will set you back $36,200.)

Consumer gullibility and the sometimes lack of correspondence between wealth and mental acuity are easy targets. What’s interesting here is the appeal to the fantasy, as the ad copy puts it, of setting time “to the tempo of your desires.” Of “suspend[ing] time” until you allow it to “resume its march.”

Now there is nothing wrong with taking time to relax and let what one is doing momentarily fade out of focus (at least if one isn’t driving or operating heavy machinery). Research has even indicated that doing so occasionally not only does not harm productivity but actually boosts it. No less an authority than Rashi, at the very beginning of Sefer Vayikra [Leviticus] (1:1), notes the importance of allowing “revach bein had’veikim”—“space” for reflection between responsibilities.

For that matter, taking even a longer period of time “off” to relieve the toll taken by relentless routine, is not a wrong thing. In fact, there are times when it is precisely the right thing.

But all such digressions, at least from a Jewish perspective, should be conscious utilizations of time, not some imagining that time has been put on hold. King Solomon tells us Bechol drachecha da’ehu – “In all your paths, acknowledge Him” (Mishlei [Psalms] 3:6). What that means, works of Jewish mussar, or ethical philosophy, explain, is that undertaking even mundane actions with the intent to have them indirectly serve a higher purpose renders them holy. One can retire for the night with the sole thought “I’m bushed” or with an attendant one: “By going to sleep, I will better be able, because of the rejuvenation afforded me, to more energetically do meaningful things tomorrow.” One can sublimate most anything, from eating to bathing to vacationing, from self-serving acts to Creator-serving ones.

But that is qualitatively different from imagining that to pretend that time is standing still is to somehow accomplish that effect.

Every moment of life—whether used to actually do good or to better prepare oneself for doing good—counts, and presents itself to each of us but once. And it’s self-deluding, even dangerous, to imagine that actually wasting time, setting it “to the tempo of your desires,” represents some sort of achievement.

Because in the end, as even the ad is forced to acknowledge, “beneath the dial, time continues to run…”

© 2012 Rabbi Avi Shafran

“It’s All in the Angle,” a collection of selected essays by Rabbi Shafran recently published by Torah Temimah Publications, is available from Judaica Press.

(Communications: rabbiavishafran42@gmail.com)

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