Timing is of the Essence

by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – January 12, 2012

In the Torah section of Sh’mot (Sh’mot 2:1), we read, “A man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi.  The woman conceived and gave birth to a son.”  Our Sages identify this man and woman as Amram and his then 130 year old wife Yocheved (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12a).

In one of his homiletical discourses, as cited in Ma’ayana shel Torah, R. Yaakov Krantz, known as the Dubnow Maggid (1741-1804), points out a peculiar matter regarding the aforementioned verse.  Why does the Torah place so little emphasis on Yocheved’s giving birth at the age of 130 whereas so much is made of her great grandmother Sarah giving birth at 90?

In explaining this apparent paradox, R. Krantz, as was his custom, provided a parable: Two paupers once met by happenstance and began to discuss a certain city where each had attempted to collect charity from.  One spoke of the city’s residents highly, considering them very gracious and charitable.  However, the other vehemently protested, insisting that the residents were “cheapskates,” and pointing out that he was unable to collect much of anything from them.  As they spoke, it became clear that the first had visited the city on Purim, a time that Jews everywhere contribute to the poor, while the other had visited the city on a regular and dismal weekday.

Similarly, here in Egypt, R. Krantz continued, when the birth process in general was miraculous, as our Sages assert (Sh’mot Rabbah 1:8), Israelite women giving birth to six healthy children at a time on a regular basis, an occurrence such as Yocheved’s birth at the age of 130 did not stand in as much contrast.  On the other hand, in Sarah’s time, when nature was otherwise operating normally, her giving birth at the advanced age of 90 was cause for mention.

We see, therefore, that the magnitude of what occurs is not always contingent upon the act per se but may be dependent on the timing of the action.  Timing is of the essence.  Often the impact that an action may have can be sorely reduced if not timed properly, whereas an act performed at the opportune time can leave lasting results.