What exactly is the comparison between time being a traitor and a scale that GRA is making?

‏והזמן בוגד והוא כמאזנים יגביה הקל וישפיל הכבד


This text of the Gra (Elijah of Vilna) is from his last will. It is brought in the collection of Israel Abraham's 'Hebrew Ethical Wills' (vol. 2 p. 313). He translates it as follows:

Time deceives, resembling a balance which raises the light and lowers the heavy

My understanding of the aphorism is: With his use of time the "light" (swift, diligent) is "lifted" - he acts and accomplishes. The "heavy" (passive, idle) is "weighed down" by time - he squanders the moment.

Note: The Gra probably borrowed this from Abraham Hisdai's Ben Ha-melech Ve-ha'nazir (ibid, ch. 5). There, its form is somewhat different:

הזמן הרע עם בני הנבלים. בדמותם למאזנים אשר ירימו החסרים וישפילו השלמים היתרים. ואמר המשורר... כמאזנים מרימים החסרים ומשפילים עדי ארץ שלמים

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  • 1
    +1 for finding the source, but I think הזמן is used in the sense of "fate," not with how a person spends his time. It often has that meaning in Hebrew poetry from the Middle Ages and later. – b a Jul 2 '18 at 8:30
  • @ba If it were "fate" how would you translate the aphorism? – Oliver Jul 2 '18 at 13:02
  • I have no problem with your translation. I was only commenting on the paragraph in which you wrote your understanding of it. My understanding would give the sentence the sense of Psalms 75:8 – b a Jul 2 '18 at 14:55
  • @ba Forgive me, but I don't quite follow. Indeed "zman" is used sometimes as "fate" but in our case (a lesson common in medieval poetry) I believe the poet(s) were specifically conveying a lesson on "time" and not fate as illustrated by the context in BHV. No? – Oliver Jul 2 '18 at 15:35
  • I only read the immediate context, but it seems to me to clearly be referring to the fortune of the wicked and misfortune of the righteous. My reading of the poem is: Time lifts up the violent and causes the righteous to fall; like scales, it lifts up the deficient and lowers the whole. Do you understand it differently? – b a Jul 2 '18 at 15:56

Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lipkovitz explains in his commentary (see last page here), that 'light' refers to one who conducts themselves humbly will be risen, similar to one who runs away from honor. 'Heavy' refers to one who shows themselves to be very honorable will be lowered.

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