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Chanukah Menorah – the River of Time

In a Kabbalistic meditation on lighting Chanukah Menorah, the Arizal links the menorah lights with a supernal river (see Candle on the River). The Arizal’s principal disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, writes in Shaar HaKavanot, Inyan Chanukah: One should meditate on the idea that the initials of the words ‘…l'hadleek ner Chanukah [to light the Chanukah candle]’ are the holy name called ‘Nachal’.” It is easy to see that the first letters of  “l'hadleek ner Chanukah” are three letters, Lamed (L), Nun (N), and Chet (Ch). Rearranged, these letters spell the word NaChaL – a stream or a small river. As I wrote in my essay “On the Nature of Time and the Age of the Universe” and more recently in the post “Joseph—the Master of Time,” a river has been the metaphor for time across many cultures. Does [...]

Biblical Relativity

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years... (Gen. 23:1) Why did Esther merit to rule over 127 countries? Said God: “Let Esther, the descendant of Sarah who lived 127 years, come and rule over 127 lands. (Esther Rabbah 1:8) The Midrash Ester Rabbah compares 127 years of Sarah’s life with 127 provinces that Esther ruled. How can one compare time with space? When the Midrash says that Adam gifted 70 years of his life to his descendant, King David, it’s understandable – a year for a year. But a year for a province? What’s the connection? Hermann Minkowski When, in 1905, Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity, it was nothing short of a scientific revolution. For the first time, Einstein showed [...]

Shabbat Bereshit – Past, Present, and Future

In the last post, Tishrei—Past, Present, and Future, we discussed how all Tishrei holidays – Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah – are connected by the same thread of time and, more specifically, the unification of past, present, and future. This cluster of Tishrei holidays is culminated and concluded with Shabbat Bereshit, when we start the new annual cycle of reading the Torah. Not surprisingly, Shabbat Bereshit follows the same pattern of unification of past, present, and future. The Torah starts with the creation of the world. The story of Creation, obviously, relates to the past. The word “bereshit,” means, in the beginning. The root of “bereshit" is “reshit” – beginning. Beginning, however, points into the future – to something that will follow the beginning in the future. The Lubavitcher [...]

Tishrei—Past, Present, and Future

The months of Tishrei is full of holidays, and they all share a common theme—the unification of time—past, present, and future. Picart, Blowing of the Shofars on Rosh Hashanah It all starts with Rosh HaShanah. Traditionally translates as the New Year, it literally means the Head of the Year. The word shanah has the same letters as the word shinui — “change.” As Aristotle famously wrote, time is change. The sages of Kabbalah agree—time in its essence is change. Thus, Rosh HaShanah can be translated as the Head of Time, or Beginning of Time (since a related Hebrew word, reshit means “beginning”). Indeed, it is all about time. Rosh HaShanah has three main themes—Zichronot (remembrances), Shofrot (Sounds of the Shofar), and Kabalat Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of the yoke of the [...]

Tisha B’Av on Shabbat – A Relativistic Perspective

Yesterday was the 9th day of the month of Av or, in Hebrew, Tisha B’Av. Usually, Tisha B’Av is marked by mourning and fasting. Yesterday, however, we ate festive meals, drank wine and were prohibited from fasting or displaying any signs of mourning. Because yesterday was Shabbat. Shabbat pushes off the observances of Tisha B’Av by a day. Indeed, today, Sunday, we fast and mourn the destruction of the First and the Second Holy Temple  – Bet Hamikdash – in Jerusalem, we remember the Holocaust and many other tragedies that befell the Jewish people. Why couldn’t we observe Tisha B’Av on Shabbat? After all, that was the day when on the 9th of Av, both Temples were destroyed! The simple explanation, of course, is that on Shabbat there is no mourning. On Shabbat, [...]

Passover Seder—The Arrow of Time

The Passover Seder is called seder, i.e., "order" not without a reason. It is a highly structured and orchestrated ceremony that follows the ancient script—Passover Haggadah. The Seders is a play in four acts: Kiddush (sanctification), Magid (telling the story of the Exodus), Shulchan Orech (the festive meal), and Nirtzah (Hallel—the prayer for the Messianic redemption). This sequence sets the natural arrow of time past-present-future. The Past. During the Magid part of the Seder, we retell the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt—the narrative of our history. Eating of the matzah, drinking four cups of wine and other "simonim" (symbols) of the Seder table—bitter herbs, an egg, a bone, charoset, etc.—are all symbols that have historical significance. This part of the Seder clearly represents the past. The Present. During [...]

By |2019-04-14T16:45:56-04:00March 30th, 2018|Passover (Pesach), Time, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Joseph—the Master of Time

The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker.  He ingeniously interpreted ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time (Interpreting Dreams). Even greater insight was Joseph’s understanding that the engagement in time, manifested by the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand, symbolized life for the chief butler. And, conversely, the passivity of the chief baker, who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets, symbolized the opposite of life. Girolamo Brusaferro (Venice C. 1684 - C. 1760) Joseph Interpreting the Dreams In the Torah portion Miketz (Gen. 41:1-44:17), this story is followed by [...]

Three-and-a-half Hakafot — Topology of Simchat Torah

Why is this night different from all other nights, asks a child on the Seder night. On this Simchat Torah I asked a different question—why is the day different from the night? Indeed, on the night of Simchat Torah, we dance seven hakafot-circuits. However, during the morning service of the next day, we only dance three-and-a-half hakafot. What is the meaning of this number—three and a half? There are a few instances the Torah, Talmud, and Rabbinic instances where this number is mentioned (e.g., during the Gaonic period, c. 590–1000 CE, in some communities in the Land of Israel, the Torah reading cycle was completed in three and a half years; Maimonides rules that only half of the tzitzit string should be dyed blue leaving three and a half strings white), but none of them [...]

Five Worlds

Today, Yud Shvat, is the yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, a.k.a. the Rebbe Rayatz, or the Frierdiker Rebbe. On the day of his yartzeit, it is customary to study his last maamar (Chassidic discourse), Basi LeGani. One of the themes expounded in the first chapter of this discourse is the concepts of four worlds: Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah (collectively referred to as ABYA). Actually, in Kabbala and Chassidic philosophy, we speak of five worlds and the “world,” which precedes Atzilut is call Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man, often referred to by its acronym as the A”K). In this post, I will draw a parallel between these spiritual worlds and stages of the creation of our physical world. Why do that? It is axiomatic in Jewish mysticism [...]

Fractal Patterns in the Torah

In the Torah portion Emor (Leviticus 21:1–24:23), we are instructed to abstain from work every seventh day on Shabbat. Next week’s Torah portion, Behar, continues this theme and instructs us to abstain from agricultural work every seventh Sabbatical year, Shmita. And the Torah doesn’t stop there. It instructs us to count seven Shmitas and then observe a Jubilee, Yovel. Do you notice a pattern? Every seven days, every seven years, every seven Shmitas… Furthermore, the Midrash states the world will exist for seven thousand years with the seventh millennium being a thousand years of the kingdom of Mashiach (Messiah)—yom shekuloy Shabbat—one long Shabbat. A second-century sage, Rabbi Huniah ben HaKanah, interprets this Midrash to mean that the world will last seven Cosmic Shmitas, i.e., 49 thousand years (which, according to a prominent 13th–14th [...]

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