Einstein & Torah at Aleph Beta
Thinking about Time & Space
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
This month’s Producer’s Circle audio is unlike any other we’ve sent out in the past! This month Rabbi Fohrman has created for you a learning path. He took an idea that he’s been recently studying (Einstein & the Torah), and brought in different pieces — some fresh, some already existing on the website — and brought it all together, as a way of demonstrating how different materials build on and develop from one another, creating a magnificent web of learning. It’s almost as if Rabbi Fohrman is taking you on a tour of Aleph Beta himself, but with a twist!
For the full lectures Rabbi Fohrman excerpts in his path, please click the following links -
1. Shiny New Things Time on October 4th (click on video 10)
3. A Brief History of The World: Lecture #1
Hey, everybody out there in Producers Circle land. Welcome. This is Rabbi David Fohrman. I wanted to do something kind of interesting with you this month, at least I think it's interesting. I want to point you to something that's been an interesting background theme for me over the last 10 or 15 years. There are some places on Aleph Beta that I've touched on this theme.
I think coming back and looking at Torah through the lens of this particular theory leads to all sorts of interesting and fascinating things. I want to point you to some of the places that we've explored some of this on Aleph Beta, as well as maybe push the boundaries a little bit here today in exploring it with you as well.
The lens that I want to take for this discussion is aspects of Einstein's theories, which really have revolutionized the world of science over the last 100 years. If you think about great scientific revolutions, there haven't been that many of them in the last 1,000 years or so. There was Copernicus, the heliocentric universe, the idea that the planets, including Earth, all revolve around the sun, instead of the Earth being the center of the universe. That was one great and earth-shaking and fundamental revolution in the way that we've seen the world of science.
Perhaps a revolution every bit as significant as that has taken place just in the last 100 years or so with Einstein's special and general theories of relativity. It may seem that that's just out there in the world of science and has nothing at all to do with the world of Torah, but I think one fo the things that's really fascinating is coming back to certain age-old stories in the Torah and in Rabbinic literature and looking at them anew through the lens that we have.
I'm not claiming that Abaye and Rava, the Amoraim, or Rabbi Judah HaNasi among the Tannaim, or even the great prophets, were aware, in any explicit way, of Einstein's theories about space and time. Yet what is fascinating is that in hindsight, looking at Torah through the lens of these theories, it seems that the Torah itself opens up in wonderful new ways, in mysterious kinds of new ways.
So I want to take a little bit of time today and talk about how I see some of that unfolding.
Rabbi David Fohrman: One of the things that struck me just over Sukkot is, if you think about Einstein's theories, one of the reasons why I think his theories have been so fascinating to me over the years is that they deal with the nature of our environment. They deal with what we might call the setting for our lives. The setting for things is something which we rarely question. We rarely even think about them. If you think about objects of scientific inquiry, you look at a tree and you think, gee, how does a tree work? How does a leaf work? You can look into that. You look at your body and you wonder how your body works. There are things which are obvious that are right there in front you. You look at them and you ask, how do they work? That's the beginning of scientific inquiry.
Then what Einstein did was pull back and said, what are the things that you don't really see? What re the things that you take for granted so much that they're just really a part of the basic setting, the most fundamental environment of life? So much so that we don't even think about them at all. What if we subjected those to critical analysis? What might we find then?
That led Einstein to look at things which seem to be patently obvious as just things that are the way they are, there's nothing more to ask about them. What I'm referring to here is really three things. I'm talking about space, time, and gravity. These and light are really the subjects of his special and general theory of relativity.
When we think about these things, light is just light. What is space? It doesn't even seem to exist. Time, it doesn't seem to exist, either. Gravity is just the way things are, seemingly. Yet Einstein looked at these fundamental aspects of our existence, really the most basic aspects of our setting, that when you sit down in a chair you actually sit down, that the chair holds you, that you have weight, that there's this thing called gravity. He asked what that is. What is this thing called space? Is space a thing at all? What is this thing called time? What is light?
Einstein came along and began to look at space and time in entirely new ways. Without getting into his theories in dramatic amounts of depth, one of the things he sees is that space and time are linked to one another. They are both dimensions in which we live, such that we can see time as just another dimension to our lives. If there are three dimensions in space, time is just a fourth dimension that rides on top of that.
In his explorations, that were thought experiments prompted by ruminations about the speed of light, Einstein came to a remarkable theory that space and time were actually relative. They're not fixed things. You and I can see space and time differently depending on our motion, depending on how we move through space and time. If we are moving closer and closer to the speed of light, faster and faster, space and time begin to dramatically change. Time begins to slow down, the faster we move.
What Einstein began to discover is that there's actually a fascinating, inverse relationship between time and space. In other words, the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time. The faster you're moving through time, the slower you're moving through space. Fascinating, this notion of an inverse relationship between these two constructs that define our fundamental environment.
If you say, well, does Torah have anything to say about that? Does Torah even think about time and space, even in the same breath? If it weren't for Einstein, you wouldn't necessarily even think of time and space as the same kind of things at all. And yet, if you look through Torah sources, you begin to very consistently see almost the precursors to Einstein's theory, this preoccupation with time and space and the relationship between the two, already in texts in our tradition that are thousands of years old.
Let me give you a couple of examples. Some of them are new, that just occurred to me recently. I mentioned Sukkot was a time I was ruminating about this a little bit. Some of them I've talked about in years past, and I'll point you to places in Aleph Beta.
Speaking of Sukkot, I was learning Mishnah Sukkah with my kids. One of the things that I find interesting to do when you learn Mishnah is to look at the structure of Mishnah. In other words, sometimes you'll have a Mishnah that is comprised of three or four statements that don't obviously have anything to do with each other. When you encounter that, one of the Aleph Beta games that you can play is, which one of these things is not like the other. What doesn't seem to fit here? Invariably, whenever you play that game, the answer always is that the thing that you thought didn't fit, actually does fit if you look at it a little bit differently.
We can play that game with the very first Mishnah in Tractate Sukkah. The first Mishnah actually talks about what amounts to a kosher sukkah. What are the things that you have to have for a kosher sukkah? The Mishnah begins by saying, "Sukkah shehee gevohah l'ma'alah mei'esrim amah - pesulah." [M. Sukkah 1:1] The first thing it does is it defines a height measurement for a sukkah. It says if you have a sukkah which extends higher than 20 cubits, that doesn't count as a kosher sukkah. That's how the first Tanna sees it. Rabbi Judah argues, he says it's okay even if it's more than 20 cubits high.
Then the Mishnah goes and talks about what the minimum height for a sukkah is. "She'einah gevohah asarah tefachim," a sukkah which is less than 10 handbreadths high is too small to be a sukkah. "V'she'ein lah shalosh defanot," similarly, a sukkah that has less than three walls, "v'shechamatah merubah mitzilatah," or that the shade that the roof throws off is not greater than the sunlight. In other words, it has to be shadier than it is sunlit, if the sun is out. Those sukkahs don't work. They're not valid. If you have a sukkah that doesn't have more shade than sun, or a sukkah that doesn't have three walls, or a sukkah that's less than 10 handbreadths or more than 20 cubits high, all of these kinds of sukkahs are invalid.
If we just stopped right here and said, okay, so what's the common theme? The common theme is really dimensionality. What the Mishnah is really doing is playing with the three dimensions that we consider the basics of space: height, width, and depth. All three dimensions are being treated over here. We're talking about vertically what makes for a sukkah that's too high or too low. We're talking about horizontally, as you go around the perimeter of the sukkah, how many walls do there have to be. Those are two dimensions that we're talking about. Then we talk about the third dimension, we talk about the roof which extends outward. That's as if it's another wall. How much of a wall does that have to be? You have to put vegetation of different sorts on the roof in such a way that the leaves will throw off more shade than sun. Otherwise, you don't have that dimension of a sukkah. So with that, the Mishnah has really covered all three spatial dimensions.
Then what happens is the Mishnah goes and does something strange. It seems to talk about something that has nothing to do with anything. "Sukkah yeshanah," and old sukkah, "Beit Shammai poslin, u'Beit Hillel machshirin." There's a debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel as to whether or not an old sukkah is kosher. "V'eizo hee sukkah yeshanah," and what is an old sukkah? It defines it. "Kol she'asa'ah kodem lechag shloshim yom," any sukkah that was made way, way in advance of the holiday of Sukkot. A sukkah, of course, is a fabricated booth that we live in during this seven-day holiday. The Mishnah defines a sukkah that's old as a sukkah that was made 30 days before the holiday.
Then the Mishnah says something funny. "Aval im asa'ah l'shem chag, afilu mit'chilat hashanah - kesheirah." Everybody agrees, the Mishnah says, that an old sukkah actually would be kosher if you made it specifically with Sukkot in mind. If you made it not just as a hut that was a gazebo for you, but even if you made it in June, several months before Sukkot, if you were doing it because you were getting a head start on making your sukkah and you were thinking, this is for Sukkot, so then it's kosher.
So what struck me as strange is, okay, so I don't get that. What's the rationale for that? Why is it that if you make the sukkah for the holiday, then an old sukkah is kosher? If an old sukkah is not good for whatever reason it is, so what does that have to do if you made it for the holiday six months before? If you look at the basic commentators, Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura, the way they all understand it is that really the debate going on here about an old sukkah is a debate about whether or not a sukkah needs to be made intentionally for the holiday, or can you just kind of make a gazebo and as long as it fits the spatial characteristics of a sukkah, that it works.
The idea of whether or not it's an old sukkah has to do with the idea that if you made a hut, if you made a gazebo within 30 days of Sukkot, even if you weren't consciously thinking, I'm making this for my sukkah, the time period itself defines that sukkah as being made for Sukkot. It's almost as if the holiday is in the air. Therefore what you're doing has the character of making a sukkah, regardless of how much intent you have, even if you're just mindlessly making the sukkah, listening to your playlist on iTunes. It's still a sukkah because it's defined as such by the time season that it's in. Yet, if you go father back into time, then you don't have that bias. If I'm making a sukkah in June and I'm thinking gazebo, there's nothing about the time period which is screaming Sukkot which defines your activity as sukkah-building. Therefore, what you've made isn't a sukkah, even if it make fall into the halachic constructs of a sukkah. It may look like a sukkah and feel like a sukkah, but it's not a sukkah because it wasn't defined by you consciously as a sukkah.
It struck me that these discussions at the end of the Mishnah which seem to be so different than the first part of the Mishnah, which has to do with the dimensionality of the sukkah, really isn't different. What this Mishnah is really doing is talking about the relationship between space and time. What it's first doing is it's defining the three spatial dimensions of the sukkah, and then it's defining the fourth dimension, the dimension of time, how time impacts a sukkah. The first three are if you build a sukkah in space, what are the qualities in space that you need to have for that to be a sukkah. Then the question is, what are the qualities in time that you need to have in order for this to be a sukkah.
The Mishnah comes along with something astounding and says, you know what? Time is actually a builder for you. If you're building this sukkah within 30 days of Sukkot, so time itself is almost like your helper. I built the sukkah with my son, Avichai; he did most of the work. I helped out a little bit. My son-in-law, Moshe Davis, helped as well. We get helpers when we build a sukkah. It's almost like time is your helper. Time is helping to define what you're doing as a sukkah, within a certain proximity in time for Sukkot. Then if you get further out in time, time doesn't help you in that way. Then what happens is that the sukkah can be seen as being invalid because you don't have the helper of time. If you weren't thinking sukkah, if I'm just thinking gazebo, so time does not help me to create this into a sukkah. Therefore, the sukkah fails even though its three dimensions are valid. There's something missing in the time element.
It just seems to me a fascinating thing that here you have a Mishnah that is written many thousands of years before Einstein, but the Sages are already beginning to think about time and space as related to one another, as the two realms in which we operate. The Sages are defining sukkah building with reference to those two realms, in a very interesting, intriguing, and fascinating kind of way. That's just a very simple, basic way that the Mishnah begins to think of time and space as playing, so to speak, in the same sandbox.
Going further back, into the Torah itself, you also find this idea of time and space playing in the same sandbox. I want to point you to a couple places there.
Another place I wanted to point you to is actually the Torah's exploration of the Garden of Eden and the Torah's exploration of the Sabbath. There's a little piece that I did in what I call Shiny New Thing time. If you haven't gotten a chance to log on to that, it's something which I've been doing every Monday at about noon Eastern time. If you're in Producers Circle, please feel free to log on live to that or listen to that on your own time.
During Shiny New Thing time, the time that I explore various shiny new things that I've been working on or thinking about, I talked to you a little bit about a puzzling verse in the story of the Garden of Eden that describes man being taken and placed in the Garden, and the reason why man was taken and placed in the Garden. He was placed there "l'ovdah u'leshomrah," [Gen. 2:15] to work the Garden and serve it.
What I found was, in a very fascinating way, if you look at that verse, it resonates with a verse that talks about the Sabbath. It talks about the creation of Sabbath. The correspondences between the verses are eerie, so much so that it seems as if what the Torah is doing is actually describing the construction of two different worlds, worlds that are God's world within this world, except that one of those worlds exists in the dimensions of space, and the other exists in the dimension of time. Not only is the Torah talking about these two worlds, a world in space, the Garden of Eden, God's summer home in space in this world, and God's summer home in time, it also is defining a fascinating relationship between space and time. It's a relationship which just happens to have the same inverse quality that Einstein would talk about so many thousands of years later.
Listen to this piece from our Shiny New Thing time, if you can.
Excerpt #1 from Shiny New Things on October 4th, 2021
Does this remind you of anything? Take a look at this verse over here. "Vayikach Hashem Elokim et ha'adam vayanicheihu b'Gan Eden l'ovdah u'leshomrah." [Gen. 2:15] God took man and placed him in the Garden to watch over it and to serve it. Now, here's a little riddle for you. Let's start with the end of that verse, going backwards. Let's start with the verb shamar, to watch over. Let's then go to the word avod, to work or to serve. Then let's get to the idea of the verb before that, Gan Eden, which is a place of tranquility. Then let's get to the word right before that, vayanicheihu, l'hani'ach, to place down. We could even go further to the verbs right before this, "Vayikach Hashem Elokim et ha'adam," the taking of man from one place to another.
If you take all elements of this verse and switch the order so that they're backwards, it should remind you of another verse, or another series of verses. A series that begins with shamar. The answer is Shabbat in the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. I'll show it to you. Let's start with l'shomrah over here. That becomes "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kodsho," [Deut. 5:11] observe the Sabbath to keep it holy. L'ovdah is going to be "Sheishet yamim ta'avod," [Deut. 5:12] six days you should work. Now, Gan Eden, a place of tranquility, is going to become a time of tranquility, which is "Yom hashevi'i shabbat la'Hashem Elokecha," [Deut. 5:13] the seventh day is a resting time which you should observe for God.
Then the word vayanicheihu, to place, can also mean to rest. That's its meaning over here. The reason why you observe Sabbath is "lema'an yanu'ach avdecha v'amat'cha kamocha," so that you and your servants should rest just like you. Then finally, "Vayikach Hashem Elokim et ha'adam," the taking of man from one place to another, becomes "V'zacharta ki eved hayita b'eretz Mitzrayim vayotzi'acha Hashem Elokecha misham b'yad chazakah u'vizeroa netuyah," [Deut. 5:14] the taking of people from one place to another. In this case, God taking people from Egypt, it's also taking people into God's land.
Anyway, it's a remarkable series of confluences. The question is, what is it that we make of that? How is it that we understand that? It seems that in a kind of remarkable way, there's some sort of relationship between the Sabbath and the Garden of Eden. That's what it sounds like. Observing the Sabbath, on some level, is similar to what man is supposed to do in the Garden. Man is supposed to watch over the Garden and to work it. Watching over it and working appears in the Sabbath also. You watch over the Sabbath and you work.
This is a weird kind of thing. How would you see a confluence? Why, of all things, would the Garden be similar to the Sabbath? How would you see the Garden as similar to the Sabbath?
Participant: You mentioned in other lectures that both Eden and Shabbat are tangents in space and time to God's world.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, I think I borrowed Abraham Joshua Heschel's terminology there when he said that the ineffable is the tangent to the line of human experience. It's a nice way of thinking about it.
It turns out that God, who lives beyond space and time, if He wants to hang out with us, how exactly does that work? So it's almost like, you know those really cute photos of little kids in an aquarium with beluga whales? The kid goes up to the whale thing, and then the whale comes and gives the kid a kiss. So it's really cute. But the real truth is, that's as close as the kid and the whale can get. They can get really close. They can get right up to the glass there.
So the question is, could that work with God and man? Could there be this place where God could get right up to the glass, and we could get right up to the glass. That notion of a tangent to the curve of human experience is such a wonderful way of thinking about that. That's that notion of getting right up close to the glass. If you went up to the being beyond space and time, can you get right up to the edge of space and time? Can we get right up to our edge of space and time so we could almost kiss each other? You can imagine that if you think about the Sabbath and you think about the Garden of Eden, it's almost like -- first of all, as David, I think, pointed this out in his manuscript on Ecclesiastes, Kohelet. He made the point about the words for the Garden of Eden appearing in Ecclesiastes when Solomon says, "v'aden lo hayah." [Eccles. 4:3] It's the only time the word Eden appears in Tanach as a word other than a place name.
What aden means there, aden lo hayah, is still, or not yet. So an interesting way of seeing the Garden is the Garden is a garden of not-yetness. In other words, a garden before time, almost. "Gan Eden mikedem" [Gen. 2:8] can either be read as a place where the Garden is; the Garden is mikedem, in the east. Or mikedem can be read not in terms of space but in terms of time, to mean 'from before'. So the garden of not-yetness from before, almost like it's this place within our world, but as close as you can get in a world of space and time to a place before time, would be the Garden of Eden. Why? Because it's a place that you can meet the timeless God in. So it's that moment where the beluga whales and the kids can interact with each other.
So it might just be that if you think about God's place in space, it would be in the Garden of Eden. If you would think about God's place in time, it would be in the Sabbath. Tight before God creates the Garden of Eden, the verses immediately before that, basically, discuss the very first Sabbath in the history of the world, God's Sabbath, as distinct from our Sabbath. Our Sabbath is an attempt to recreate something of this timeless quality on our side of the aquarium.
Now, what's remarkable about this is that the text actually tells you, with the Sabbath, if you go back to that verse from the Ten Commandments. The verse is, "Shamor et yom hashabbat l'kadsho." David, why don't you just pick that up in relationship to this. Go ahead.
Participant: I was just going to say that it's curious that you see the mention of Sabbath in the opening chapter of Genesis, but you don't see anyone keeping. You don't see Noah keeping it, you don't see Abraham, Isaac, no one's keeping it. There's no mention of keeping or not keeping it. The first time you see it picked up again is only in Exodus, and in very much proximity and connection with the establishment of the sanctuary, of the Mishkan. Once those two things are brought together again in the world, you have again, a place for God and man to have a together space in time and God and man to have together a place in space. There's something linked together in Jewish law as well, in terms of the Sabbath and sanctuary.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, that's certainly true. In other words, you have to distinguish, when you talk about the Sabbath, they're not one and the same thing. There's God's Sabbath and man's Sabbath. They're two separate things. Similarly, when you talk about God's place in space, there's also God's place in space for Himself, and the place that man makes for God in space. Those are two distinct things in both time and space. They're juxtaposed in Genesis and they're juxtaposed in Exodus. In Exodus we hear about man's recreation of a version of those places on his own in his world. So we hear about man's making the Tabernacle, which is a place that we make for God in our world, and man making Sabbath.
The words for man making Sabbath, interestingly enough, are "shamor et yom hashabbat l'kadsho," observe the Sabbath to keep it holy. To keep it holy sounds like the Sabbath's holiness is to be taken for granted. It just is, and our job is just to keep the Sabbath, which is to properly treat the holiness of the Sabbath. That's the conventional idea of how most of us think of the Sabbath. But it's not what the literal words mean. The literal words say, observe the Sabbath to make it holy, as if the holiness of the Sabbath is itself contingent upon man's observing it, that the Sabbath isn't holy unless man observes it. We make it holy by observing it.
That is to say, we actually make the Sabbath. It's true. The same way we make the Mishkan, the same way we make the Tabernacle, we make the Sabbath. The Mishkan is not a preexisting thing. It's true there are blueprints for the Mishkan. The Mishkan is an idea, but we have to activate the idea by making it. So too the Sabbath is an idea. It has a prototype, which is God's version of the Sabbath in His world, but then we have to activate that prototype in our world by actually making it.
Now the question, interestingly, is, well how do you make the Sabbath? I understand how we make the Mishkan. It's very simple. There are 39 versions of labor that you do to make the Mishkan. You tan the hides, and then you stretch them out, and you till the earth, and you bake the bread. You do all the things which are the 39 kinds of melachah (creative labor).
Well, interestingly, "shamor et yom hashabbat l'kadsho," let's trust the verse on how you make the Sabbath. Guess how you make the Sabbath? You make the Sabbath, now you get to the word shamor. What does shamor mean? It doesn't really mean to observe. What does it really mean? It means to watch over, to guard. Now, halachically, in halachic terms, how does that get translated? It gets translated as, to desist from melachah, to desist from labor. Not just any old labor; from which kinds of labor? What's the definition of melachah, boys and girls? It is the labor that you do to make the Mishkan, of all things.
So you have this mind-bending notion which is, when it comes to God's place in space, you make it through a process of melachah. When God made the world, He made it through a process of melachah. He had certain thoughts and then He actualized them by making things so in the world. So there was action guided by thought. So too, we use action guided by thought to actually build the Mishkan.
That's the way that you make a place in space. When you make a place in time, evidently, when you make God's special place in time, you do it in the inverse kind of way. You actually observe. You desist from melachah. Desisting from melachah, interestingly, is an active thing. That is building the Sabbath. You're making the Sabbath. You make a structure by using melachah. You make a place in time, which is an absence of a structure because it's in time, through the absence of melachah. They are literally inverse relationships with each other.
In Einstein's world, there is a relationship between space and time in terms of motion. Which is to say that it turns out that the faster you travel through space, the slower you travel through time. Remarkably, there's this inverse notion regarding motion. There's something about the nature of the relationship between space and time that has this inverse quality to it. It shows in how you build things for God in space and time. The building in one is the inverse of the other.
Rabbi Fohrman: Another piece which is on Aleph Beta that discusses these ideas of really looking at Torah, ancient texts through the lens of Einstein's theories, particularly his theories about time and space, is a piece that we did for Tisha B'Av a year or two back. It actually discussed issues of why suffering exists in the world, how it is that we can wrap our minds around otherwise inexplicable suffering in a world with a good God. It's a piece I'm really proud of. It analyzes a series of verse in Isaiah, and uses the lens of film, a little piece from the movie Arrival at the end, to begin a thought experiment which, again, rests as a predicate upon Einstein's ways of thinking about time and space.
I'm going to take a little piece of it here that gives you a taste of that. The idea really was, towards the end of that piece, a though experiment that had to do with what it might look like to live life without time. We go through time in a very linear kind of way. What might it be like to experience life without time, and how might that be different?
The analogy I gave actually was the baking of a chocolate chip cookie. If you can, listen to this piece here. If you can listen to listen to the full video, I really do think the entirety of it is wonderful. Here's that little sliver, at least.
Excerpt # 2: Grappling with Loss Video 4 - The Chocolate Chip Cookie Analogy
Rabbi Fohrman: We might say this is a world for making things, and the next world is completely devoted not to 'making things' but to 'being,' to 'experiencing' that which was made.
There's a strange thing the rabbis say about the next world. When asked to describe it, they use the metaphor of Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, where we rest, when we have peace and quiet. Here's what they tell us about that day. They say "mi shetarach b'erev Shabbat," whoever labors and works hard preparing food for Shabbat, "yochal b'Shabbat," [B. Avodah Zarah 3a] he'll eat it, he'll consume it, on Shabbat.
What's the point of that pithy little metaphor for this world and the next world? It suggests at least on some level that the two worlds are actually the same. What we experience in each is our life, as it were. But we experience it from two different perspectives. This world is the world in which we build our lives. This is the world in which we prepare, we do, we build, on Friday, and Shabbat? That's the next world, the arena in which you fully experience the life you've built.
The rabbis here are actually telling us something remarkable about this world and the next world. The world we live in now is a world of making things. In the next world, nothing can be made, only experienced. That's the fundamental difference between the worlds.
Think about it in terms of making a chocolate chip cookie, and think about it in terms of rah and in terms of tov. One of the ways we translate rah and tov is that which we don't like, rah, and that which we do like, tov. Let me ask you to take a chocolate chip cookie test with me, if I may. Here you are, you're making a chocolate chip cookie. I want you to grade everything on a rah and tov scale, to taste it as we go along. Here you are in this world making your chocolate chip cookie, and you start with some flour. On a scale from zero to 10, how good does the flour taste? It's pretty lousy, right? It's dry, it doesn't really have any taste, it's powdery, it makes you cough. It's like a one.
Then you get to the sugar. How does the sugar taste? Well, you might say it tastes really great and it's sweet, it's wonderful, but it's a little too sweet, right? I mean, you can't have that much of it. It doesn't have any character, it's just sweetness. It's too overblown, it's much more overt. It's like a 3, 3.5. It's better than flour, I suppose. But then you get to the eggs, the raw eggs, how are those doing? That's like less than one. How about the baking soda? How's the baking soda tasting for you? It's pretty lousy, right? You add all the ingredients together, tasting each so it goes long, and nothing really tastes very good. There's a couple threes, there's a couple fours, maybe a five or a six, but it's mostly these ones and zeros. There's a lot of rah in the stuff that you're throwing into the chocolate chip cookie.
But then you put it in the oven, and you re-experience it. What if the next world is a re-experience of our lives, but from the way God would experience it, in a YKVK kind of way of experiencing it. In a unitary way, without being fragmented by time. You taste the chocolate chip cookie. What does it taste like? It tastes wonderful. You eat that chocolate chip cookie and you feel, ah, I'm at peace, I don't want anything more. This is the most delicious thing that you could imagine. So much more than the sugar, so much more than any of it. The composite with time factored out is the most wonderful thing you could imagine.
But what if I said, no no no, you shouldn't put any flour in the chocolate chip cookie, flour tastes terrible. You shouldn't put any baking soda in the cookie, that tastes terrible. Well, it wouldn't be a chocolate chip cookie. I ask you to consider, could that be the nature of rah in the world?
Rabbi Fohrman: Another really wonderful piece that goes back about 10 or 15 years to before Aleph Beta was founded, was the beginning of an audio series which I did which I called "A Brief History of the World." This series really charted something fascinating. It was a series of intertextual parallels between the Creation story, on the one hand, and the world after Noah's flood, on the other hand. It turns out that if you look at the rehabilitation of the world after the flood, the language echoes the language of Creation itself, almost as if what's happening after the flood is not just the rehabilitation of the world, but the recreation of a world. It's as if the world was destroyed and it's being recreated.
What I found is that as you go through the story of Noah, these parallels to the story of Creation keep on going. What the "Brief History of the World" series asks is, how far can you go in the story of Noah, in the story of recreation, and see parallels to Creation? What are the meanings of those parallels, as we continue to chart them?
What I want to do here is actually link you to the first episode of that series, where we dove into an aspect of Einstein's theories. This time, not so much about space and time, but his theories about gravity. Einstein revolutionized the way we think about gravity as well. Once you see space as a thing, as almost like there being a fabric of space, Einstein wondered, could space bend? He argued that the bending of space in the face of massive objects is really what it is that we call gravity.
It's a theory which I expand on in this little piece at the beginning of "Brief History of the World." I used it to shed light on a fascinating phenomenon that I noticed as I charted these intertextual parallels between the world of Noah and the world of Creation. That is the existence of these chiasms along the way. This is a course that explores two great mysteries and the intersection between them. These wonderful intertextual parallels between two stories, and these chiastic elements, these Atbash elements where the beginning of a paragraph mirrors the end of a paragraph, the second-to-first element mirrors the second-to-last element, and so on.
I wondered if you could begin to think about chiasms using Einstein's way of thinking about gravity. Take a listen to this little piece. It will give you a taste of it. If you get a chance, listen to the whole piece. Launch your journey into "A Brief History of the World," I think you would find it fascinating. There's a video version of "A Brief History of the World" called "Genesis Unveiled." If you prefer video, you could watch it there. It's a long series.
Excerpt #3: From A Brief History of The World: Lecture #1
Rabbi Fohrman: What I've begun to do in previous sessions with you over our last couple of series, is begin to look at the interplay between these two methodologies, and that's been something of great personal interest to me. Basically, what I'm suggesting is the following. Each one of these tools is very powerful on its own. To understand how a narrative in the Torah mirrors another narrative is a very powerful tool. The Torah is commenting, it's telling you if you want to understand Narrative A, understand how it relates to Narrative B. Chiasms, also very powerful. The Torah is telling you what the center of a narrative is, what it all revolves around. But what happens when you take the two together? What happens when these two things converge? What happens when a chiasm converges with Where Have We Heard These Words Before? What does that look like? What it looks like is the following.
Let's say you have Story A and Story B, and Story A mirrors Story B in a dozen textual references. So Story A seems to be patterned after Story B. Then let's say that I happen to notice that Story B is structured chiastically, that Story B has these inverted series of literary parallels, leading you right towards the center of the story and identify a verse or a series of verses which that entire story revolves around.
The next question is, if I see that Story A parallels Story B and Story B has a chiastic center, the very interesting question is, how does Story A relate to Story B's center? In other words, if there's a number of parallels in Story A to Story B, does one of those parallels reflect the center of Story B? Is there something in Story A which reflects the center of Story B? If there is, then perhaps I understand fundamentally how these stories relate to each other, I understand how Story A relates to the center of Story B. Or more precisely, perhaps, how the centers of these two stories relate to each other. That may be really what the Torah is getting at when it's trying to say this is how these two stories come together.
Recently I came up with this notion. I was chatting with a friend outside in the rain by the ocean and we were talking about this and the analogy of a wormhole came to mind. I just want to elaborate on that, because it really may be, I think, a very precise analogy to what I'm talking about here. It could be that there are wormholes, as it were, in the Torah. The wormhole is this sort of dual center between Story A and Story B that happens in a reflected center of a chiasm. All of that may sound very strange and weird. Let me just backtrack and give you a sense of what I'm talking about.
What is a wormhole? The idea comes from science, actually. It used to come from science fiction but now it seems to be, at least theoretically, a scientifically valid concept. The possibility of wormholes in space. What exactly is a wormhole in space? So just to give you a very brief background, it has to do with Einstein's theory of relativity, his theory of gravity within the theory of relativity. Basically, it works like this. What Einstein suggested is that gravity is not really a force as we know it. It's not just some mysterious force, but it is a function of dense objects within space warping, as it were, the fabric of space. The analogy he gives to this is he says imagine you have the big plastic sheeting and you had a bowling ball that you put in the plastic sheet. The bowling ball would warp the fabric of the sheet such that, for example, if you took a little tennis ball and you rolled it onto the sheet, the tennis ball would no longer go straight as it would across a simple flat surface like a table. But if there was a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet, the tennis ball would curve in towards the bowling ball.
That's really what gravity is, according to Einstein. If you imagine space, so space is the sheet. According to Einstein, space is supple. It is something, it's not nothing. It's not like there's this thing called nothingness called space. No, there's this thing called space. You can almost imagine it as some sort of three-dimensional fabric. But this thing gets effected by stuff in it. So if there is stuff in it, very dense things, everything can warp the fabric of space. Space curves in order to accommodate the things which are placed within it. So if you've got the sun, this very big thing, there's this really large warping of space around the sun, and that's why planets orbit the sun. What's happening is that the planet is in normal motion, it will just continue going straight. But the same way the tennis ball, if you roll it, it will curve around the path of the bowling ball, so if you roll it like real slow, it will just hit the bowling ball. If you roll it real fast, it will zoom past the bowling ball. If you roll it just right, though, it will just keep on going around and around that center, and those are the orbits.
If you notice like tennis balls that are going in right close to the perimeter of where the bowling ball is, they'll be spinning real fast, and the ones on the outside will be spinning much slower. If you look at the circuits of planets you'll find the same thing. The planets that are close, Mercury, they'll go around the sun really fast, and the planets which are further out, Neptune, Pluto, these guys - they're going much, much slower.
That's the idea. It's not just that there's some mysterious force out there, but the planet is simply trying to find the simplest path in space. The path in space, if it's a curved path, so it's just following the curved path in space, the curve that is made through the bowling ball, through the sun, which is there.
So this is Einstein's theory of gravity. It's a very interesting theory and it was just a theory for a while until it was actually proven to be true. How would you prove Einstein's theory to be true? Well, once upon a time back in the early twentieth century there was an eclipse that was scheduled. The full eclipse of the sun offered the possibility of proving Einstein's theory. Why? Well, here's the idea. If in fact space was a thing which gets warped and anything that travels through it will follow the curve of that warp, so that means that gravity is going to affect everything. It's not going to just affect things, it's going to affect everything that travels through it, even actually light, which means that light is going to get bent by gravity too. What that should mean, theoretically, is that if you know where a star is supposed to be in the sky, but the light going from that star to your eye is going to pass, say, right near the trajectory of the sun - so there's the sun there and just like one or two degrees off from there there's a light coming from the star right past the sun to your eye. That light should bend as it passes the sun.
What that means is that where you see the star will not actually be where the star is. That you know where that Star X is going to be, but as the sun passes and comes close to that star, that the light from that star is going to bend. Therefore, the position of the star is going to look different once the sun is sort of between you and the star, or very close to the trajectory through which the light passes on its way to your eye.
The problem is you can never actually see this because the sun is too bright. In other words, once the sun is in daylight and there are stars next to the sun, you'd never in a million years see the star next to the sun. Theoretically, in a full eclipse of the sun you would be able to see the stars near the sun and if you know where the star was supposed to be, Einstein's theory would be proven if the star wasn't there, if the star looked like it was off right next to it, because it would show that the light is being bent as it passes the sun.
So in the early twentieth century there was, indeed, a complete eclipse of the sun. Folks got on an ocean liner and went down to the middle of the ocean where this eclipse was, knew exactly where Star X was supposed to be, looked up and it wasn't there, it was actually off by a couple degrees. In fact, Einstein's theory was proven. That was how Einstein's theory of gravity was verified. So no longer a theory, it's actually true, space does seem to be a fabric. It does seem to actually bend in response to objects that are placed within it. The heavier, the more dense the object, the greater the bending in space.
So now you're thinking well very nice, Fohrman, that's all a very nice science lesson, but what does this have to do with Torah? Okay, relax, we're not quite done with the science lesson yet, there's one little piece of it that we need to know and then we can apply it back to what this has to do with our world, the world of text and the world of Torah.
What happens if an object in space is extremely dense? Now we get to the concept of a black hole. What exactly is a black hole? Essentially, a black hole is a collapsed star. A collapsed star is a very dense thing, much denser than your average star. Well, if you have a star which is big enough to begin with and then it collapses, the gravitational force of that star is so huge that it literally pulls in everything around it, and nothing can really escape. We call this a black hole.
You would imagine this as something that's tennis ball size, but having the mass or having the density so that this thing weighs three tons. You have a three-ton tennis ball weighing down the middle of the sheet. Well, it would have to be a pretty strong plastic sheet. So imagine there's this three-ton tennis ball and it's just sinking all the way down there. Once something starts getting in that hole, it's not getting out so fast. This is a black hole.
The question is, what might happen theoretically if you had two such things that came into contact with each other? For example, let's say you had two of these really huge tennis balls and it just so happened that they were both weighing down there in space and just kind of knocking around and then they touched one another and fused. That's a wormhole. At least theoretically, that is a wormhole. What a wormhole would allow for, theoretically, is passage through the fabric of space and time. This, again, is a theoretical basis perhaps for time travel. I really don't want to get into that now, let's just keep it simple. Moving from one space to another very quickly, right through space. So in other words, I'm not travelling through space like I normally would, but I'm taking a shortcut through a wormhole created by two ultra-massive objects which happened to touch each other and create sort of a tunnel through space.
If there are wormholes -- and the theoretical basis for them seems to exist -- what would be the implication of these things? Well, very briefly, what wormholes might do is solve two fundamental problems in physics. They might allow for information to pass between vastly separated regions of space. Communication, as it were, between vastly separated regions of space. You could theoretically have Region A which is millions of light years away from Region B, but being affected by Region B by virtue of a wormhole that connects these two things. If you stuck with the speed of light if would take you hundreds of millions of years to get from point a to point b, but if you travel through the wormhole it could take you a day-and-a-half. So you could actually have communication between these two realms of space. One realm of space could reflect on the other realm of space, even though they're separated by incredible bounds.
Similarly, by the way, it also is a vehicle for creating unity -- unity in the laws of nature, unity in the laws of physics throughout all of space. Scientists do believe that there is unity between all the laws of nature; no matter where you are in the universe, the laws of nature and the laws of physics are the same. Theoretically, there's a problem with that which is that these things are separated by such vast distances that how do you know that the laws which apply to one place apply to the other place? Maybe these are just discrete, separate regions? But if these regions are linked somehow, it provides for a theoretical framework for there being fundamental unity between these very far-flung areas.
Now, coming back to the Torah side of this, what I would like to suggest is that maybe if these things that I'm describing exist, these two methodologies, if they're really out there in the Torah, they may be sort of the Torah equivalent of what a wormhole in space might be. Just to give you an idea of what it is that I'm talking about, if you imagine you have these two vastly separate regions of the Torah, separated by different books, seeming to have nothing to do with each other. I remember once speaking to a certain Bible scholar who wrote a very famous, popular book about the Bible and its supposed authorship. He certainly was not religious by any means and subscribed to the sort of many authors theory, cobbled-over-time, view of how the Torah came to be.
I showed him some of my work which pointed really to a deep unity within the Torah, and many different sections of Torah shedding light on each other and seeming to have this sense of unity. He said, how could that be possible? He says, you can't talk to anybody at this conference about this, they won't give you the time of the day. I mean if this was written at this time, and this was written at that time, how could -- I said, but just look at the evidence. How can you explain these dozen specific language parallels between these various things? It seems to be one unified piece. It just makes sense. He says, but how could you explain how that could occur? I said, I don't know, I can't explain how it could occur. It's not a matter of explaining, it's a matter of this is what the evidence suggests.
I can't really tell you exactly how this is, but maybe being a religious person this is how I see it. I believe that the Torah is unified. Even religious people don't believe that the author of Genesis is the author of, say, the Book of Samuel. A human being wrote the Book of Samuel, even if God was the author, as it were, of Genesis via Moses' pen. Nevertheless, in the cosmic scheme of things somehow there is a unity, and it's a deep kind of unity between these things. It just seems to be the way providence put together the Bible, that it's a whole work. As a whole work, the way God somehow made it all work out is that it is a unified whole. Different pieces of it shed light on other pieces. I can't really explain it, but I think it's there and I think that it's real. If there are wormholes in space, maybe there are wormholes in the Torah. If you think about what a wormhole is, a wormhole is a connection between two different, vastly separated regions that allows for uniformity.
If you think, by the way, even visually, the notion of a chiasm is very similar to this wormhole. It's this thing sort of leading towards a center and leading you through deeper and deeper in the center. Maybe as you go through that center you come out on the other side, you come out to a connected part of the Torah which is its reflection in another world, in another part of the universe. It's how these same ideas from Part A gets reflected in Part B and there's a deep connection between these two apparently vastly dissimilar realms of Torah, but they're connected. They're connected through this little tunnel, through that center of a chiasm that brings Story A to Story B. It brings these two parallel stories in relation to one another and defines the nature of what it is that they're meant to tell us and the nature of their fundamental relationship.
So these are some of the places where I think it's fascinating to look back on Torah themes through this lens that Einstein offers for us. There are some other ways, it strikes me, that this informs Torah as well. I have one other really speculative piece, but maybe I'll leave that for a future month and record that for you as its own special recording. It's not something that currently exists in Aleph Beta, but I'd be happy to put it out there for you. It has to do with the language in the mysterious early days of Creation, and how the Torah seems to be relating to time and space there.
I'll catch up with you about that in a future month. In the meantime, I wish you happy listening through the little pieces that I've excerpted here. I encourage you, if you haven't already, to listen to the larger context of these little snippets. I think you'll really enjoy it.
Until next month, this is Rabbi David Fohrman. Thanks for listening.