Four Dimensions, Teshuvah and Time Travel

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All of us are familiar with the three basic dimensions of space: length, width and height. Some of us are even aware that in some way or another (incomprehensible to most of us) Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity treats time as a dimension on par with the three dimensions of space being unified with space into a four-dimensional matrix known as ‘spacetime.’ But how many of us have any awareness whatsoever of dimensions beyond these basic four? And why should we care?

Many questions in physics remain unanswered (or perhaps are unanswerable) if the universe is limited to four dimensions of spacetime. String theories were proposed to create a theoretical framework to attempt to address many of these intractable questions in physics. Essentially, string theories replace the fundamental ‘particles’ of physics with vibrating one dimensional objects called ‘strings’. The extra dimensions are necessary for the theories to be mathematically consistent, and there are at least three types of theories that differ in the number of dimensions required to achieve this consistency: bosonic string theory with 26 dimensions, superstring theory with 10 and M-theory with 11. To give the reader an idea about the size of strings, if a single atom were compared to the size of the universe, a string would be the size of a tree. Of course, no one has even seen a string and we don’t generally observe any of the higher dimensions, but that doesn’t prevent scientists from using these ideas to propose explanations for unusual observations. The reason we don’t observe any dimensions above spacetime is due to something called ‘compactification’. We can understand this with a simple analogy. Consider what we see when we observe a rope from a distance. Even though it’s a 3D object, we would see only one dimension, i.e. length. But if we got closer to the rope, perhaps like an ant crawling on the rope, we would see the rope as a 2D object with width and length. And if we could observe the rope from an even closer frame of reference, we would see it as a 3D object with width, length and thickness. Finally, if we had the ability to look even closer, beyond the level of atoms, we might ‘see’ that the rope is really made of vibrating strings in perhaps up to 10, 11 or even 26 dimensions.

As 3D beings, we possess choice over our movement in space. Even though our universe is best described in 4D spacetime, we don’t seem to have any control over our movement in time. We are constrained to move only in the forward direction; apparently, we cannot choose to move backward in time. But a 4D being would have this ability. He would have full control over time and could move easily into the past or into the future. To explore further, what capabilities would a 5D being possess? In addition to having control over movement in time, he would be capable of being present at different locations at the same time. Such a being could be involved actively in multiple activities simultaneously (which would explain how Eliyahu ha-Navi can be present at every brit no matter where and no matter when). Beings of even higher dimensions would have much greater capabilities than these, but we won’t currently delve into these descriptions further.

Reish Lakish said (Yoma 86a): גְּדוֹלָה תְּשׁוּבָה שֶׁזְּדוֹנוֹת נַעֲשׂוֹת לוֹ כִּזְכִיּוֹת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וּבְשׁוּב רָשָׁע מֵרִשְׁעָתוֹ וְעָשָׂה מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה עֲלֵיהֶם יִחְיֶה״ (Great is repentance [teshuvah] because deliberate sins become merits for him, as it is said [Yechezkel 33:19]: ‘And when a wicked man does teshuvah from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by virtue of these’). The Gemara clarifies that it is only when someone does teshuvah out of love that his deliberate transgressions become merits. But how can this be? How can teshuvah out of love change the past to such an extent that one’s previous sins become merits? Does Hashem wave a wand of forgiveness that magically transforms transgressions into merits?

King Chizkiyahu became deathly ill and the prophet Yeshaya told him in the name of Hashem that he was going to die. Chizkiyahu questioned the meaning of such a harsh decree and was told that it was because he refused to marry and procreate. Of course, Chizkiyahu had his reason for his neglect (see Berachot 10a-b), but that didn’t mitigate his transgression. Refusing to accept the judgment, he prayed as it is written (Melachim Bet 20:2-3): וַיַּסֵּב אֶת־פָּנָיו אֶל־הַקִּיר וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶל־יְיָ…וַיֵּבְךְּ חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּכִי גָדוֹל (And he turned his face to the wall and he prayed to Hashem…and Chizkiyahu cried a great cry). In the wake of Chizkiyahu’s tremendous teshuvah out of love, Hashem rescinded the decree, promised him another 15 years of life and said that the city of Yerushalayim would be spared from destruction at the hand of the Assyrians (20:5-6). Nevertheless, Chizkiyahu asked for a sign (20:8) and Yeshaya gave him a choice between two signs, either the sundial would go forward 10 degrees or it would go backwards 10 degrees (20:9). Notice Chizkiyahu’s response (20:10): נָקֵל לַצֵּל לִנְטוֹת עֶשֶׂר מַעֲלוֹת לֹא כִי יָשׁוּב הַצֵּל אֲחֹרַנִּית עֶשֶׂר מַעֲלוֹת (It’s an easy thing for the shadow to advance ten degrees, but not for the shadow to go back ten degrees). Yeshaya went back to Hashem and He agreed to Chizkiyahu’s request and made the shadow of the sundial go backwards ten degrees (20:11). What was going on here? Why did Chizkiyahu say that it would be an easier miracle for the sundial to go forward 10 degrees than for it to go backward 10 degrees?

We need to understand the nature of the miracle. The explanation offered by most commentators is that Hashem moved the sun backwards in the sky. But if that was the essence of the miracle, it wouldn’t have been more difficult than if He had moved it forward in the sky. Moving the sun in the sky in either direction would have resulted in the same catastrophic repercussions to the forces of nature operating within and among the objects in our solar system. Either way, it would have been an equally impressive miracle for the solar system to have continued operating as normal. Therefore, this can’t be the crux of the miracle.

The solution to the problem is what we have already learned from Reish Lakish. Teshuvah stemming from love (as opposed to fear or other motives) actually changes our previous transgressions to merits. But how? What is the mechanism? The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuvah 2:1: אֵי זוֹ הִיא תְּשׁוּבָה גְּמוּרָה? זֶה שֶׁבָּא לְיָדוֹ דָּבָר שֶׁעָבַר בּוֹ וְאֶפְשָׁר בְּיָדוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹתוֹ וּפֵרַשׁ וְלֹא עָשָׂה מִפְּנֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה לֹא מִיִּרְאָה וְלֹא מִכִּשְׁלוֹן כֹּחַ (What is complete teshuvah? It is when a person has the opportunity to do the exact same thing that he transgressed in before, and it is possible for him to do it, but he separates and does not do it because of teshuvah, not out of fear and not from lack of strength). When someone merits to this level of teshuvah, he, i.e. his soul, returns in spacetime literally to the moment and place of his earlier sin, is confronted by the exact same situation, resists the temptation and walks away free and clear from sin. He literally changes his transgression into a merit. The transgression ceases to exist and in its stead stands a merit. Instead of failure, there is success.

But that’s not all that happens. Since the past was literally changed, the future can now also change. As we saw with Chizkiyahu, a decree of harsh judgment was rescinded and in its place, a decree of mercy emanated from Heaven. In other words, in very real terms, teshuvah changes our reality. It changes our past; it changes our future.

This explains why Chizkiyahu said that going back 10 degrees was a much greater miracle than going forward 10 degrees. Moving ahead in the future is ‘no big deal’. It doesn’t change anything really. It just skips over a period of time. But going back in time, to literally change the past, even all the way back to the sin of Adam ha-Rishon—that is truly astonishing! And that is what Chizkiyahu merited. He was taken back in time together with his consciousness (and that’s why the shadow of the sun went back 10 degrees). Of course, most of us have never experienced this, but only know about it through emunah. But fundamentally, the reality of what happens is the same whether or not we have conscious awareness of our time travel or not.

This is the true power of teshuvah. Teshuvah that is 100% authentic that stems from love of Hashem is literally a time machine to fix the mistakes of the past and to make a more beautiful future for ourselves. As we are given opportunities every single day, why not take a ride in the time machine? Only good can come out of it.

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