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?
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
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.