Length Contraction, Place and Prayer

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In our last issue, we explored the Torah of time dilation,
not only as a consequence of special relativity but more importantly, as a
consequence of expanded consciousness or intellect [seichal]. In this
issue, we will look at the Torah of length contraction, another major
consequence of special relativity.

Avraham sent his servant Eliezer on a journey from Canaan to
Mesopotamia (Aram Naharaim) to find a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Although the
journey was ostensibly very lengthy and arduous, we read something rather
amazing from Eliezer himself after he arrived at the home of Betuel, the father
of Rivkah (Bereshit 24:42): וָאָבֹא הַיּוֹם
אֶל־הָעָיִן (And I came today
to the spring). On the surface, this doesn’t seem too unusual, but if we turn
to our sages, we realize that their perception was much sharper than ours is
today. Rashi comments: הַיּוֹם יָצָאתִי וְהַיּוֹם בָּאתִי
מִכָּאן שֶׁקָּפְצָה לוֹ הָאָרֶץ
(Today I left [Canaan] and today I came [here], from this, we learn that the
earth contracted for him). What an astonishing statement! From where does Rashi
learn this? It says so explicitly in the Gemara (see Sanhedrin 95a). It
is also brought down in the Midrash (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 16:6): מקרית ארבע עד חרן מהלך שבעה עשר יום ובג’ שעות בא העבד לחרן והיה
העבד תמה בלבו ואמר היום יצאתי והיום באתי שנ’ ואבא היום אל העין (From Kiryat Arba [Chevron] to
Charan is a 17 day journey, and yet it took the servant [Eliezer] only three
hours to get to Charan. He was astonished in his heart, and he said, ‘Today I
left and today I came’, as it says [Bereshit 24:42], ‘And I came today
to the spring’). We see that our Sages new about the reality of length
contraction at least 2000 years before it was shown to be a consequence of
special relativity by Einstein and verified experimentally by many in the
following decades.

But there is another example in the Torah (Bereshit
). וַיֵּצֵא יַעֲקֹב מִבְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּלֶךְ
חָרָנָה׃ וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם וַיָּלֶן שָׁם (And Yaakov departed from Beer-Sheva and he went to Charan. And
he met in the place and lodged there). Later in the story, we learn that the
place Yaakov lodged was Beit-El (not the current Beit-El, but the Temple
Mount). So we see an apparent contradiction here. On the one hand, Yaakov came
to Charan, yet immediately afterward he was back in Eretz Yisrael at the site
of the future Temple, and that’s where he spent the night. The Gemara resolves
the contradiction by stating that Yaakov did, in fact, make it to Charan, but
then he realized that he was negligent in not stopping to pray at the place
where his fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, prayed (Chullin 91b): כד יהיב דעתיה למיהדר קפצה ליה ארעא מיד ויפגע במקום (As soon as he set his mind to return, the
land contracted for him, immediately, ‘and he met in the place’). Not only
this, but in spending the night there, we read what Hashem said to him in his
prophetic dream (Bereshit 28:13): וְהִנֵּה יְיָ
נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲנִי יְיָ אֱלֹקֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ וֵאלֹקֵי יִצְחָק
הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ (And behold, Hashem was standing over him,
and he said, ‘I am Hashem, the G-d of Avraham your father and the G-d of
Yitzchak, I will give the land upon which you are lying to you and to your
descendants’). Again, there doesn’t appear to be anything unusual with these
words at first glance; however, Rashi points out that this is another example
of length contraction: קִפֵּל הַקָּבָּ"ה כָּל אֶרֶץ
יִשְׂרָאֵל תַּחְתָּיו (The
Holy One, blessed be He, contracted all of Eretz Yisrael under him). The
original source for this may be found in the Gemara (Chullin 91b): אמר רבי יצחק מלמד שקפלה הקב"ה לכל ארץ ישראל והניחה תחת
יעקב אבינו שתהא נוחה ליכבש לבניו
(R’ Yitzchak said, This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, contracted
all of Eretz Yisrael and put it underneath our Patriarch Yaakov, [to teach] that it would be easy for his descendants to conquer).

But what is length (the one dimensional building block of
space) anyway? We have no idea, but it’s clearly not absolute, whatever it is.
But length contraction is a natural consequence of the special theory of
relativity which states that a moving object’s length is measured to be shorter
than its actual length when the object is at rest. The effect of length
contraction is not noticeable at all for standard objects traveling at speeds
much below the speed of light; however, when an object travels at a significant
fraction of the speed of light, length contraction becomes a real issue and its
effects can no longer be ignored.

In last week’s issue, we learned that an increase in
intellect or consciousness [seichal] leads to time dilation, but what
leads to length contraction? If we examine these examples from the Torah carefully,
we will see something remarkable. Both of them involve heartfelt prayer. When
Eliezer left to go to Aram Naharaim, he prayed (Bereshit 24:12-13): וַיֹּאמַר יְיָ אֱלֹקֵי אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם הַקְרֵה־נָא לְפָנַי
הַיּוֹם וַעֲשֵׂה־חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם׃ הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי נִצָּב עַל־עֵין
הַמָּיִם וּבְנוֹת אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר יֹצְאֹת לִשְׁאֹב מָיִם (And he said, ‘Hashem, the G-d of my master Avraham, please let
things work out well for me today, and may You do loving kindness with my
master Avraham. Behold, I stand upon the spring of water and the daughters of
the men of the city come out to draw water, etc.’). And why did Yaakov want to
return to Eretz Yisrael before he completed his journey to Lavan? As we
mentioned already, he wanted to pray on the site of the future Temple. As it is
written (Bereshit 28:11): וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם (And he met [vayifga] in the
place). About this unusual wording, the Gemara teaches (Sanhedrin 95b): אין פגיעה אלא תפלה שנאמר ואתה אל תתפלל בעד העם הזה ואל תשא בעדם
רנה ותפלה ואל תפגע בי (The
word pegi’ah [meeting] only means prayer, as it says [Yirmeyahu 7:16],
‘And you, do not pray for this nation, and do not lift up song or prayer for
their sake, and do not tifga [meet] me [in prayer for I will not listen
to you]’). In fact, this is the moment when Yaakov instituted the evening
prayer, Arvit/Maariv (see Rashi there and Berachot 26b).

So we merit a remarkable insight. Prayer is connected to
length contraction. But how does it work? R’ Nachman explains (Likutei
Moharan II:56
): כְּשֶׁיֵּשׁ לְהָאָדָם לֵב אֵין
שַׁיָּךְ אֶצְלוֹ מָקוֹם כְּלָל כִּי אַדְּרַבָּא הוּא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם
וְכוּ’ כִּי הָאֱלֹקוּת הוּא בַּלֵּב כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב צוּר לְבָבִי וְאֵצֶל
הַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ נֶאֱמַר הִנֵּה מָקוֹם אִתִּי – שֶׁהוּא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם
וְאֵין הָעוֹלָם מְקוֹמוֹ (When
a person has heart, makom has no more relevance to him at all, on the
contrary, he is the makom of the world, etc., for godliness is in the
heart, as it is written [Tehillim 73:26]: ‘The Rock of my heart’. And
about Hashem, may He be blessed, it is written [Shemot 33:21]: ‘Behold,
a makom with me’ – that He is the makom of the world and the
world is not His makom). Therefore, as R’ Nachman continues to teach, it
is just inappropriate for someone with a Jewish heart to say, “Such and such a
place isn’t suitable for me” or “Such and such place is suitable for me.” To
someone with a real Jewish heart, makom, i.e., the place where we live
or the place where we go to work, etc., doesn’t really matter, not if godliness
truly expresses itself from his heart.

But what R’ Nachman teaches is that just prayer is
insufficient. We have to pray with heart. It is written in Likutei Moharan
: כִּי כָּל אֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל הוּא חֵלֶק
אֱלוֹקַּ מִמַּעַל וְעִקַּר הָאֱלֹקוּת בַּלֵּב וְהָאֱלֹקוּת שֶׁבְּלֵב אִישׁ
הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי הוּא בְּחִינַת אֵין סוֹף (For every Jew is a portion of G-d above [chelek Eloka
], and the essence of godliness is in the heart, and godliness that
is in the heart of a Jew is an aspect of the Infinite [Ein Sof]). And
since we have within us, i.e. we are literally, a chelek Eloka
, our hearts are infinite, somewhat like Hashem, the Ein Sof
Himself; and therefore, we should be ‘above’ makom just as He is ‘above’
it. It should be irrelevant to us. And it is this infiniteness that we tap into
during prayer, and this is the source of length contraction. So we understand
now that Eliezer and Yaakov both had a tremendous heart, and they both prayed
with such kavanah [concentration/intent/focus] that space itself contracted
for them.

Although we tend to see ourselves as being in a specific
place at a specific time, this is really not true at all. It’s an illusion—and
a distraction. The more we act like Hashem, the more we are included in Him literally,
and the more we find ourselves as the makom of the world, where the
world is in us and not the other way around. Admittedly, this is very difficult
for our intellects to grasp, but in the future, those things that are
impossible for us to grasp now will become as clear to us as what we understand
so easily today. May we merit to pour out our hearts to Hashem in real
prayer and rise above makom, as it is written (Tehillim 62:9): בִּטְחוּ בוֹ בְכׇל־עֵת עָם שִׁפְכוּ־לְפָנָיו לְבַבְכֶם אֱלֹקִים
מַחֲסֶה־לָּנוּ סֶלָה (Trust in
Him at all times, O nation, pour out your hearts before Him, G-d is our refuge

For those who want to explore this subject further, herein
lies the secret of the tallit gadol, the prayer shawl that we wrap
ourselves in during prayer, a makom which can literally transport us
anywhere, and where everywhere is contracted within it, much like the holy of
holies in the Temple, a place where the known laws of our universe broke down. Bli
, we should write an article about that in the future.

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