“Bending” Space

בה

Stories are told of the Baal Shem Tov having a horse-drawn carriage in which he could travel great distances in a short time.  See, e.g., http://www.thefoundationstone.org/en/beitmidrash/ketershem-tov/1309-storiesbeshtdevarim.html ; http://www.kolel.org/tastytreats/mod6.1.html (noting BeShT had “the charm for swift travel”).  Typically, after BeShT and his fellow travelers had begun a journey, the driver would drop the reins and turn around to face the others, and then BeShT would speak words of Torah as they miraculously arrived at their far-away destination only a short time later.  It was as if BeShT’s deep spirituality gave him either the ability to pause time so that a journey appeared to occur quickly or the ability to bend space so that a destination was closer than normal (or both!!).

I’ve never been quite sure what to make of these stories, but I’m starting to wonder if my little guy isn’t the reincarnated soul of Baal Shem Tov because not only is he (about 95% of the time) a genuinely happy soul who constantly exudes love and spontaneously dances with joy, but he also has already figured out how to “bend space”!!

One night at my kids’ bedtime, I was at a friend’s house for Torah study, and my little guy was sad because I wasn’t home to cuddle with him.  He was crying and crying, and then he asked his Mama to use the gps app on her cell phone to see where I was in relation to him.  This was the picture:

gps1

Then, he asked her to make the map “bigger” (by which he meant “zoom out”), which made the map look like this:

gps3

When he saw that picture, he excitedly said:  “Look, Mama, Ami’s purple dot is cuddling with our blue dot!  We’re cuddling with Ami!!!”

And, having “bent space” to reach his desired “destination,” my little guy was no longer crying and fell asleep.

Singularity

My new favorite show is “through the wormhole with morgan freeman” on the Science Channel.  Every episode teaches me something new about the latest scientific thought on different aspects of our existence, while also confusing me just enough to keep me intrigued!  My absolute favorite episode thus far was called “was there a time before time?” because . . . well, check this out . . .

According to the physicists who subscribe to the Big Bang Theory, our expanding universe was created by a enormous explosion that emanated from an infinitely dense and infinitely small point of light that contained all the energy that would ever exist in our universe.   That infinitely dense point of light is called “Singularity,” and it “popped into existence” from “Nothing.”  Before Singularity popped into existence and exploded, there was no “where,” there was no “time,” and there was no“thing.”

According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, creation began when the Infinite G-d, Ein Sof (“Without End”), attempted to pour the light of divine wisdom into a space created by G-d’s retraction.  Thus, a dot of light appeared in a void of Nothingness.  But the light, which contained the infinite power of G-d, was too strong and “shattered” the space.  Before the shattering, there was no “thing,” no “space,” and no “time.”  Rather, everything that ever would be was superimposed on one “thought.”

As if it isn’t enough that those two “stories” are astonishing similar, consider the fact that Luria lived in the 1500’s, while the Big Bang Theory was proposed and gained support in the 1900’s, after a series of pictures from the Hubble telescope in the late 1920’s demonstrated the universe is expanding and after two scientists working for Bell Labs in the 1960’s measured the “background noise” of the universe, which is believed to be the remnants of the Big Bang explosion.  So, Luria’s explanation arrived WAY ahead of the scientific knowledge.

After Hubble’s pictures and theory were published, Albert Einstein created his General Theory of Relativity to explain the expansion of the universe over time.  But if, instead of using Relativity to understand what is currently happening to the universe or what will happen in the future, one uses Relativity to extrapolate backward in time, the logical conclusion of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is . . . the universe began as an infinitely small and infinitely dense point of light . . . Singularity.

Einstein is quoted in numerous places as asserting he was an agnostic, because he had rejected the idea of a “puppet-master G-d,” but he nevertheless looked at the universe with awe, and he stated that his version of G-d was in “the mystery.”  And, although I’m sure a rationalist like Einstein had little patience for what he and the other rationalists in the Haskalah (group of Jewish rationalists/intellectuals that were a precursor to Reform Judaism) saw as the “irrationality” of the Hasidim, I wonder if Einstein knew that he and the Hasidim had a shared understanding of the nature of G-d and that his theory meshed with the Kabbalistic version of creation . . . .

Finally, the hypothesis that became known as the “Big Bang Theory” was first stated scientifically by Georges Lemaitre, an astronomer, professor of physics, and . . . Catholic priest!!   Lemaitre predicted the universe was expanding before Hubble’s pictures provided the proof.  Lemaitre called his creation theory “hypothesis of the primeval atom.” “Primeval atom” was Lemaitre’s word for Singularity, the infinitely small, undivided point of light that began all time and space.

But . . . get this . . . you know what Kabbalists call the thing that shattered, the light from G-d in which all time and space was superimposed into one??

Primordial Adam …

Primeval Atom … Primordial Adam …

Somehow, my friends, despite all the time and space through which our finite world may have “travelled,” if we stop long enough to look (like Moses at the burning bush), even science and religion come together, bringing us back to Singularity, One, the Infinite Nothingness, Ein Sof . . .

Shabbat shalom, jen

“The Ripple Effect”

בה

I’ve found myself thinking lately about all the little ways that my life, and the way I choose to live it, impacts the people around me . . . and that led me to think about “the ripple effect” that my seemingly simple acts can have — for better or worse — all across my community.

The existence of that ripple effect is most obvious when I think about my kids:

Step 1:  The way that I greet my kids, speak to them, and interact with them will impact the way they think — both consciously and unconsciously — about themselves and their world.

Step 2:  The thoughts and beliefs that they have about themselves and their world will determine whether they approach the world with, for example, “compassion and love,” or “insecurity and fear,” or “anger and despair.”

Step 3:  Which of those approaches each kid adopts will directly impact the quality of his interactions with every other person he meets each day.

And, thereby, the way I interact with my kids — the emotions that I display, the words that I use, and the interpersonal skills that I model — can impact the quality of my kids’ interactions with the rest of the world.

Step 4:  As my kids interact with others, those interactions will further shape my kids’ future behavior and their beliefs about the world and, at the same time, will also shape the beliefs and behaviors of the others with whom my children interact.

Which means the way I behave with my children actually can impact the future thoughts and behaviors of other people!

Step 5:  The impact that my children (and thus I) have on those others can be passed to whomever those others encounter.

And so it continues, on down the line, from one person to another, interaction after interaction.  While the size of the impact attributable to me will dissipate as the steps of interaction move farther from me, it nevertheless remains true that . . . just like when a rock is dropped into a pond . . . the ripple effect created by my impact could travel an amazing distance!!

And, then, once I understood how I can impact others through my interactions with my children, I began to wonder . . . why wouldn’t there be the potential for that same impact and “ripple effect” to occur with every other person whose path crosses mine each day?   After all, while we like to think of adults as fully-formed, stable, consistent, predictable beings, who should “know better” than to allow ourselves to be impacted by another adult’s words or emotions . . . are we, really?   My experiences lead me to believe it is not so.

We adults put on a brave face and act like we understand the world and our role in it, but there is a whole host of reasons why, from one day to the next, a person’s sense of “security” or “stability” might be shaken.  And, in those “unsteady moments,” the smallest compassionate act by another person — just a kind word or a smile — can help steady us, whereas being the recipient of another’s indifference or anger can make us more unsteady, perhaps even toppling us over into “a bad mood,” which we then may “pass on” to everyone else we meet until we find a way to center and steady ourselves again.  Thus, our ability to approach others with compassion, rather than indifference, truly could have a positive impact each day on an inestimable number of people — family members, acquaintances, and strangers — whose paths just happen to cross ours.

In our frantic, over-scheduled, 24-hour world, it’s hard to remember to approach every person, in every moment, with compassion and kindness.   But if each of us tried, for just a few more moments or times than usual each day, to step outside ourselves and approach others with loving-kindness, imagine how many ripples of kindness we might create . . . and then, who knows, maybe somewhere along the way, our ripples of kindness would converge, forming a waves of kindness that could transform entire communities . . .

The Big Lie & The Narrow Bridge

בה

When I was a kid, I was taught that the world was made up of two distinguishable groups of people: “good people” and “bad people.” And I had the impression that good people always behaved in good ways, while bad people always behaved in bad ways, which was convenient, because then all you had to do to avoid being treated badly was hang around “good people.”

But, lately, I’ve begun to understand that was a big lie because, really, most of us are neither always good nor always bad, we’re just people… 

…trying to protect ourselves
…trying to protect our loved ones
…trying to live a good life
…trying to do the “right” thing
…trying to do what is “best”

…just people.

And even though most of us are just people trying to do what is “right” and “best,” we nevertheless end up having disagreements and conflict, because
1. The “right” or “best” thing to do in any situation is determined by the information that a person has, and…
2. We don’t all have the same information!!

In fact, no two of us has the same information. We can’t, because no two of us has had the same life experiences, not even identical twins whose identical genetics might predispose them to, at least, respond in similar ways to a single stimulus. Therefore, regarding any specific topic, each of us can have a “truth” that is different from every other person’s truth.  And, from a purely objective perspective, each person’s truth is equally “valid,” because each is based on a different set of information and experiences.

All of that means the only way we can decrease conflict or resolve disagreements is by meeting on “The Narrow Bridge” . . . you know, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s Narrow Bridge, the one on which we are to stand with “no fear at all.”

That Bridge, where we can meet another and find common ground, is an incredibly holy place, because to stand there we must set aside our compulsion to be “correct”, “smarter”, “in control”, etc., and we must be both able and willing to entertain the notion that every “truth” we ever believed was “wrong”… simply because the information on which we based our belief was a small, biased portion of the universe of relevant data.  Only if we are willing to take the risk of learning that we believed “a truth” that was not “The TRUTH” will we have a chance of stepping into another’s shoes and seeing the world from another’s eyes, so that we might understand that person and his truth.

Rabbi Nachman reminds us not have fear as we stand on that Narrow Bridge because our fear will knock us off the bridge before we realize it is happening!!  We will start listening for flaws in the other person’s logic or for facts that are inaccurate based on the information that we have, or we will begin formulating our responses, and any of those will distract us from truly hearing everything that is said and, sometimes even more importantly, the things that are not said.

Perhaps, to help reduce our fear, we should remember that the goal of a discussion on The Narrow Bridge is not to demonstrate anyone was “right” or “wrong.”  Neither is it for one person to convince another person to adopt his truth.  Rather, the goal is for the people on the Bridge to find a new, shared truth, which may or may not resemble any of the possible truths that were known before people stood on the Bridge and shared their information and experiences.

No disagreement or misunderstanding will ever be resolved unless those involved are willing to discuss the experiences and information that led them to believe their individual truths.  Only when we can acknowledge that each of us is trying to make the best decisions he or she can with the information available to that person, and only when we are willing to risk standing on the Narrow Bridge – suspending belief in our own truths and listening with an open heart and an open mind to others’ truths, so that we might see the world from others’ perspectives – will we ever have a chance of finding meaningful and lasting peace.

Praying each of you has a Shabbat filled with peace …jen