In loving memory of my father, Dr. Benjamin Freedman, z’l, who gave me so much of my love of Torah, science fiction, and what’s in between.
Growing up, my father’s love of science fiction filled our home and my imagination. Shelves upon shelves of books, and hours upon hours of television we enjoyed together shaped my thinking about the world in profound ways. So I guess it’s not at all surprising that, as I marked 18 years since his passing, I found the space-time continuum in chapter 3 of Shemot.
Moshe realizes that to understand the great mystery of the burning bush, he must take a step out in space. It is this understanding that allows God to call out to him, because to explain God’s essence to the Jewish people, Moshe needs the capacity to take a step out in time, the fourth dimension of the space-time continuum.
We easily grasp things as existing in three dimensions of space simultaneously. Length, width, and height are all there, all at the same time. The understanding that time exists as a fourth dimension, that past, present and future are all somehow “out there”, created the endless possibilities and intrigues of time travel, and allowed a Jew named Hermann Minkowski to explain the world-changing theory of his student, a Jew named Albert Einstein.
While chapter 3 does not anticipate the theory of relativity, it does introduce Jewish time travel. God tells Moshe to explain who has sent him in two way, as ‘I Will Be’, God of the future, and as ‘the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov’, God of the past.
The key to redemption for a slave eternally trapped in the present is what Rav Soloveitchik calls “the union of the three grammatical tenses”, and the creation of “covenantal time”, which allows its members to feel “rooted in the past and related to the future” and thus “to find redemption from insecurity and to feel at home in the continuum of time and responsibility which is experienced by him in its endless totality” (Lonely Man of Faith, Tradition Summer 1965).
Chapter 3 introduces a conception of time with the atomic power to unleash the infinite potential of creation, and I can only appreciate it because my father’s teachings still live in me today.
My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or so. What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il