Sacred Moments

Having a spiritual connection between oneself and Hashem, or between yourself and another person can create a sacred moment. Time begins to slow down, and the mind is both focused and relaxed. It is difficult to describe, but some of you may have experienced it. During meditation, prayer, intimacy, the birth of a child, study, or even hiking in the woods. They may be fleeting, peripheral, but also profound. Sometimes, we can hold onto the feeling, and sometimes we cannot. Creating a sacred space (as I often experience under a tallit during prayer) can create a sacred moment. On the other hand, saying a berachot before eating, can also be a sacred moment, or helping someone by doing a mitzvah. When we recognize the purpose of our lives on earth, the positive impact we can have on others, we witness the sacredness of a moment in time and space.

But what is a “moment”? Physically, there are no real “moments in time” (no “instants” if you like), but the word “moment” is used colloquially to represent a short duration. My grandmother used to say, “faster than two shakes of a lamb’s tale” or “in a jiffy”. In physics, the smallest theoretical time is called the “Planck Time” (named for German physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) and is equal to 5.39 x 10^-44 seconds (that is…wait for it…0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000539 seconds!). The Talmud discusses “moments” in various places and I was interested in two places in particular from the Talmud Bavli and one place from the Talmud Yerushalami in which a “moment” is discussed.

In Meseches Berachos 7a (translation from The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noe Talmud Bavli) we read:

The number 58,888 is quoted anonymously and seems to come out of nowhere. Later, we have a quote from rabbi Avina who says that a “moment” is the time that it takes to say the word “moment” (rega). However, in Meseches Avodah Zarah 4a, we a completely different number for the duration of a “moment” (translation from The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren Noe Talmud Bavli):

So for two very similarly worded gemaras, we have two different anonymously quoted numbers for the duration of a moment. In Jerusalem Talmud Mesechas Brachos 5a (from The Jerusalem Talmud, community translation, public domain), there is another similar number, this time attributed to a Tanna named Shmuel:

“Shmuel taught: A rega is 56848 parts of an hour….”

While all three of these numbers are different, they are all similar in scale, but also seem to come out of nowhere. technologically, we can even measure the duration of a “blink of an eye” (about 0.1 sec – 0.4 sec). But the Rabbis of the Talmudic period were working off of a different set of measurements (to be discussed in another blog). Since these numbers for a “moment” (rega) are presented without context (but appear similar in scale), we might attribute them to scribal errors in original manuscripts or just different teachings. But the numbers are too similar to appear coincidental. Nonetheless, in the spirit of blogging, I propose my own number for the duration of a “moment”( one rega)…I will say that a rega is one 58848th of an hour.

Why did I select that number? Well, you can see that 58848 = 613 x 96. The number 613 alludes the number of mitzvot (Taryag Mitzvot)and the the number 96 has a gematria (numerical Hebrew word equivalent) of v’yad’u (“and they shall know”; Exodus 7:5). So, if we think about a sacred moment and say, following the guide of the Talmud, that a moment is 58,848 parts of an hour, one will sense the presence of Hashem (They shall know the 613 mitzvot in the Torah). may we all find our own sacred moments, a try to hold on to them for as long as possible.

About the Author
Jonathan Wolf is a retired high school physics teacher. He retired to NJ with his wife. He is an adjunct professor of physics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has published professional papers and has been the author of AP Physics review books as well as general HS and college physics review books. He is a past President and ritual chairman at a conservative synagogue on Long Island, NY before he retired to NJ.
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