G-d, Einstein, and How to Make Your Shoe-polish Last Forever

True existence – true reality – is measured, and can be measured, solely in terms of Torah.

Daniel Pinner,

Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner
INN:DP

Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Dr Hana Pinner z”l, who passed away in her sleep nine years ago on the night of Motza’ei Sh’mini Atzeret 5767 (15th October 2006). Yehi zichrah baruch.

In 1971, Arthur C. Clarke – one of the most influential science popularizers and science-fiction authors of all time – penned a short essay called “G-d and Einstein”, anthologised in Report on Planet Three (Victor Gollancz Ltd., London). There, Clarke proclaimed G-d’s limitation: “The velocity of light is the speed limit of the material universe. No object, no signal, no influence, can travel faster than this…. But light takes…billions of years to cross even the part of Creation we can observe… So: if G-d obeys the laws He apparently established, at any given time He can have control only over an infinitesimal fraction of the Universe”.

Clarke was indisputably a brilliant scientist and highly successful author. But when it came to understanding G-d, Einstein, and the Universe, he was hopelessly mistaken.

Einstein’s most famous formula – indeed, science’s most famous formula – is E=mc (square); that is, energy equals mass times the speed of light times the speed of light. The corollary of this is that energy and mass can be interchanged.

Science measures the universe by four units: mass, energy, length, and time. Everything that exists – the entire Creation – is measured by these four units. Heat, weight, speed, gravitational attraction, magnetic force, electric current – all are expressed by reference to these four terms.

However, there is a fundamental problem: as Einstein postulated in his Theory of Relativity, and has since been proven empirically, most quantities and measurements are only relative. In an infinite universe, every point is the same distance from every edge of the universe – infinity kilometres (or infinity miles, or infinity light-years, or infinity cubits, or any other measurement); everyone and everything is therefore at the exact centre of the universe, and can never move away from that location. Hence absolute motion is impossible. By very definition, motion (which is measured as length divided by time) can be measured solely in relation to other objects.

However, distance (i.e. length) is relative not only to other objects, but also to mass, energy, and time. As an object speeds up and approaches the speed of light, it ages slower than an object at rest.

Similarly, as gravitational force increases, time slows down. A clock on Jupiter, whose mass is some 318 greater than the Earth’s mass and whose gravitational field is equally greater, would tick far slower than would an identical clock here on Planet Earth.

This means that time itself is not a constant.

And as well as aging slower than an object at rest, the mass of an object moving at high speed increases and its length decreases. This means that neither mass nor length are constants.

So all four physical units with which the universe is measured are relative. Mass, energy, length, and time are all subjective. And therefore the universe cannot be measured or quantified, the universe cannot function, indeed the universe can have no meaning, until there is one universal constant to which mass, energy, length, and time can all be related.

As Einstein demonstrated, the only universal constant is the c of the famous E=mc2. The c which is the speed of light.

And so, for the universe to exist, for Creation to have any meaning, the universal constant c, the speed of light, first had to exist.

Which is why, when G-d created the universe, His very first utterance was “Let there be light” – and then there was light, and the rest of Creation could follow.

The usual translation of the opening verses of the Torah is: “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was chaos and void, and darkness was on the face of the abyss, and the Spirit of G-d was hovering over the face of the waters. And G-d said, ‘Let there be light’! And there was light”, which translation agrees with Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Midrash Lekach Tov, the Radak, the S’forno, the Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed 2:30) and many other commentators.

But Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the Ohr ha-Chayim, and others understand the word בְּרֵאשִׁית to be the genitive, “in the beginning of”. Hence their understanding of the Creation is: “In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth, when the earth was chaos and void, and darkness was on the face of the abyss, and the Spirit of G-d was hovering over the face of the waters – then G-d said, ‘Let there be light’! And there was light”.

There is an important if subtle difference between these two interpretations. According to the first interpretation, the first thing that G-d created was heaven and earth, which were “chaos and void” until G-d created light. According to the second interpretation, the first thing He created was light.

And as we have seen, without light the universe was inevitably “chaos and void”, unquantifiable and immeasurable, with mass, energy, length, and time all meaningless.

It is no idle musing that “light” is a universal metaphor for Torah, “for the candle is the mitzvah and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). Just as in the physical world light was the first thing that G-d created, so too in the spiritual world the Torah was the first thing that He created.

And just as in the physical world light (or the speed of light) is the only universal constant, so too in the spiritual world Torah is the only universal constant. Just as in the physical world there can be no meaningful existence without light, so too in the spiritual world there can be no meaningful existence without Torah.

Just as in the physical world everything is relative and can be measured solely in relation to the speed of light, so too in the spiritual world everything is relative and can be measured solely in relation to Torah.

The Vilna Gaon posed the question: If you have 100 shekels and you give 20 to tzedaka, then how much do you have left? The intuitive answer of course is 80 shekels. But the true answer, said the Gaon, is 20 shekels. The 80 shekels which remain to you physically will soon be gone, and have no lasting value. But the 20 shekels you gave to tzedaka will remain with you forever, in this world and the next.

In an infinite universe created for the sake of Torah, in which Torah is the sole universal constant and everything else is relative, all the mitzvot you perform, and only the mitzvot you perform, remain with you for eternity.

And our task is to sanctify the physical world, to take temporal objects and mundane tasks, and to elevate them to the level of spirituality.

Consider the dullest chores, the most workaday tasks. Can there be anything more insipid and less spiritually uplifting than, for example, polishing your shoes?

– And yet, consider: in those last few minutes before sunset on Friday, as the sun is sliding towards the horizon and the holiness of Shabbat is swiftly approaching, you take those same shoes and shoe polish and shoe brush, and before beginning to polish your shoes you say the simple words לִכְבוֹד שַׁבָּת קֹדֶשׁ (in honour of the holy Shabbat).

You have now elevated those mundane, physical objects – shoes, shoe polish, shoe brush – and that mundane routine chore – polishing your shoes – into something sublime and holy. That shoe polish has become a veritable mitzvah.

And as a mitzvah, applied to those shoes for the honour of Shabbat, that very mundane shoe polish becomes eternal – just as the twenty shekels that you gave to tzedaka remain with you for eternity.

True existence – true reality – is measured, and can be measured, solely in terms of Torah. All physical existence, by its very definition, is temporary. It is the spiritual that is eternal. The most mundane of objects can be made eternal if it is elevated and sanctified by being used for a mitzvah.

Whether we accept the idea that the first thing that G-d created was heaven and earth which were subsequently “chaos and void” until G-d created light, or the idea that the first thing He created was light and that only after that could the rest of Creation follow, the Torah teaches us that light, as a metaphor for Torah, is the base of Creation, without which there is no reality.

And this applies not only to physical existence, but also to life itself. As our Sages tell us so often, evil people are considered dead even during their physical lifetimes, while the righteous are considered alive even after their physical deaths (Berachot 18a, Yerushalmi Berachot 2:3, Kohelet Rabbah 9:1 [5], Tanhuma Vezot HaBerachah 7, and several other places).

Like physical existence, life is defined in terms of spirituality, in terms of Torah, in terms of light.



More Arutz Sheva videos:


top