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Swaying in Time
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

Time is a creation of G-d, brought into existence through a process of tzimtzum and hispashtus, constriction and expansion.  This is analagous to the ebb and flow of vitality in the human respiratory and circulatory systems. The lung or heart creates a vacuum, similar to the Divine withdrawal in the first tzimtzum.  Then the void is filled from beyond, wheter the lung with air, the heart with blood, or the first tzimtzum with Divine light. -  The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p82. 
   

 
It was snowy and cold that Friday in February, but the butterflies had returned - to my stomach at least.
 
True I had done this all before, but never on such a large scale. A hundred pairs of eyes faced mine, waiting, wondering what was next.
 
I asked for two volunteers from the audience and several hands went up. In a multicultural setting like this, I made sure my selection was equitable - a male and a female, one white, one colored. I would administer the test and the volunteers would record and tally the student responses.
 
Although I was the Professor and they were my 3rd year undergraduate class, the tables were turned, for this time it was they who were bemused and I who was nervous. They already knew that the questions I was about to pose were in no way an evaluation of their academic performance in my Faith and Science class. But what they did not yet know was that they were about to become participants in a test of something immeasurably more important - the truth of the Torah.
 
On the surface, it seemed a little sacrilegious, putting G-d to the test as it were. And besides, who could possibly have the naivety - or worse, the gall - to test such a thing? As the saying goes, "For the skeptic, no proof is sufficient while for the believer, no proof is necessary." On the other hand, if Chassidus and Kabbala were prepared to go out on a limb to make a falsifiable psychophysiological hypothesis, then hey, why not test it?
 
So test it I did, and fairly I think, as befitting a course offered in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Arts and Science. We used a double blind methodology in which the student / experimental subjects did not know what was being measured, and the volunteer experimenters could not guess what the hypothesis was. No room for bias here. Everything was out in the open except for the whispered instructions I gave to the volunteers. "When I ask each question, check the position of each student's head as they think of the answer. Only record those which are noticeably tilted upward or downward. You tally the ups and downs in the back half of the class while you, check the front."
 
With a research assistant ready on each side, I posed the first problem. "Without writing anything down, just using your head, do the following multiplication: Calculate the product of 17 times 17. Don't worry, take your time. Once you get the answer, just raise your hand until we notice you and then put it down." That last bit about raising their hands was just a red herring to make them think that we were interested in seeing how long it takes for them to answer.
 
Once the markers finished recording their observations on that question, we were ready to continue. "It's time to move on to the next question so don't worry if you didn't finish the first one. We have the data we need. The next question is: What exactly did you eat for breakfast this past Tuesday and at what time?"
 
Again the markers made their up and down "head counts" and once that was done, the quiz was over. Glancing at their sheets I breathed a sigh of relief. The numbers were diverse enough to make a strong statement.
 
"Please report your findings to the class. Overall, in which direction did students tend to tilt their heads when answering the first question."
 
"Down," "Down," they replied.
 
"And overall, in which direction did students tend to tilt their heads when answering the second question?"
 
"Up," Up," they replied.
 
"Alright class, I'd now like to read you something and hear what you think. It's a story told by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Volume 2 of his edited talks (Likutei Sichos, p. 364-5).
 
One year, in 1894 or 1895, medical science discovered an artery in the brain, which facilitated memory and concentration.  So the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe's brother came into the room and told the Rebbe about the discovery.  This Rebbe went into the next room and came back with a small manuscript of Chassidus that was written by his great grandfather the second Lubavitcher Rebbe some hundred years earliier.
 
He showed him where in that discourse, there are six or seven lines, where the second Rebbe mentions that in the brain there is this artery that has a variable vapor pressure causing it to shift position thereby stimulating either memory or concentration. When this artery is facing the part of the brain that supports chochma and binah (wisdom and understanding), it helps to remember. When it is directed toward the part of the brain that contains the daas, knowledge, it helps concentration. That's why when a person wants to remember, he looks up, tilting his head upwards, and when a person wants to concentrate, he tilts his head downwards.
 
The brother replied to the Rebbe saying that the Mitteler Rebbe must have been a great medical scientist. The Rebbe Rashab said to him, "No. The Mitteler Rebbe knew how the spiritual template of man works in the upper worlds, and therefore he could predict how the physical human being works as well."
 
*  *  *
 
Prof. Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA's Goddard Institute and Director of the Mount Wilson Institute has this to say, in his book, "G-d and the Astronomers":
 
"This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth... [But] for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; [and] as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
 
Here's an extension of these ideas from today's news.
 
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have discovered that when people reflect on the past, they tend to sway backward but when they contemplate the future, they move forward. This study on chronesthesia, or mental time travel, shows how tightly linked our senses of time and space really are.
 
It just may be that the very same blood vessel to the brain is involved, since the backward movement associated with memory of the past will normally cause an upward tilt of the head, while the forward motion for concentrating on the future, normally causes the head to incline downward.
 
Those of us familiar with Jewish study and prayer will immediately recognize this back and forth swaying motion as the universal choreography that goes so well with Torah and tefillah. Our sages tell us that we should sway when we pray to fulfill the concept of  "All my bones shall speak" and that Torah study should also involve a physically dynamic so that the learning will be preserved.
 
Now after thousands of years of swaying to their studies and prayers, science may finally be casting light on how exactly aaaaaaathat works.
 
All of our studies and prayers are highly chronesthetic. Take the quintessential Shmone Esrai prayer for instance. We start the first blessing by acknowledging "our G-d (the present) and G-d of our ancestors (the past). Then back to the present ("He does kindness") and off to the future ("Who brings the redeemer to his descendants.")  Even G-d's very name is a chronesthetic experience, as the letters Yud,Heh,Vav and Heh, also refer to past, present and future, both individually and collectively as grammarians will explain.
 
When we go on to pray for health, prosperity and meaning in life, we sway. The backward motion stimulates memory as we are reminded of others who are not so well off as we. Forward is anticipation, as we concentrate on what the world is going to be like when Moshiach comes.
 
In Torah study too, our swaying accompanies our consciousness as we bridge epochs in time. Whether a Talmudic tractate, a compendium of Bible commentaries, or a chassidic discourse, every page integrates Scripture from 3000 years ago with Mishnayos and medrashim of 2000 years ago, Rishonim of 1000 years back, and the latter scholars and chassidic masters of more recent times. We integrate all the present implications for how we live and project the impacts onto the Days of Moshiach before us.
 
Even the subject matter transcends time. For example, discussing the status of a lost object involves analyzing whether an owner's future discovery of his present loss makes him despair of finding it retroactively to when he lost it, in which case it would be permissible for someone who finds it now in the interim to keep it if he finds it first. We need to sway just to imagine it!
 
In a more spiritual vein, we have the time-travelling power of higher teshuvah, repentance out of love, that has the unique quality of being able to transform past misdeeds into shining merits, by virtue of having impelled the penitent to subsequently attach to G-d so intently.
 
In psychology today, our experience of time is now considered to be entangled with our spatial sense. In modern physics too, relativity theory has us thinking in spacetime, where time is just another dimension, like the three dimensions of space. These disciplines have somehow fastforwarded to the past, converging on a truth that has been embedded in the Torah l'olam, meaning in all places and all times as one.
 
This is all part of the convergence of Torah and science, prophesized so long ago by the Zohar, as a sure sign that world is about to be filled with the knowledge of G-d as waters cover the sea.
 
Now if only we could sway the One Above to bring about that time here and now. Maybe the way to do that is to lean forward into the future perspective, so He will do the same.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at www.arniegotfryd.com.

 

 


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