Shelach - TIME IS RELATIVE
THE LATE and lamented Professor Albert Einstein, the greatest scientific genius of our century, will long be remembered for his many contributions to knowledge. His worldshaking theory of E = Mc2, in which he establishes that matter is really frozen energy, and energy is matter on the loose, has made the splitting of the atom possible. But his name will be forever identified and linked with the theory of relativity. It was Einstein who focused the attention of man on the time element in the umverse, which he called the Fourth Dimension, and on the fact that time is relative.
The scientific aspects of this complicated theory I leave to those who are qualified to discuss it, but I wish to point out that time also has an emotional and moral impact on man. From our own personal experience we know that the effects of time depend largely on the mood we are in, and on our mental and physical health. Happy hours seem to pass by like fleeting seconds; unhappy ones drag on like an eternity. When we attend a wedding or a party of a friend or spend an evening in pleasant company, we wonder when and how the time has flown. But when we have a headache or a toothache or when we cudure severe mental torment, time just seems to stand still. Even the time we spend in prayer is relative. Those who love their Judaism enjoy the few hours they spend in the synagogue on the Sabbath and Festivals. But those who are critical of everything Jewish zitzen nebeh vee oif shpilkes, "sit on pins and needles."
Hershele Ostropolier, the famous wit of Eastern Europe, was of the opinion that the length of one's prayer should be in direct proportion to one's possessions. This is borne out by the following anecdote. Hershele was once asked by the richest man in town, "How is it that you daven so fast? It is a shame! it takes me at least t'vice as long as it takes you to recite the Shmoneh essreh." To which Hershele Ostropolier replied, "Who can compare with you, Reb Yankev? You are blessed with a lot of property, plenty of money in the bank and many outstanding mortgages. You have a fine house, cows, horses and goats. When you say the Shmoneh essreh it takes you a great deal of time to go over all these matters in your mind. But what have I to think about? I have only a wife and a goat. So I say, 'wife-goat, goat-wife' and I am through!"
The psychological factor of time has a bearing on the story of the meraglim, the twelve spies that Moses sent to find out whether the land of Canaan was fit for civilized living and to determine whether its inhabitants could be overcome. Ten of them brought back a false and very discouraging report. The people believed these treacherous men and rebelled against God and against the leadership of Moses. Whereupon they were sentenced by the Almighty to wander forty long and dreary years in the wilderness. "After the number of days in which you spied out the land, forty days, every day for a year, shall you bear for your iniquities forty years. And you shall know my displeasure" (Numbers 14.34).
The question that poses itself is: was the punishment meted out to our forefathers in the desert midah keneged midah, measure for measure? Was it fair? They only sinned forty days. VVhy were they punished to endure privation and sorrow for forty years?
The explanation is that the meraglim hated their assignment and despised the Land of Promise to such a degree that every day they had to spend on their mission seemed to them like a year. Thus the forty days were like forty years unto them. God, therefore, puilished them and their followers accordingly. Yom lashanah--a year of wandering in the desert for each day that they were engaged in their rebellious and nefarious work.
This thought can also be applied to the prohibition of usury. The Torah states, "Take not of him any usury or increase; but you shall be afraid of your God, that your brother may live with you" (Levit. 25:36). In his commentary on this verse, the Abravanel asks: What has the beginmng of the sentence to do with its ending? What has the prohibition of usury to do with vechay achikha i'nach, "that your brother may live with you?"
His answer bears directly on our theme. The Abravanel explains that whenever usury is involved, the borrower wants time to pass slowly so that he can get the most out of the loan for the interest rate he has to pay. The lender, on the other hand, wishes the reverse. He is eager that time should pass quickly. He wants his money back fast so that he can lend it to another customer at an additional profit. For a borrower time seems to run too fast; for the lender too slow. Only when there is no usury involved in a loan is it possible for the two to live on the same time schedule-in a spirit of brotherhood and love.
No wonder that the professional usurer who took steep interest-rates (even from those who were forced to borrow in order to buy bread), was utterly despised in the Jewish community. The psychological impact of the time differential involved in his transactions served as a wedge that separated him from his people.
This is especially true in our days when interest rates are steep. They tell of a man who was negotiating a loan from his rich but hard-hearted cousin. The wealthy money lender was willing to make the advance but he demanded 9 percent. "Well," said the poor fellow. "I am hard pressed and will pay the 9 percent. But what will our dear grandfather, of blessed memory, say when he will look down from heaven and see how one of his grandsons is taking 9 percent from his other grandson?" "Don't you worry about grandpa," replied the cousin. "From where he is it will look like 6 percent."
The Torah is very conscious of the dimension of time, and insists that we do not permit that precious element to divide a Jew from his brother, neighbor or friend, "that your brother may live with you." And when the Jew concludes the kiddush on Yomtov, he says mekadesh yisrael ve-hazemanim. He invokes the blessings of God on Israel and on the "times" which determine the festivals of joy which promote the ideals of kedushah, compassion and love.