Though I rarely use an alarm clock, I awake nearly every morning at 6AM, no matter the time of year, or, weirdly, the time zone. It’s probably no coincidence that I have an affinity for precise timepieces, like the atomic clock unveiled this week so accurate that it will lose at most 1/10th of a second over the lifetime of the universe.
The predictability is comforting, yet time itself is hardly a constant. It moves faster in the mountains than at sea level, and when we are in motion instead of standing still. Beyond Earth, physicists have long given up the notion of a universal ‘present’, or even the surety of time’s linear progression: it is logically possible to travel through spacetime in a continuous trajectory toward the future and end up at the starting point, which is now in the past.
It’s no wonder we are so eager to cling to the illusions of order and controlling our fate. Lifting our eyes from this tiny spinning orb we call home was already a dizzying experience; a deep dive into the murky nature of time can leave us entirely unmoored. We may seek comfort instead in the temporal rhythms themselves, each week making our way once again to a familiar niche in spacetime, where we can find firm footing in the ground truth and quiet expanse of Shabbat.
Tomorrow evening I’m looking forward to setting aside my tools, analog and digital, and entering into Shabbat, entering what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “the palace of time“. I hope that you can join me, if not this week then sometime soon. Shabbat shalom!
(This post is part of Sinai and Synapses’ project Scientists in Synagogues, a grass-roots program to offer Jews opportunities to explore the most interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. This post is from Beth Israel Center in Madison, WI).