These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Pardes on the Moon: Shmeir on the Elevator

Posted on May 20, 2016 by Elana Weiner

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It was one of those days at Pardes on the moon. It was a lazy, unfocused kind of day and everyone in the Beit Midrash was bitulin Torah, even Shmeir Meiger. He just couldn’t focus—the thunder outside was deafening, every time he looked at his page of Gemara, a flash of lightning would distract him and he’d lose his place. Finally, after an hour of getting nowhere, Shmeir decided to take a walk inside the building. He entered the elevator, pushed a button, and grabbed onto two of the handles nailed to the wall.

He had to grab onto the handles in order to remain in place when the elevator moved. Because of the low gravity on the moon, when one is on an ascending elevator, they smack into the floor; when one descends, they slam into the ceiling. The people on the moon, therefore, always hold onto handles when travelling by elevator. In fact, no one on the moon had ever thought to do otherwise and so Shmeir Meiger thought nothing of it when he grabbed onto two particularly large handles. It was good that he did so, because it would soon transpose to become a very unusual day.

As the doors to the elevator closed, Shmeir thought about how the week was dragging on. He was looking forward to the weekend and felt like time was moving unbearably slow. If only he could speed time up! And that’s when things became strange.

Suddenly, the elevator jerked and stopped. Shmeir heard mechanical clanking that sounded as if the elevator was shifting gears. Just as suddenly as it had stopped, the elevator started, picking up speed. Shmeir feared that he would crash, but after a few minutes he realized that he must be traveling through some sort of inter-dimensional portal. The elevator was not just traveling up and down, but side-ways and curve-ways, through-ways and round-ways. As the elevator accelerated, he began to hear voices, or rather, snippets of whispered conversation. What was odd, even for a day like this, was that the voices were speaking in Aramaic–not the Aramaic of novice yeshiva students, but the Aramaic of those who would speak this language as their common parlance.

The elevator began to slow and finally stopped. Shmeir let go of the handles and looked around. The elevator was gone. Instead, Shmeir was standing in a Beit Midrash he’d never seen before. Standing in front of him was Rabbi Avin.

Shmeir felt like he had just fallen into the middle of a conversation for suddenly, it seemed, Rabbi Avin was exclaiming, “How could you go to the bath house, Ravi, and then teach us before Shabbat evening?”

Rabba interjected, “Ah, but he entered to sweat. Did not Abaye permit this?”

“Permit what?”

Rav Dimi spoke up, “Yes, Raba told me himself, that I can bleach my baskets if I’ve brought

Shabbat in early.”

“But didn’t you prayed Ma’ariv after you bleached the baskets?!” asked Rashi. To Shmeir, it didn’t seem like much of a question, though.

“I disagree, Rashi,” said Avidan. “Rav Dimi, you prayed Ma’ariv before you bleached the baskets. Abaye should never have allowed it.”

“But it was just a mistake! Couldn’t you reverse it,” pleaded Shmeir.

“Of course,” continued Avidan. “Remember that really cloudy Shabbat when everyone thought it was dark and prayed Motzi Shabbat? Then the clouds dispersed and we realized the sun was still up?”

“Yes, yes, I remember that clearly,” said Rashi, “you all asked me if the mistake was reversible.

Now what did I say…oh, yes. Yes, you should repeat Ma’ariv but the community does not have to.”

“Wait, what?!” interjected Shmeir. “Do you mean to say that Shabbat ended early or that it remained Shabbat even after you prayed Ma’ariv?”

Rashi looked kindly at Shmeir. “Nu, you see, you can’t end Shabbat early. Shabbat is holy time and you cannot decrease that which is holy. You can only increase it. An individual who has made a mistake and prayed Ma’ariv motzei Shabbat early, prays it again when Shabbat actually ends because it is easy for him to repeat the prayers. But a community, a community is a difficult thing to contend with. It is much more difficult to get them to do anything, so they don’t have to repeat Ma’ariv.”

Shmeir stammered a, “but…”

“Yes,” said Rashi, “But neither the individual nor the community, though they both erred, can work before the time Shabbat ends officially because it is still Shabbat. My colleagues here,” and he pointed to the other rabbis and students sitting in the room, “have been debating whether people can affect time by bringing in Shabbat early. Can a person manipulate or change time? Indeed, I do not know. A person can increase holiness can not decrease it. Bringing in Shabbat early increases holiness and so one can actually transform ordinary time into holy time. Ending Shabbat early decreases holiness and so is impossible. Time will not allow it. It would be a desecration to God’s creation. You see…”

Shmeir certainly had a lot to think about. He closed his eyes and thought about his earlier desire to speed up time. Did he really have that power to affect the nature of time? It seemed that the answer was both yes and no. Time, Rashi seemed to say, or was it his own mind, cannot be manipulated by people because it is part of God’s creation. But one can improve time by increasing its holiness. That would be like adding praise to God’s name. A person cannot, however, decrease God’s built in holy time. That would diminish God’s name.

As Shmeir opened his eyes and saw his own Beit Midrash surrounding him, he understood that since Shabbat is God’s realm, only God has the ability to shape the nature of Shabbat. But the rest of the week resides in the realm of people, and people can make it holy or not. And so, with renewed energy and despite the thunder and lighting, Shmeir decided to bring a little more holiness to the time he could control, right there and then, in his Beit Midrash.

Elana Weiner