Monday, February 11, 2008

Dimensional Oddities in the Mishkan

The first half of the 17th chapter of Maseches Keilim discusses the various units of measure that appear in halacha. Mishnah 10 notes that, although an amah, the cubit-based unit of length, is usually equal to six handbreadth-based tefachim, the amos with which the keilim of the Mishkan were measured were actually only five tefachim in size. Hence, for example, the size of the aron would be only 2.08 X 1.25 X 1.25 amos when measured using normal units, rather than the 2.5 X 1.5 X 1.5 indicated by the pesukim. The opinion of R' Meir differs slightly from that of R' Yehudah stated above, but also acknowledges that for certain parts of the Mishkan, these smaller amos were used. Why is this the case?

There are also several other dimensional oddities that occurred in the Beis HaMikdash. One example of such is the Aron which, according to Megillah 10b, did not take up any space in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. Another, described in the 5th perek of Pirkei Avos, is the miracle that despite everyone being packed together in the Courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur, they still had plenty of room to bow down when the kohen gadol pronounced the name of God.

Stephen Greenman notes these oddities in an essay* that appears in _Encounter_, a set of essays published by the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists (H. Chaim Schimmel and R' Aryeh Carmell, ed.). He suggests a potential correlation to the special theory of relativity, which states that as the velocity of an object approaches the speed of light, its length along the axis of its motion decreases asymptotically. Applying this idea to the matter at hand, perhaps the greater holiness of the keilim of the Mikdash causes a condensation of their perceived volume. So, too, when the people in the Azarah heard the name of God pronounced, perhaps their bodies underwent a similar temporary shrinkage. The aron, the center of the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash upon which the shechina rested, is analogous to an object traveling at the speed of light itself, which has no volume at all. Much as special relativity has a negligible effect on our everyday activities, which occur at velocities much lower than the speed of light (roughly 650,000,000 miles per hour), so, too, would this analogous relationship have an imperceptible effect outside of the Beis HaMikdash.

The author provides further data points connecting physical energy and holiness in the article, as well as analogs to the relativistic condensation of time as one approaches the speed of light, but does not pass judgement on whether the juxtaposition of the two concepts is anything more than an intriguing parable.

* "Relativity and the Bet HaMikdash: a metaphorical extrapolation or an intriguing parable?"

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At 2/14/2008 5:09 PM, Blogger Chaim B. said...

I don't pretend to understand the nuances of how this would all work out using relaitivity, but Havolim had the same idea here:

At 2/15/2008 12:26 AM, Blogger rivkayael said...

By the way, I think your blog title is cool. :)


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