Photo Credit: Jewish Press

A space-time continuum presumes that the three dimensions of space can be joined with the dimension of time. While this notion has only entered the study of physics in the last hundred years, the idea was expressed four centuries ago by the Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) and is even reflected in the Hebrew language.

Amazingly, some words in Hebrew share both a temporal and spatial meaning, illustrating the interconnectivity between time and space. For example, the word “olam” denotes infinity (or at least vastness) both in a spatial sense (“world”) and a temporal sense (“forever”). The word “lifnei” (before) can also be used in terms of space (e.g., “I stood before the Lincoln Memorial”) and time (“I came home before my mother did”).

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The connection between time and space may shed light on some of the four Hebrew words that mean immediately after: “teikef,” “mi’yad,” “le’alter,” and “otyom.” Although none of these words appear in the Bible, they are all used in Rabbinic Hebrew.

1) “Teikef” has a double meaning, denoting both closely pressed together and rapidly succeeding each other. In other words, two objects near each other and two events chronologically close together share the same word: “teikef.”

2) Translated hyper-literally, “mi’yad” means “from hand,” which suggests a correlation between time and space. The most readily transferable object is one that sits in one’s hand ready to be transferred – which is conceptually related to chronological immediacy.

3) Some Jews have a custom to greet others on the first night of Rosh Hashanah with the words “Le’shanah tova tei’katev ve’tei’chatem le’alter le’chaim tovim u’le’shalom – For a good year, shall you be written and inscribed, immediately (le’alter), for a good life and peace.”

Some commentators, including Rabbi Yishaya Pick-Berlin (1725-1799) and Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697-1776), explain that “le’alter” is a portmanteau of the phrase “al atar” (on the spot). So, once again, we see a connection between space and time because “on the spot” literally refers to a location, yet “le’alter” refers to an occurrence in time.

4) Some argue that “otyom” should really be read “evteos.” This term appears once in the Mishnah (Niddah 2:2) and clearly means “immediately thereafter.” Rabbi Emmanuel Chai Ricci (1688-1743), in his commentary to the Mishnah, writes that “otyom” is an abbreviation of a Hebrew phrase that characterizes the halachic definition of “immediately” in the context in which the word appears.

However, Rabbi Betzalel Ronsberg (1762-1821) disagrees with Rabbi Ricci’s interpretation and points out that it is inconsistent with the conclusions reached by the Talmud regarding the halachic definition of “immediately” in that context. He instead prefers the approach of Rav Hai Gaon (commentary on Niddah), Sefer HaAruch, Rashi (to Yoma 6a and Keritot 17b), and the Rashba (Torat HaBayit 7:3) who all write that “otyom” is actually a Greek word.

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