My Life as a Pendulum
Usually, when we think of the pendulum as a metaphor, it’s of a process that goes too far in one direction, then too far in the other, until eventually it reaches equilibrium at the mean. I’m thinking of a different perspective.Think of the soul, not as some point within you, but as a line. The lowest region, the nefesh, is within the body, animating it, responding to its desires, living in a world dominated by objects and laws of physics. Immediately above it, the soul lives in a world where the laws of those of justice and mercy, oppression, freedom, etc… And so on up the level of existence until one reaches the yechidah, the soul’s connection to G-d Himself. Thus, at its highest point, the soul is connected to the Absolute, the Unmovable.
Many science museums have a large Foucault Pendulum. (I have a smaller one on my desk.) This pendulum is typically strung from a point on the ceiling, and the weight barely touches the surface of a sand table on the floor. Or set to knock down pegs arranged in a circle to show where the pendulum has been. Over time, a trail in the sand develops, showing you where the pendulum has been. Obviously, the pattern is primarily repetitive, back and forth. However, the line that swinging draws rotates over time. Every so many minutes, the swing knocks down another peg or domino.
In reality, the pendulum doesn’t rotate. It is fixed, absolute, staying on the same plane. It is the world that is changing, rotating beneath it. A pendulum suspended at the South Pole in the winter of 2001 described a path whose endpoints made a full circle each (sidereal) day. In other latitudes, the rate of rotation is slower (a function of the sine of the latitude). But it’s always such that the plane in which the pendulum swings is constant.
His students asked Rabbi Zakai, “For what [were you granted] long life?” He said to them, “In all my days, I never urinated within a distance of four amos from where I prayed, I never gave another person a nickname, and I never failed to recite qiddush; I had an elderly mother, and once she sold her hat in order to obtain the means to bring me wine for qiddush.” …
His students asked Rabbi Elazar bar Shamua’, “For what [were you granted] long life?” He said to them, “In all my days, I never made a shortcut out of the beis medrash; I never tread on the heads of the sacred people; and I never lifted my hands [to bless the people as a kohein] without making the blessing first.”
His students asked Rabbi Pereidah, “For what [were you granted] long life?” He said to them, “In all my days, no one ever preceded me into the beis medrash; I never blessed ahead of a kohein; and I never ate from an animal after the gifts [to the kohanim] were given.” …
His students asked Rabbi Nechunia ben haQanah, “For what [were you granted] long life?” He said to them, “In all my days, I never obtained honor for myself through my colleague’s disgrace; a colleague’s curse never went into my bed with me [I forgave the one who cursed me first]; I was open with my money.” …
Rabbi Aqiva asked Rabbi Nechunia haGadol, “For what [were you granted] long life?” … He said to him, “In all my days, I never accepted gifts; I never stood for my rights; I was open with my money.”
Rebbe asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Qorchah [“Qorchah”, the bald, refers to Rabbi Aqiva from the previous paragraph], “For what [were you granted] long life?” … He said to him, “In all my days, I never looked at the image of an evil person.”
Notice that all these rabbis gave multiple answers, and one one of them coincided. One theme does shine through, “miyamai — in all my days”. Consistency. What’s the key to long life? Finding one’s approach to serving Hashem, and sticking to it, day in day out. Stabilized up “above” by the yechidah‘s non-wavering attachment to the Absolute.
This is not simple repetitiveness; the consistency must adapt itself as the world we find ourselves in changes. It is a sacred commitment to our mission, and thereby moving through the world while based on our unwavering connection to the One Above.