A Day Is A Thousand Years: Human Destiny And The Jewish People
This is a unique exposition of major Judaic concepts related to the destiny of the Jewish people and their interplay with the rest of mankind throughout history and until today.
reviewed by David Herman, Jewish Press
A Day Is A Thousand Years: Human Destiny And The Jewish People
by Dr. Zvi Faier
Sadly, Dr. Zvi Faier, the gifted Torah scholar, theoretical physicist and poet, passed away in 2009, on the 10th of Tevet 5769, after a long illness borne with dignity and courage. There recently appeared the first of two posthumously published works that show the amazing breadth of his knowledge, insights and interests.
A Day Is a Thousand Years, published by Chaim Mazo, and with a moving and very perceptive preface by his daughter Tziporah Lifshitz, is notable not only for its being a unique exposition of major Judaic concepts related to the destiny of the Jewish people and their interplay with the rest of mankind throughout history and until today, but also for its rich language and beautiful flowing style and imagery combining prose and verse.
The salient facts of Zvi Faier’s life offer clues to the amazing breadth of knowledge, insight and language reflected in this work. Born in 1934 in the town of Hrubieszow in southern Poland, his childhood was spent in southern Russia where the family had fled to escape the Nazis. In 1948, the family emigrated to Canada where Zvi received a yeshiva education. In 1965, he completed his doctoral studies and was awarded a Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1965 at Northwestern University in Chicago. Here he met his wife Chaya, and also his mentor Rabbi Chaim Halevi Zimmerman, the head rabbinical scholar at the Hebrew Theological College. He embarked on a scientific career, first as research physicist at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, then as a member of the physics faculty at St. John’s College New York. At the same time, he taught at Touro College and edited INTERCOM, the journal of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists.
After making aliyah in 1973, he continued his Talmudic studies with Rabbi Zimmerman at the Harry Fischel Institute, where he received rabbinic ordination in 1976. In 1977 he embarked on a career of translating such classic works of Jewish exegesis as the Malbim commentary, Meam Loez, and the Daat Sofrim commentary, and in 1979 he published his first original work, Burnt Offering: a Return to the Physical and Intellectual Jerusalem, co-authored with Dr. Haim Sokolik.
In his teaching and research, Dr. Faier focused on clarifying and applying the conceptual links between modern scientific methods and results and fundamental teachings of Judaism, and developing a scientific analysis of Talmudic sources. His aim was to generate an integrated understanding of Torah, man and the scientific universe.
The book is characterized by great intellectual scope and freedom and a profound striving for true understanding. Whereas it is an impassioned hymn of praise to the G-d of Israel and the Torah, this work is also a plea, directed to reinforcing the sublime in the hearts of all men. The author felt deeply that his ideas have relevance not only for Jews, but for all men and women around the world who cherish and seek truth, compassion and beauty.”
In his prologue, the author describes a huge parchment covering the earth just above the atmosphere. On the outer side, facing the sun, are inscribed three lines:
“That honor may dwell in our land
“Kindness and truth have met
“Justice and peace have kissed” (Psalms 85:11).
On the inner side was the legend:
“The price of honey
“And the price of light
“Are now beyond my means
“Said the victim
“To the slayer
“Said the slayer
“To the victim.”
The inscription persisted as the parchment unrolled into the future. Sometimes the writing showed more clearly on the side facing the light, and sometimes on the other side facing lands of darkness… Then it came to pass that the sons of man forgot they spoke in different tongues and nations everywhere touched. Both sides of the parchment now read:
“Kindness and truth have met
“Justice and peace have kissed.”
But it took a thousand years when it could have taken a day. Along the edge of the parchment, between the inner and outer sides, it said:
“For a thousand years in Your sight
“Are as yesterday
“As a watch in the night (based on Malbim reading of Psalm 90:4)
“That is impatient for the dawn.”
In the prologue the author talks about a little boy in Hrubieszow in late 1939 who runs to safety in a forest and survives the Nazis, and he hears a man say in Yiddish:
“The Jew dances to a niggun, a melody, which connects heaven and earth. The niggun never ends.”
“I am that boy aware that this melody is linked to the pain I feel and the sorrow I cannot dispel when confronted with distortions of the truth about my people or about the Torah.”
Towards the end of the prologue, the author writes: “This book took more than twenty years to complete. Its genesis, I now realize, took place earlier – in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. It came as a sustained lyric statement, like one breath; the word echoed the wounds of millennia suffered by my people, and the incredible hope which healed them, and now seems about to heal them permanently.”
The book is replete with striking comments and observations and interpretations that reflect the author’s worldview as a Jew and as a human being. For example, in Chapter 1 the author comments on the verse in Deuteronomy 5:2. After the Israelites received the Torah, G-d said: “Return to your tents”: “For peace to prevail between one nation and another, first there must be peace between one tent and another. But to have peace between one tent and another, there must be peace within each tent. Kindness, justice and truth are to guide every man and woman inside every home where new generations are called into existence to enter the promise land.”
In the chapter entitled “A Parable about Man,” referring to the relationship between Jacob and Esau and their meeting and reconciliation, the author makes the following profound inference: “The night can be dispelled. In a single confrontation, the oscillations of hatred can come to an end. The transformed Esau and Jacob can meet, kiss, and even weep for the past amidst rejoicing for the future.”
In a chapter subsection called the House of G-d, he writes about the purpose of the giving of the Torah: “In a different scenario, the Nations will see eye to eye” with the Jew, “When G-d restores Zion” (Isaiah 52:8) and “the house of prayer for all peoples” will arise. As it is written, “Many peoples and vast nations will come to seek the G-d of hosts in Jerusalem, and to beseech the presence of G-d” (Zechariah 8:22).
In the same chapter, entitled Hating the Jew – Loving the Jew, Dr. Faier refers to a story told by the psychologist Carl Jung in his memoirs about one of his patients, the beautiful and brilliant daughter of a Jewish banker who was unaccountably on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It emerged that her paternal grandfather was a rabbi and tzaddik. Suddenly to Jung everything became clear. Despite the modern fashionable attire she was a daughter of G-d and the secular worldly style of her life was driving her mad.
From this story, Dr. Faier draws the following conclusions: “This story provides a clue concerning the history of the State of Israel Her secular leaders and founding fathers have tried to present her as modern as possible. Distancing themselves from the awful experience of exile, some have grown contemptuous of everything in their past. When planning for the future of the Jewish people in Zion, they are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the dynamics of Jewish existence as a unique phenomenon that precludes that all generations cohere as a unity.
This unity of being began at Sinai and for that generation it was manifest in a shared emotion ‘as one man with one heart’…. Those who have been running the country have taken into account a mere part of the reality, ignoring the fact that the history of the Jewish people is utterly incomprehensible unless it is seen as a realization of the Divine Design, until it is understood that Israel is a beautiful daughter of G-d – even when she appears in secular dress.”
Commenting on the episode of Moses and the Burning Bush, Dr. Faier writes: The paradox of Israel’s endurance is expressed in the paradox of the perpetually burning bush. The sustaining fire is a symbol, as well, of Divine presence in human affairs.
In a related sense the people Israel is that unconsumed fire. The Jews as a collective are like an incessant flame striving upwards; and because their G-d-directed devotion and curiosity are unabated, G-d looks down to engage their look – and to sustain them. If “fire” can symbolize time, whose passage “consumes” our individual mortal lives, the lifetime of immortal Israel is not consumed.”
This is how the author sees the role of the Jewish people vis-à-vis mankind:
“A people came into existence that connected heaven and earth in a viable synthesis. This interesting people, who have continued to teach that freedom should be cherished as a gift from G-d, were promised a land of light and honey. They would be free to roam within the realm of ideas, and through allegiance to the Torah become a source of spiritual enlightenment for all mankind.”
In one of his many allusions to the role of the Jewish presence in the world, Dr. Faier memorably writes:
“Ignited at Sinai, the Jew is a flame connecting heaven and earth. We leap to the stars, higher yet: ‘higher than high’ (Ecclesiastes 5:7), and descend to the ashes. Our people are acknowledged by history as the aspiration in man to walk with G-d. But we are constantly tested. Now exile, now redemption; now the Absence, now the Presence; we live in counterpoint. The Jew in human affairs is as one of the physical constants in nature, and his destiny is chronicled in Holy Scripture.”
Finally, in a section entitled “Jerusalem,” Dr. Faier pays tribute to the holy city where he lived and worked so happily. in these prophetic lines: “Jerusalem is ‘perfection of beauty’ (Psalms 50:2). Jerusalem is the light of the world, and G-d is the light of Jerusalem. Jerusalem deserves its name when awe before G-d and peace unite the people. Ten measures of beauty came into the world. Jerusalem took nine measures; one was taken by the rest of the world. Together, these teachings make it evident that Jerusalem was given nine measure of beauty because great beauty properly goes together with awe of G-d…
“…When the physical beauty of Jerusalem becomes fully “joined” with the moral and ethical beauty of all its inhabitants, the fulfillment of the prophecy that humanity “will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2-4) will take place.”
Despite its modest size, this work will appeal to a wide readership because of the unique and rare wisdom, range and beauty of the ideas and concepts illuminating its pages. It is a fitting memorial to a remarkable Jew and human being.