At science fiction and fantasy conventions, one might expect to hear strange tales of talking animals, shape shifters and teleportation. These things are not, however, commonly thought of in relation to Torah, but perhaps they should be. Balaam’s donkey talks to him, literally (Numbers 22), Moses changes his staff into a snake (Exodus 7), and, according to the sages (Sanhedrin 95a-b) “the earth contracted” for Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, and for Jacob (as well as Abishi ben Zeruah in the time of David).
“Our sages taught: For three did the earth contract…Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, as it is written ‘And I came on this day unto the well,’ implying that he had set out on that same day…” Eliezer had been charged with the task of going to Abraham’s brother’s household to find a bride for Isaac. This is certainly an important task, but why was it so important that God changed the laws of nature? In truth, Eliezer’s mission was very difficult for him personally. Part of him wanted it to fail so that Isaac might marry his own daughter. Perhaps it was to reduce that temptation that God caused him to arrive in just one day, on what should have been a long, multi-day journey.
The concept of God contracting the earth is referred to in the Talmud as Kefitzat Haderech. Kefitzat derives from the word “jump,” and derech means road. Many of the tales of the great chassidic rebbes, particulary the Baal Shem Tov, include Kefitzat Haderech.
The idea of the earth shrinking, or being able to jump from one place to another, is intriguing and appealing (especially to those stuck in rush hour). In fact, it is so appealing a concept that one science fiction writer did take it from the Talmud…Frank Herbert’s Dune series contains a power called Kwisatz Haderech, the shortening of the road.
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