Every year on my birthday, for as far back as I can recall, my father has wished me a happy birthday and asked: "So, do you feel different today?"
He always meant it as a joke, but there is a subtle truth to it. Many of our changes are gradual, so we set a marker to make the change truly obvious, although nothing physically really changes.
Job promotions, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdalah mark changes in our lives. We celebrate them but rarely stop to ask what exactly has changed or not changed.
Nature mimics this (or perhaps we mimic nature). Ice melts in our glass. Warm foods turn cold. These are what I call "not-changes." The underlying substance stays mostly the same; things are only different because of how we interact with them.
When ice melts in a glass, it becomes liquid water. It flows, and we give it another name. Young children will say it's a different substance. But look closely, and you'll see it's exactly the same H20 molecules.
It hasn't really changed its composition, just how it's assembled. It's the same stuff, it just behaves differently. Our interactions with it make it different for us.
Jews love to cook and to eat. In both, we create changes and "not-changes." When we bake, we break up molecules and rearrange their very atoms into delicious new molecules. Sauté an onion, and you get very different flavors. Scientists call those "chemical changes."
What about making chocolate milk, brewing coffee, boiling pasta, braiding a challah or whipping cream? Do flavors change? No. We simply add them together or change their texture.
These are all examples of "change-less" changes. The molecules all stay exactly the same.
I run a science entertainment organization, and appear at Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties regularly. One of my favorite things to ask the new celebrant is if he/she is now different or the same.
Same Old, Same Young
The answer is usually "yes." The celebrant may hold a different status, but he/she is still the same underlying person.
To exemplify these "not-changes" (and for fun) we evaporate liquid nitrogen to freeze ice-cream; despite billows of fog and the formation of ice-cream, not one molecule has changed.
In Judaism, there are many other markers of "not-changes." Abraham Joshua Heschel calls Shabbat as a "sanctuary in time," and Jewish tradition gives us tools to treat it as such; you enter at Kabbalat Shabbat and depart at Havdalah.
In fact, the Jewish tradition for Havdalah is all about marking a change of state. We all know that space and time are not different on Saturdays. Switched-on lights are barely different from unplugged lights. This is a marker of an important changeless change. Moreover, this blessing reminds us how important it is for us to mark those "not-changes," Jewish or otherwise.
My goal as a science educator is to encourage everyone to see a little bit more in the world around them. For example, simchas are not exceptions; they exist in different forms all the time. Realize that you are celebrating a "not-change" that makes your world different somehow.
And reveling in that change to make it real.
Ken Fink is founder and chief rocket scientist of Wondergy Science Educational Entertainment. He can be reached at: 86-MOLECULE (1-866-653-2853).