Elon Musk’s Transformable Submarine in Jewish Thought.

james bond car musk

(RM Auctions)

By Yonatan Gordon

In case you didn’t see it, Elon Musk made headlines again. No it wasn’t for the Hyperloop, or something else from the Iron Man movies … instead, the story was about his purchase of a transformable submarine prop from a James Bond movie for close to $1 million.

Although, unlike the movie, the swimming car with fins depicted above doesn’t really drive as a car, Elon hopes to change that:

“It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond…drive his [car] off a pier, press a button, and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform,” Musk said. “What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.”

Long Short, and Short Long Way

The publication of this story coincided with something that I was working on related to the “long short” and the “short long” way. First to quote from the Talmud (thanks Chabad.org):

Said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah: “Once a child got the better of me.”

“I was traveling, and I met with a child at a crossroads. I asked him, ‘which way to the city?’ and he answered: ‘This way is short and long, and this way is long and short.’

“I took the ‘short and long’ way. I soon reached the city but found my approach obstructed by gardens and orchards. So I retraced my steps and said to the child: ‘My son, did you not tell me that this is the short way?’ Answered the child: ‘Did I not tell you that it is also long?'”

(Talmud, Eruvin 53b)

So important is this allegory, that the Tanya–the fundamental work of Chassidut by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi–begins with a reference to this story:

“[This book is] based on the verse, ‘For [the Torah and its precepts] is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it’– to explain, with the help of God, how it is indeed exceedingly close, in a long and short way.”

(Tanya, Title Page)

Transformable Ways

Before this headline, there were other ways to explain the “long short” and “short long” ways … but my reason for writing this post is because this is also a pretty cool allegory to work with.

While we encourage you to click on the Chabad.org link above, basically the short-long way relates to a person that avoids challenges and obstacles in the way. They would rather “coast” through life with as least resistance as possible, but the desire to coast also means that they have never fully won. They are still being pursued, either by their own evil inclination or some external hurdles.

As in this passage from the Talmud, even though the path seems clear and free at first, this is not so. What seems easy or a shortcut, is really the opposite.

The long short way is the preferable path. Although the challenges and obstacles are clearly visible in the foreground, since they are being being confronted from the beginning, the journey becomes easier as time goes on.

What is then so exciting about a car that can transform into a submarine to escape enemies? Because travel underwater is much more difficult than on land. This is why someone who needs to regain strength in their muscles, is encouraged to spend time swimming. Someone who is immersed in water, needs to work much harder to take each step, but the results yield a stronger, healthier body.

What is the lesson? That even when it seems like we are avoiding enemies, even when we feel the need to “press a button” to go underwater, it is all in order to ascend to an even higher service of God.

This was an important lesson for me, because after thinking about the “long short” and “short long” way, a person could be left thinking that any form of avoidance is not good. That it is always better to confront the challenge head on.

But sometimes we do indeed need to transform ourselves, and our fighting tendencies. To take a nose dive that seems like an avoidance tactic, in order to build our “muscle strength” for the next round.

This also explains why Musk so much wants this submarine to be transformable. While our “fight” or “flight” nature is known, what is not as well known is the fluidity with which we should approach life’s challenges. While a car works in some circumstances, sometimes we just need to press that “button” to go under water for a bit.


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