G‑d, G‑dliness, Deity, Divine

Gazing at the Shekhinah

In his commentary on this week’s Torah Portion, Yitro, Rabbi Chayim Vital, writing in the name of his teacher, the Ari-zal, states that Abel was punished for gazing at the Shekhinah—the divine presence.[1] But what relevance does this have to the Torah portion retelling the greatest event in Jewish history (and, indeed, the history of human civilization)—the Sinaitic epiphany—the giving of the Torah? This is the Torah portion, where we read the Ten Commandments. What is the relevance of the sin of Abel to the Ten Commandments? More generally, what is Abel’s connection to this Torah portion? That is easy to understand. The Torah portion Yitro starts with the story of Jethro (Yitro), Moses’s father-in-law, coming to Moses in the Sinai desert with his daughter—the wife of Moses—and her two children. Rabbi Chayim [...]

Principle of Least Action III — History

The spectacle of the universe becomes so much the grander, so much more beautiful, the worthier of its Author, when one knows that a small number of laws, most wisely established, suffice for all movements. Pierre Louis Maupertuis (1744) Among the more or less general laws, the discovery of which characterize the development of physical science during the last century, the principle of Least Action is at present certainly one which, by its form and comprehensiveness, may be said to have approached most closely to the ideal aim of theoretical inquiry. Its significance, properly understood, extends, not only to mechanical processes, but also to thermal and electrodynamic problems. In all the branches of science to which it applies, it gives, not only an explanation of certain characteristics of phenomena at present encountered, but [...]

The Standard Model

Introduction What could the Standard Model of particle physics possibly have in common with biblical accounts of the Israelites’ travels in the Sinai Desert, Kabbalistic doctrines related to the unfolding of spiritual worlds, or the arrangement of the letters in the Name of G‑d? To make connections or parallels between such unrelated concepts may sound farfetched. However, this is exactly what we are going to do in this essay. Remember that in structural analysis, we do not concern ourselves with the specifics or the nature of the objects at hand—we are interested only in the interrelationships among the objects, the high-level structure, or the storyline. So, let us not worry that particle physics speaks of subatomic particles, whereas the Torah speaks of the arrangement of Jewish tribes around the Tabernacle in the desert—topics [...]

Light Above and Light Below

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (STR) is broadly misunderstood by the public. In most popular science books, relativity theory is hailed for introducing relativity to physics. Whereas Newtonian physics embraces absolute space and time—the narrative goes—Einstein proved that space and time are relative. Fair enough. However, the relativity of space and time is the consequence of STR, not its first principle. The cornerstone of STR is the absolute nature of light or, more precisely, the invariance of the speed of light, which is the same (in a vacuum) in all inertial frames of reference.[1] As Tim Maudlin, a leading contemporary philosopher of physics, writes: The fundamental feature of the Special Theory is not what it makes relative but what it makes absolute. The speed of light is an invariant quantity under the transformation [...]

What Is a Soul? II. Anatomy of the Soul

In the biblical story of the creation of Adam, the Torah states: Then the Eternal G‑d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.Genesis 2:7 The word translated into English as “soul” in the original Hebrew is nefesh. This is the first and the lowest level of the soul given to Adam. The taxonomy and anatomy of a soul in Judaism are quite complex. Original biblical sources speak of three levels of the soul: nefesh (“soul”), ru’ach (“spirit”),[1] and neshamah (“breath”).[2] The Kabbalah speaks of the five levels of the soul: nefesh, ru’ach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah. This is based on classical rabbinic sources. As stated in the midrash, “By five names is the soul called: nefesh, ru’ach, [...]

The Conflict Between Joseph And His Brothers—A Gender Theory

The confrontation between Joseph and his brothers is one of the most troubling stories of the Bible. Joseph and his brother—twelve sons of Jacob—were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are described as tzadikim (the righteous and pious men) and prophets. However, as we read in the Torah portion Vayeshev, we are told that brothers hated Joseph: And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. (Genesis 37:3) And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren; and they hated him yet the more. (Genesis 37:5) And his brethren envied him… (Genesis 37:11) The brothers intended to kill Joseph: And they said one to another: ‘Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now [...]

Tzimtzum III—Renormalization—Sweeping Infinites Under the Rug

Sweeping Infinities Under the Rug—or Renormalization Having dealt with internal contradictions in the previous section (see Physics of Tzimtzum I — The Quantum Leap and Physics of Tzimtzum II — Collapse of the Wave Function), we are left with another problem—infinity. Although G‑d concealed His self-contradictory nature by “sweeping paradoxes under the rug” in the process akin to the collapse of the wave function, the Light of the Infinite (Ohr Ein Sof) filled the whole of existence with infinite Divine emanation. This infinite radiation left no room for any finite creation to emerge. What was G‑d to do? Having aced the exam on quantum field theory with flying colors, G‑d employed the favorite trick of theoretical physicists in sweeping infinities under the rug using what is called “renormalization.”[1] Roughly speaking, renormalization solves the [...]

Physics of Tzimtzum II — Collapse of the Wave Function

In the previous post “Physics of Tzimtzum I—The Quantum Leap”, we gave a general overview of the mystical doctrine of tzimtzum—the cornerstone of Lurianic Kabbalah. It is time to get into the details. The first phrase that describes the process of tzimtzum in Etz Chaim states: Ein Sof “contracted” (tzimtzem) Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of Ohr Ein Sof. This sentence raises several difficult questions: First, what could it possibly mean that the Infinite (Ein Sof) “contracted” (tzimtzem) Himself? In Hebrew, the word tzimtzum comes from the root TZM, which means “to diminish” or “to fast,” that is, to “diminish” oneself.[1] It can also mean “to be precise,” that is, to remove ambiguity.[2] The repetition of the root TZM is a grammatical form of doubling down, an extreme [...]

Physics of Tzimtzum I — The Quantum Leap

Introduction “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth,” the Torah says. However, what was before the “beginning”? It is like asking, What was before the Big Bang? In physics, until relatively recently, such questions were discouraged. The prevailing wisdom was that time and space had been created by the Big Bang, and there was no “before” before the Big Bang. Mishnah discourages such thinking, too. The sages point out that the first letter of the Torah, the letter bet, is open on the left and closed on the right:[1] The text of the Torah and the history of the world proceed from that opening on the left. The closed right side of the letter bet visually walls off [...]




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