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The Captive Beauty

In the proposed allegorical interpretation, the soldier in the war is a metaphor for the Jewish people, who are all “soldiers” in G‑d’s army Tzivot Hashem, who fight the battle against evil to liberate and elevate fallen sparks from Tohu; where the beautiful woman from another nation is a metaphor for a fallen spark from another universe (Tohu), where the uncontrollable attraction the soldier feels towards the beautiful captive is a metaphor for the uncontrollable attraction a Jewish person (who is attuned to spirituality) feels towards divine sparks he is destined to redeem; where after having extracted the fallen spark from the clutches of evil, it requires a period of purification to achieve the ultimate marriage—the reintegration of the fallen spark into the domain of holiness.

Sefirat HaOmer—A Study in Klal u’Prat

The forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot are called the days of Sefira or the days of counting Omer—Sefirat HaOmer—when Jews count every day as the first day of the omer, the second day of the omer, and so on until on the Eve of Shavuot, when the last, forty-ninth day is counted. . . . And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that ye brought the Omer of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete.Leviticus 23:21 Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee; from the time the sickle is first put to the standing corn shalt thou begin to number seven weeks.Deuteronomy 16:9 This period is marked by semi-mourning with observance of such customs as avoiding haircuts, not shaving, not celebrating [...]

What is a Soul? III. The Many Souls of Man

  …[H]e who tries to cure the soul, wishing to improve the moral qualities, must have a knowledge of the soul in its totality and its parts…Maimonides[1] Maimonides opens his introduction to The Ethics of the Fathers with this statement: Know that the human soul is one, but that it has many diversified activities. Some of these activities have, indeed, been called souls, which has given rise to the opinion that man has many souls, as was the belief of the physicians, with the result that the most distinguished of them states in the introduction of his book that there are three souls, the physical, the vital, and the psychical.[2] While Maimonides lists three souls—the physical (tiv’it), the vital (chiyunit), and the psychical (nefoshit)—he believes them to be aspects of one soul—“Know that [...]

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 Cosmological Problem of Initial Conditions and the Universe of Tohu

Now the earth was unformed and void.Genesis 1:2 We have a big problem in cosmology: the problem of the initial conditions of the universe at the time of the Big Bang.[1] Before we can explain this problem, however, we need to review some basic concepts of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics developed by Boltzmann and others[2] described the behavior of gases and liquids and the transfer of heat. A key concept in thermodynamics is entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder, of chaos. The second law of thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, entropy always increases with time. The second law of thermodynamics explains universal decay. And entropy is the measure of that decay.[3] Shining stars produce entropy. Stars collapsing into black holes produce entropy. Evaporating black holes produce entropy.[4] Entropy is increasing in the universe.[5] Let us [...]

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 [...]

Jacob’s Struggle With a Man: A Metaphor From Neuroscience

So the present passed over before him; and he himself lodged that night in the camp. And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him. And he said: “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” (Genesis 32:23–26)   The story of Jacob wrestling with a “man” is yet another of [...]

Noah’s Ark—Three Layers of Reality

A light shalt thou make to the ark…with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. (Genesis 6:16) We mentioned in the previous posts that Noah’s ark was a microcosm.[1] As we discussed in the previous post, “Noah’s Ark—Three Layers of Being Human,” most structural parallels related to Noah’s ark are based on its tripartite structure —that is, its having three tiers. In Chasidic thought, the three levels of Noah’s ark correspond to three worlds of BiYA—Beriyah (the World of Creation), Yetzirah (the World of Formation), and Asiyah (the World of Action). In this essay, we will investigate how the tripartite structure of Noah’s ark is reflected in the structure of reality. We might say that the totality of existence comprises three layers—physical, informational, and spiritual. The classification of reality into three [...]

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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