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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 God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “In the beginning God 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 [...]

Salt: The Covenant of the Opposites

And every meal-offering of thine shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meal-offering; with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt." (Leviticus 2:13)   Torah dictates that all offerings to God must be brought together with salt. Classical commentators ask: What is so special about salt that it is an indispensable ingredient of any sacrifice? Moreover, why is it called the covenant of salt? Nachmanides explains: The Torah also uses this covenant as a model for other covenants, as both the priestly covenant[1] and the Davidic covenant[2] are called “covenant of salt” because they are upheld just as the sacrificial covenant of salt…. I am of the opinion that the significance is that the salt is water, which [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

It Is Not Good For Man To Be Alone

And the Eternal God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helpmate opposite him.” (Genesis 2:18)   The end of this verse is rather puzzling. Why would the woman designated as a helpmate for Adam be opposite (literally “against”) him? One can perhaps soften things by translating the Hebrew eizer kenegdo as “counterpart.” However, in a literal translation, the question remains. A simple explanation is well known: if a man is worthy, his wife would be his best friend, ally, partner, companion, and helpmate. If the man is not worthy, however, his wife would be his opponent and antagonist. An esoteric interpretation offered by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in his commentary on this verse in “Torah Ohr,”[1] provides a deeper meaning. He writes [...]

Daughters of Zelophehad

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad …. of the families of Manasseh, the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar, the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, saying: “Our father died in the desert, …. and he had no sons. Why should our father's name be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.” (Numbers 27:1-4) In the Torah portion that was read last Shabbat in the Diaspora, Phineas (Pinchas), we read the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad who brought the claim for inheritance in [...]

Chanukah Menorah – the River of Time

In a Kabbalistic meditation on lighting Chanukah Menorah, the Arizal links the menorah lights with a supernal river (see Candle on the River). The Arizal’s principal disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, writes in Shaar HaKavanot, Inyan Chanukah: One should meditate on the idea that the initials of the words ‘…l'hadleek ner Chanukah [to light the Chanukah candle]’ are the holy name called ‘Nachal’.” The first letters of  “l'hadleek ner Chanukah” are three letters, Lamed (L), Nun (N), and Chet (Ch). Rearranged, these letters spell the word NaChaL, that is, a stream or a small river. As I wrote in my essays, “On the Nature of Time and the Age of the Universe,” and “Joseph—the Master of Time,” a river has been the metaphor for time across many cultures. Does this Kabbalistic meditation hints at a connection between Chanukah lights and [...]

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