Divine providence

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On Freedom of Choice, Divine Providence, and the Hard Problem of Philosophy

The story of Joseph and his brothers, described in the Torah portion of Vayeshev, presents many problems. Classical biblical commentators interpret the conflict between Joseph and his brothers in diametrically opposite ways. Some commentators interpret it literally—the brothers were guilty of conspiring to kill Joseph and, ultimately, selling him into slavery, for which they were held accountable.[1] In fact, the brothers admit their guilt: And they said one to another: ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear. . . . Genesis 42:21 Others take the view that these events were predetermined by G‑d. Indeed, in the Covenant Between the Parts, G‑d reveals to Abraham that his descendants will be strangers in a foreign land. Furthermore, [...]

My Name Is G‑d, and I Am Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance

In the beginning, G‑d created the heaven and the earth...[1] (Genesis 1:1)   Classical biblical commentators have given the first words of the Torah many different translations and have interpreted them to have many different meanings. That said, one simple aspect has received little attention—that G‑d is introducing Himself to us. If we take poetic license and change the order of the words, the first phrase in the Torah could be loosely translated as: “[My name is] G‑d—[Who], in the beginning, created the heaven and the earth.” G‑d is introducing Himself to us as the Creator of everything—heaven (i.e., the spiritual) and earth (i.e., the material). This interpretation of the first verse in the Torah may be helpful for the following reason. In truth, G‑d is entirely unknowable. The Creator of everything, including [...]

The Land We Married

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Command the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye come into the land of Canaan, this shall be the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to the borders thereof.” (Numbers 34:1-2) And ye shall inherit the land by lot according to your families—to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer, thou shalt give the less inheritance; wheresoever the lot falleth to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers shall ye inherit.” (Numbers 33:54) And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the [...]

Purim: Celebrating Randomness

The story of Purim, which we read in the Book of Esther, is a story about a righteous Jewish leader who held fast to his principles refusing to bow down to a rabid anti-Semite. It’s a story about a courageous Jewish queen, Esther, who saved her people risking her life. And yet, this holiday is not called by the name of Mordechai or Esther, it  is called Purim, because, as the Book of Esther informs us: For Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had devised to destroy the Jews, and he cast the pur—that is the lot—to terrify them and destroy them… Therefore, they called these days Purim after the name pur. (Book of Esther, 9:24,26) This is odd because the casting of the lot (pur) [...]

Big Bang

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא Genesis 1:1 The Torah starts with two words—Bereshit bara—“In the beginning, G‑d created…” (or, as Rashi translates it, "At the beginning of creation by G-d...") Bereshit in Hebrew means “in the beginning,” and bara means “created.” What is interesting is that both words begin with the same letter, bet, the equivalent of b. Another two-word expression that describes the process of creation and each of whose two words also starts with the letter b is, of course, the Big Bang. While this linguistic parallel may be a coincidence, the parallel between the biblical cosmogeny as understood by classical biblical commentators and the Big Bang is unmistakable. An early rabbinic source, midrash Tanchumah (c. 8-9 CE) states that when G-d created the world it was not even as big as the black [...]

From Purim to Passover

The Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law – states that 30 days before Pesach (Passover) one needs to start learning the laws of Pesach. The simple meaning of this directive is clear – the laws are many and complicated and there is a lot to learn – so one needs to start early. There may be a deeper meaning in this, however. Let us recall that Pesach and Purim are exactly 30 days apart. To start learning about Pesach 30 days before, means to start learning about Pesach on Purim. Or, perhaps, the message is that from Purim we can learn about Pesach. The word Purim means “lot.” The story of Purim is about throwing lots. Evil Haman threw one lot to choose a month for the pogrom against Jews of [...]

Saved by Randomness

In his book, “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets,” Nissim Taleb argues that the human brain abhors randomness. Our brain is hard-wired to see patterns everywhere. We need to make sense of our surroundings and events around us. Sometimes, an ability to discern a pattern is very useful but, other times, we simply fool ourselves into seeing a pattern where there is none. We just can't deal with randomness. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why quantum physics—random at its core—is so hard to understand. It is difficult for us to accept that at the core of our reality, there is nothing but randomness. Even Einstein, himself one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, could not accept it. He famously said to Neils Bohr, “G‑d does [...]

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