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 [...]
Structurally identical biblical accounts of creation, destruction, and restoration are viewed as a manifestation of dialectic triad thesis-antithesis-synthesis.
And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass.Geneses 22:3 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon the ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt.Exodus 4:20 Behold, thy king cometh unto thee, he is triumphant, and victorious, lowly, and riding upon an ass.Zechariah 9:9 The Torah tells us of a famous donkey riding through biblical history—Abraham used it; Moses used it; Mashiach will use it in the future. In Hebrew, an “ass” or a “donkey” is chamor. In the verse in Exodus, Moses set his wife and children on the donkey—ha-chamor. The donkey means a known donkey. How is it known? Rashi states, based on the midrash Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, that this is the same donkey that Abraham saddled with wood on the way [...]
We are quite familiar with space—we move freely in space back and forth; we concur space on land and beyond; we reclaim land from sea; we turn deserts into gardens; we turn desolated space into sprawling cities. We are, on the other hand, helpless in the face of time. We cannot move freely in time. We can’t move back in time. We are swept forward in the inexorable flow of time. We do not understand time; we cannot change it. We are masters of land, but not of time. It is for this reason, when G‑d instructed Moses how to build a sanctuary for Himself, He could not have started with time—we would have not the faintest idea what it meant—a sanctuary of G‑d in time—let alone how to do it. That is why G‑d started with space, instructing Moses how to build the Mishkan—a Sanctuary in space—first. Only then He commanded Moses about Shabbat.
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 [...]
A Study in Form and Matter And Moses prayed for the people. And the Eternal said unto Moses: “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.” And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9) The Torah portion, Chukat, tells a bizarre story. Jews complain against G‑d and Moses. G‑d gets angry and sends venomous snakes that bite and kill many Jews. The people repent and ask Moses to pray for them. In response to Moses’s prayer, G‑d instructs him to make a [...]
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Eternal, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before the Eternal and devoured them, and they died before the Eternal. (Exodus 10:1-2) And Aaron spoke unto Moses: ‘Behold, this day have they offered their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before the Eternal, and there have befallen me such things as these; and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, would it have been well-pleasing in the sight of the Eternal? And when Moses heard that, it was well-pleasing in his sight. (Leviticus 10:19) The Torah Portion Shemini tells two stories: One of the tragic death of two sons of Aaron—Nadab (Nadav) and Abihu [...]
The Torah portion Vayakhel deals with the construction of the Mishkan, i.e., the “Tabernacle.” In Kabbalah, the Mishkan is viewed as a microcosm that represents a miniature model of the entire universe—both physical and spiritual. The Mishkan was comprised primarily of two categories of objects. The first category included the coverings that made up the roof and the walls surrounding the Mishkan. The second category included kelim—the objects inside the Mishkan. This is not the first time the description of the coverings and kelim appear in the Torah. In the Torah portion Teruma, G‑d gives Moses detailed instructions for the construction of the Mishkan. Interestingly, in Teruma, G‑d first speaks of the kelim and then of the coverings, whereas in Vayakhel, when Moses instructs the Jewish people, he reverses the order and first [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]