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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, [...]

Yom Kippur—The Day of Pure Delight

Yom Kippur means “The Day of Atonement.” However, on a deeper level, Yom Kippur is the day of pure delight. To understand why, let us start with the day before—Erev Yom Kippur, the Eve of Yom Kippur. Erev Yom Kippur is considered a semi-holiday—a festive day, on which we do not say tachanun (penitent prayers) and on which we wear festive attire and eat two festive meals (as required on holidays). This is rather strange. The Eve of Yom Kippur is one of the Ten Days of Repentance (Asseret Yemei Teshuvah). Shouldn’t we be busy regretting past mistakes (and, indeed, we do!) and repenting our evil ways, instead of indulging in sumptuous meals? Moreover, it’s the day before Yom Kippur—the day on which every person is judged, and everyone’s fate is sealed for [...]

By |2021-09-16T22:09:47-04:00September 15th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Sanctuaries in Space and Time

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.

Counting Weeks and Days

There is a Biblical Commandment to count the days between the Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost). We start counting on the second day of Passover (the first day of the barley harvest in the land of Israel, when the wave-offering of the omer, i.e., “sheaf,” of ripe barley was made in the Jerusalem Temple) and finish on the eve of Shavuot—the day when two loaves of bread made of wheat were offered at the Temple. There are exactly seven weeks (forty-nine days) between these two holidays; we are commanded to count the weeks and the days. These forty-nine days are called days of Sefirat HaOmer (the ays of “counting the Omer”) or simple days of Sefirah. This commandment is given in the following verses of the Torah: And ye shall count [...]

Primordial Serpent—the Incurable Atomist

Now the Serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Eternal G‑d had made. (Genesis 3:1)   When G‑d placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, He issued a decree: And the Eternal G‑d commanded the man, saying: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.” (Genesis 2:16) Having commanded man to eat from every tree of the garden, including the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, G‑d qualified His command: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) There appears to be some dissonance between verses 16 and 17. Verse 16 uses two words, akhol tokhel, each of which shares the [...]

Why the first humans were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge

As always in science, every answered question breeds new questions. Now that we understand that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are metaphors for, respectively, the wave function and the collapse of the wave function (see my earlier post, "The Tree of Knowledge as a Metaphor for Superposition of States and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle"), we are faced with more questions. Why did G‑d not want Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge? And what was so terrible about the forbidden fruit that eating it warranted capital punishment?[1] Let us recall that, according to our tradition, Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating from the Tree of Knowledge only for three hours. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day—the Eve of the Sabbath (Erev Shabbat). With [...]

Ten Sephirot and Special Relativity

The Special Theory of Relativity, published by Albert Einstein in 1905, was a game changer. It ushered the era of new physics dubbed by some as the “Jewish physics.” And Jewish physics it was. At the core of Special Relativity is the notion of the relativity of motion – all motion is not absolute, as Newton thought, but is relative to something else, to a particular point of view. In physics, we define a point of view as a frame of reference. If you are standing in a moving train, leaving the railroad platform, in your frame of reference (which is always at rest) the train is at rest relative to your frame of reference. The railroad platform, on the other hand, is moving with respect to your frame of reference. For someone [...]

Scientists are Clarifying Witnesses

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! And let the earth hear the words of my mouth! (Deut. 32:1) In this Torah portion Haazinu, Moses appeals to heavens and earth as witnesses. However, a few verses later, he extorts the Jewish people: “Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you” (Deut. 32:7) as if to confirm the testimony of heavens and earth. Why wasn’t the testimony of heavens and earth enough? Why did their testimony need to be corroborated by “your father” and “your elders”? The Lubavitcher Rebbe The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in one of his talks (see R’ Schneerson, M.M. Likute Sihot (Brooklyn, NY: Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos, 1998) v. XIX, Devorim, pp. 188-196) discusses the Talmudic concept of two types of witnesses: [...]

Brit Milah in Six Dimensions

Sefer Yetzira speaks of three dimensions: Olam, Shanah, and Nefesh.  Olam literally means "world" and signifies space. Shanah literally means "year" and signifies the dimension of time. Nefesh literally means "soul" and signifies the spiritual dimension. In another place, recognizing the space itself is three dimensional, Sefer Yetzira speaks of five-dimensional space which is a Minkowski spacetime with an addition of the fifth spiritual dimension. This construct is very similar to the Kaluza-Klein five-dimensional generalization of the General Theory of Relativity (a theory that is near and dear to my heart, because, unaware of its existence, I independently rediscovered it as a teenager.) Kaluza-Klein, first forgotten, is now experiencing a revival as a special case of the string theory. Sefer Yetzirah In every one of these dimensions, G‑d created the domain of holy [...]

By |2018-09-23T03:48:50-04:00September 18th, 2018|Uncategorized|1 Comment

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