Genesis

Bereshit — the First Book of Torah

Jacob Meets Esau and his 400 men

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying: “We came to thy brother Esau, and moreover he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.” (Gen. 32:7) Why does the Torah take pains to tells us the exact number of men accompanying Esau? Servants of Esau are of no particular significance. It is apparent that, by specifying the number of men in Esau's entourage, the Torah is trying to tell us something about Esau. It seems to me that Jacob understood the significance of the number 400. This number is a sum of the powers of 7 from 0 to 3: 70+71+72+73=400. This four powers of 7 hint at the lunar month that has, approximately, 28 days (4×7). The significance of this will become apparent later. 400 is a repdigit in base [...]

The Meaning of Life as Taught by Bayesian Angels

And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. (Gen. 28:12) Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (a.k.a Baal HaTanya, or the Alter Rebbe) once remarked in Yiddish, “lieben mit di tzait” – live with the time, meaning one should live with Torah portion of the week.  Last week I was taught a lesson on how the current Torah portion affects my thinking, whether I know it or not. Last week I shared with my wife, who is a biophysicist, that while thinking about system biology, I realized that all organisms – from a single cell to multicellular organisms – are Bayesian systems. I knew that the brain is a Bayesian engine, but [...]

Second Derivative – Secrets of the Double Cave

And he [Avraham] spoke with them, saying, “…Listen to me and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar. That he may give me the Machpelah (Double) Cave, which belongs to him, which is at the end of his field…" (Gen. 23:8-9) double: A house with an upper story over it. Another interpretation: because it was doubled with couples (Er. 53a) (Rashi on Gen. 23:9) In the Torah portion Chayei Sarah, Avraham purchases a Double Cave, Machpelah, as the ancestral burial plot. Almost all Biblical commentators interpret Machpelah-double to mean a cave with two chambers. Rashi takes an entirely different approach and states that the cave was known for a two-story house built on top of it. So, the word “Machpelah” (lit. “double”) refers not to the cave itself, but to the house [...]

Biblical Relativity

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years... (Gen. 23:1) Why did Esther merit to rule over 127 countries? Said God: “Let Esther, the descendant of Sarah who lived 127 years, come and rule over 127 lands. (Esther Rabbah 1:8) The Midrash Ester Rabbah compares 127 years of Sarah’s life with 127 provinces that Esther ruled. How can one compare time with space? When the Midrash says that Adam gifted 70 years of his life to his descendant, King David, it’s understandable – a year for a year. But a year for a province? What’s the connection? Hermann Minkowski When, in 1905, Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity, it was nothing short of a scientific revolution. For the first time, Einstein showed [...]

Wellsprings from Above and Wellsprings from Below

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month… all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. (Gen. 7:11)   In calculating the time of the dawn of Messianic revelation, the Zohar writes, And after six hundred years of the sixth thousand there will be opened the gates of wisdom above and the fountains of wisdom below, and the world will make preparations to enter on the seventh thousand as man makes preparation on the sixth day of the week, when the sun is about to set. (Zohar I, 117a) The Zohar calculates this based on the letters of the Tetragrammaton, but brings the verse from this parshah as the mnemonic: “In the six [...]

The Beard of the Long Face is Found

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz (a.k.a. the Fridriker Rebbe) told the story about his father, the Rebbe Rashab. Once the brother of Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (a.k.a. the RM”M) told him that he read in a magazine an article that stated that scientists found a nerve in the brain regulating the cognitive function so that when a person needed to remember something he would tilt his head looking up, whereas when the person needed to concentrate, he’d tilt his head down. The Rebbe Rashab took his brother to his study, took from the shelf a book by the Second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe, in which it stated the same thing. The Rebbe Rashab said to his brother, “You’d think he was a doctor, but he wasn’t. He saw Adam [...]

Dreams of Pharaoh—a Lesson in Symmetry

In the Torah portion Miketz, Pharaoh sees two dreams. He wakes up agitated and calls on all wise men of Egypt to interpret his dreams. Nobody is able to come up with an acceptable interpretation, so they fetch Joseph from a prison and he successfully interprets dreams of Pharaoh—there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph proceeds to instruct Pharaoh on how to prepare for the seven years of famine. In the previous posts, Interpreting Dreams and Joseph—the Master of Time—we already explained how Joseph was able to interpret dreams in terms of units of time and why Pharaoh appointed Joseph as the Viceroy of Egypt. This story, however, is still puzzling. Perhaps it can teach us more lessons… In Talmudic and Kabbalah literature, Joseph is called [...]

Joseph—the Master of Time

The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker.  He ingeniously interpreted ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time (Interpreting Dreams). Even greater insight was Joseph’s understanding that the engagement in time, manifested by the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand, symbolized life for the chief butler. And, conversely, the passivity of the chief baker, who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets, symbolized the opposite of life. Girolamo Brusaferro (Venice C. 1684 - C. 1760) Joseph Interpreting the Dreams In the Torah portion Miketz (Gen. 41:1-44:17), this story is followed by [...]

Abraham Meets Abraham from a Parallel Universe

And he [Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him…  (Gen. 18:2) On this blog, we often discuss the collapse of the wavefunction as the result of a measurement. This phenomenon is called by some physicists the “measurement problem.” There are several reasons, why the collapse of the wavefunction – part and parcel of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics – is called a problem. Firstly, it does not follow from the Schrödinger equation and is added ad hoc. Secondly, nobody knows how it happens or how long it takes to collapse the wavefunction.  This is not to mention that any notion that the collapse of the wavefunction is caused by human consciousness, as proposed by Von Newman, leading to Cartesian dualism is anathema to physicists. [...]

Joseph’s Sons

And now thy two sons, who were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine.  And thy sons, that thou begettest after them, shall be thine; they shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.  And as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died unto me in the land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some way to come unto Ephrath; and I buried her there in the way to Ephrath—the same is Beth-lehem.”  And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said: “Wherefrom are these?”   (Gen.  48:5-8) The above narrative in the Torah portion Vayechi is quite perplexing.  It starts with a shocking pronouncement by Jacob that two [...]

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