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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. Even greater insight was Joseph’s understanding that the engagement in time manifested in 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, this story is followed by Joseph’s encounter with Pharaoh when he [...]

Three-and-a-half Hakafot — Topology of Simchat Torah

Why is this night different from all other nights, asks a child on the Seder night. On this Simchat Torah I asked a different question—why is the day different from the night? Indeed, on the night of Simchat Torah, we dance seven hakafot-circuits. However, during the morning service of the next day, we only dance three-and-a-half hakafot. What is the meaning of this number—three and a half? There are a few instances the Torah, Talmud, and Rabbinic instances where this number is mentioned (e.g., during the Gaonic period, c. 590–1000 CE, in some communities in the Land of Israel, the Torah reading cycle was completed in three and a half years; Maimonides rules that only half of the tzitzit string should be dyed blue leaving three and a half strings white), but none of them [...]

Five Worlds

Today, Yud Shvat, is the yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, a.k.a. the Rebbe Rayatz, or the Frierdiker Rebbe. On the day of his yartzeit, it is customary to study his last maamar (Chassidic discourse), Basi LeGani. One of the themes expounded in the first chapter of this discourse is the concepts of four worlds: Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah (collectively referred to as ABYA). Actually, in Kabbala and Chassidic philosophy, we speak of five worlds and the “world,” which precedes Atzilut is call Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man, often referred to by its acronym as the A”K). In this post, I will draw a parallel between these spiritual worlds and stages of the creation of our physical world. Why do that? It is axiomatic in Jewish mysticism [...]

Fractal Patterns in Time

In the current Torah portion Emor, we are instructed to abstain from work on Shabbat—every seventh day. Next week’s Torah portion, Behar, continues this theme and instructs us to abstain from agricultural work every Sabbatical year, Shmita. And the Torah doesn’t stop there. It instructs us to count seven Shmitas and then observe a Jubilee, Yovel. Do you notice a pattern? Every seven days, every seven years, every seven Shmitas… Furthermore, the Midrash states the world will exist for seven thousand years with the seventh millennium being a thousand years of the kingdom of Mashiach (Messiah)—yom shekuloy Shabbat—one long Shabbat. A second-century sage, Rabbi Huniah ben HaKanah, interprets this Midrash to mean that the world will last seven Cosmic Shmitas, i.e., 49 thousand years (which, according to a prominent 13th–14th c. kabbalist Rb. Isaac [...]

Mezuzah in Three Dimensions

The mezuzah is one of the few mitzvot (divine commandments) for which the Torah states its reward. In this case, the reward is long life for oneself and one's children: And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts ("mezuzot") of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers for as long as the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:20-21). According to the Tosafot and the Shulchan Aruch, the main function of the mezuzah is to protect the house from evil. Because of this attribute, the mezuzah has been called "the coat of arms in the knighthood of God."*  To begin to understand the mechanism of this effect of the mezuzah, [...]

Menorah

Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him: "When thou lightest the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the menorah." (Num. 8:1) In the Torah portion Behaalotecha (Num. 8:1), Aaron is commanded to light the Menorah so that three light on the right and three lights on the left are directed towards the middle light. On the first blush, it appears to be a very strange commandment. Why would lights on the right and on the left need to be directed towards the center light? What is the significance of that? It seems to me that this unusual arrangement hints at fundamental structure of our world. Sefer Yetzirah states that this world is created in three domains – Olam (“World” – meaning space), Shanah (“Year” – meaning time) and Nefesh (“Soul” [...]

613 Degrees of Freedom

Passover has ended.  All Jews hastily remove their Passover dishes into special cabinets or the attic until next Passover.  After an eight-day break, home becomes filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.  Passover leaves us with the pleasant taste of burnt matzot, memories of the Seder spent with family, and stories of the Exodus.  But did Passover really end? In the Mishnah (the precursor of Talmud), the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost) is called “Atzeret.”  This word is familiar to us from Shemini Atzeret—the holiday that follows immediately after the seven days of Sukkot, often simply viewed as the last day (or, in Diaspora, the last two days) of Sukkot.  Either way, Shemini Atzeret is the conclusion of the festival of Sukkot.  By designating Shavuot as Atzeret, the Mishnah seems to imply that it is [...]

Four Cups and Three Matzoth

On Seder night we drink four cups of wine and eat three matzoth. Why four cups and not three? Why three matzoth and not four? The same numerical relationship exists among our forefathers. We have the patriarchs – Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob). But we have four matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah (Rebeca) Rachel, and Leah. This dynamics also manifests itself in the holiest name of God – Tetragrammaton – YHWH. Why does the four-letter Name have only three unique letters, Yud, Heh, and Vav? According to Sefer Yetzirah – a classic text of Kabbalah attributed to Abraham or to Rabbi Akiva – there are three letters of Hebrew Alef Bet called mothers: Alef, Mem, and Shin, which are considered to be “primary” letters. The three mothers represent the basic logical triad [...]

Pesach – Time of our Freedom

The holiday of Passover – Pesach – is called zman cheruteinu– time of our freedom. As we have discussed many times on this blog (see Interpreting Dreams; It’s the time, stupid! Carpe Diem; Mezuzah and Time; Riddle — the answer; Splitting the Sea), freedom can only be obtained by mastering time. Everything about celebrating Passover is related to time. It all starts on the Rosh Chodesh Nissan (the New Moon, the beginning of the month of Nissan – marked by the renewal of the monthly lunar cycle – during which we celebrate Passover).  On that day, the very first commandment was given to the Jewish people – the commandment to set the calendar by the lunar cycle, i.e., the commandment of keeping time. Classical commentators ask: Why the Torah (which means “Instruction”) does not have as [...]

Second Adar – The Month of Quantum Physics

Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet – the New Moon and the beginning of the second month of Adar.  If we ever to have a month commemorating Quantum Physics, there would be no more appropriate month for that than the second month of Adar – Adar Bet.  A state of superposition is a physical state unique to quantum theory.  In classical physics (such as Newtonian mechanics or thermodynamics) a physical system is either in a state A or a state B. Only in quantum physics a system can be in a blended state C which is a linear superposition of states A and B. For example, if the spin of an electron can be Up or Down.  However, an electron can be in a blurred state of superposition of states Up and Down, which [...]