Purim—the Day when We Celebrate Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking

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Purim—the Day when We Celebrate Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking

The Zohar compares Yom Kippur to Purim stating that Yom HaKipurim may be interpreted as “a day like Purim” (k-purim in Hebrew means “like purim”).  On Purim we feast; on Yom Kippur we fast—what the two can have in common? Indeed, Purim and Yom Kippur have something very important in common.  Both days share a common root—pur—meaning  a “lot” (or pl. purim—“lots”). On Yom Kippur, two lots were placed in a wooden  box—one say “to God”, and the other “to Azazel.”  (See my post, “Tale of Entangled Goats”). The High Priest relied on a lottery to choose which goat would be used for a sacrifice to God and which to atone for the sins of Jewish People. On Purim, Haman threw two lots to determine the month and the day of a pogrom, that was going to solve the “Jewish Problem” once and for all. What is this about lotteries?


Last year, in a post “Purim: celebrating randomness,” based on maamarim (Chasidic discourses) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I explained that Haman used lottery to reach a very high spiritual level where there is no difference between Jacob and Esau. Indeed he reached that level only to find out (in a rather painful way) that even on that level God chooses Jacob. Indeed, there is a spiritual level so sublime, where there is no difference between good and bad, light and darkness, Jacob and Esau. Where Haman go wrong in his calculations?


As I explained last year in the post, The Entangled Twins, symmetry breaking is plays very important role in quantum field theory and the Standard Model. In a particular type of symmetry breaking, called spontaneous symmetry breaking, the underlying laws remain unchanged under symmetry transformation, but the resulting system is asymmetrical. This could happen when an equation representing the law of physics yields two solutions that are equally valid, however, the nature choses one of them. A simple example of such equation would be x2 = 1. This equation has two solutions: x = 1 and x=-1. If the nature choses one of these solutions, say, x = 1, this is a spontaneous symmetry breaking. It is spontaneous symmetry breaking that is responsible for the Higgs mechanism and Higgs Boson—the so-called “God Particle”—that endows particles with mass.

This is what Haman did not understand. Even at the highest level where there is a complete symmetry between Jacob and Esau, God chooses Jacob—a spiritual example of the spontaneous symmetry breaking:

I loved you, said the Lord, and you said, “How have You loved us?” Was not Esau a brother to Jacob? says the Lord. And I loved Jacob. And I hated Esau… (Malachi I, 2-3)

Haman failed the test on quantum field theory and ended up hanging on a gallows. This is the story of Purim from a quantum physics perspective.


Related image

Arthur Szyk. Haman hanging on the gallows, 1950

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About the Author:

Alexander Poltorak was trained as a theoretical physicist in Russia. He is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. Dr. Poltorak served as an Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, he guest-lectured at Columbia University School of Engineering and Business School. He is presently affiliated with the CUNY serving as an adjunct professor of physics at the City College of New York and Research Fellow at the Institute for Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Lasers. Alex Poltorak authored several books and many articles. He blogs about physics, kabbalah and Jewish philosophy.

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