Schrödinger Menorah: Burning and not Burning

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Schrödinger Menorah: Burning and not Burning

The miracle of Chanukah revolves around a single-day-supply of olive oil burning for eight days during the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Bet HaMikdash), after Maccabees liberated Israel from the occupation by the Seleucid empire.

There are countless explanations of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers a unique explanation. The Rebbe dismisses any explanation of the miracle that relies on the miraculous nature of the oil itself. The Rebbe maintains that to be kosher for the Menorah, the oil had to be natural olive oil, not some miraculous oil. According to the Rebbe, the miracle was that the natural oil was burning and not burning at the same time.

The Rebbe draws an analogy with the dimensions of the Ark (Aron HaKodesh) in the Holy of Holies (Kodesh HaKodashim).  R. Levi teaches that the Ark of the Covenant “had no measure.” (Talmud, Tr. Megilla 10b) The Holy of Holies in the Temple was a perfect cube with 20 cubits in each dimension. Although, the Ark itself was 1.5 cubits wide and 2.5 cubits long, the distance from any wall to the wall of the Ark was 10 cubits, as if the Ark did not take up any space.  The Talmud describes it as a miracle, a manifestation of revealed Godliness. The Ark of Covenant occupied space in the Holy of Holies and yet it didn’t take up any space at the same time.

The theologians and philosophers say that God is infinite. However, the sages of Kabbalah maintain that to say that God is infinite is to limit God, which we may not do. The limitless nature of God dictates that God is infinite and “finite,” as it were, at the same time, because He cannot be limited by any limitation or definition. In the language of Kabbalah, God has within Himself both the power of infinitude (ko’ach bli gvul) and the power of finitude (ko’ach hagvul).

With respect to the miracle of oil, this combination of potential infinitude and finitude expressed itself in the oil burning and not burning at the same time. The miracle was that the infinite expressed itself in the finite. Natural olive oil has two natural states: burning and not burning. During eight days of Chanukah, the oil was in a state of superposition of these two states, burning and not burning.

My 19-century brass menorah (chanukiya) from Poland has two lions embossed on it. I would have embossed two cats on it—one alive and one dead—and would call it Schrödinger Menorah.

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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.

One Comment

  1. Anna and Boris Gulko December 26, 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Very interesting – the explanation is scientific and mystical at the same time, a miracle by itself. Thank you!

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