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Purim: Celebrating Randomness

The story of Purim, which we read in the Book of Esther, is a story about a righteous Jewish leader who held fast to his principles refusing to bow down to a rabid anti-Semite. It’s a story about a courageous Jewish queen, Esther, who saved her people risking her life. And yet, this holiday is not called by the name of Mordechai or Esther, it  is called Purim, because, as the Book of Esther informs us: For Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had devised to destroy the Jews, and he cast the pur—that is the lot—to terrify them and destroy them… Therefore, they called these days Purim after the name pur. (Book of Esther, 9:24,26) This is odd because the casting of the lot (pur) [...]

Yom Kippur – Disentangling the Entangled

When God created the first humans, Adam and Eve (Chavah), He created them as one. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. (Gen. 1:27) Actually, as Midrash Rabbah (Gen. VIII:1) explains, Adam and Eve were created as one being as Siamese twins—attached by their side.  When the story of the creation of Adam is repeated in the next chapter, it seems as a very different story: And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the [...]

From Purim to Passover

The Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law – states that 30 days before Pesach (Passover) one needs to start learning the laws of Pesach. The simple meaning of this directive is clear – the laws are many and complicated and there is a lot to learn – so one needs to start early. There may be a deeper meaning in this, however. Let us recall that Pesach and Purim are exactly 30 days apart. To start learning about Pesach 30 days before, means to start learning about Pesach on Purim. Or, perhaps, the message is that from Purim we can learn about Pesach. The word Purim means “lot.” The story of Purim is about throwing lots. Evil Haman threw one lot to choose a month for the pogrom against Jews of [...]

Saved by Randomness

In his book, “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets,” Nissim Taleb argues that the human brain abhors randomness. Our brain is hard-wired to see patterns everywhere. We need to make sense of our surroundings and events around us. Sometimes, an ability to discern a pattern is very useful but, other times, we simply fool ourselves into seeing a pattern where there is none. We just can't deal with randomness. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why quantum physics—random at its core—is so hard to understand. It is difficult for us to accept that at the core of our reality, there is nothing but randomness. Even Einstein, himself one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, could not accept it. He famously said to Neils Bohr, “God does [...]

Tale of Entangled Goats

In the last Torah portion, Metzorah, we learned about two entangled birds. This week, we learn about two entangled goats. I don’t know if these goats studied quantum mechanics but they can sure teach us a thing or two about quantum entanglement. Entanglement is one of the mysteries of quantum mechanics. On a macro level, entanglement is easy to understand. Imagine a coin sawn into two halves along the plane parallel to the face of the coin. One-half has only heads and the other only tails. Let’s send each of these halves to two people, Shimon and Reuven. If Shimon gets the half with the heads, he knows immediately that Reuven got the half with the tails even if Reuven didn’t yet open the envelope. In other words, the states (heads or tails) [...]

Leprous Cats and Angry Birds

In parshah Tazriah (Leviticus 13), the Schrödinger cat[1] gets leprosy. Well, it’s not really leprosy, it’s a mysterious supernatural disease called tzara’as, nowadays translated as psoriasis. And it’s not a cat, but a Jew who gets afflicted by tzara’as. In fact, cats, other animals, and even gentiles (i.e., non-Jewish humans) are immune to this spiritual malady. So why do I call a poor Jew afflicted with tzara’as a “Schrödinger cat”? Because he sure acts like one. Indeed, had I not studied quantum mechanics and had I not learned about the collapse of the wavefunction[2] back in the university, I would have surely discovered it by reading this parshah! A Jewish person with a skin lesion or boldness (present company excluded) is brought to a priest (kohen) who examines it for symptoms of tzara’as. If the prist [...]

By | April 30th, 2012|Parshah, Tazria u’Metzora, Uncategorized|0 Comments