Numbers

Bamidbar — the fourth book of Torah

Forty Two Journeys to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

These are the journeys of the children of Israel… (Numbers 33:1) When G-d brought the Jews out from Egypt, He brought them out with the mystery of the 42-letter name, just as He created heaven and earth… (Zohar Chadash) The forty-two “stations” from Egypt to the Promised Land are replayed in the life of every individual Jew, as his soul journeys from its descent to earth at birth to its return to its Source. (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)   Torah portion Massei (Num. 33-35) recalls forty-two journeys of the Children of Israel in the Sinai desert after the Exodus from Egypt. This is not the first time the concept of forty-two journeys appears in the Torah.  Commenting on the Biblical verse, "And God said, 'Behold, I Will Cause to Rain Bread from Heaven for You,’” (Ex. 25:5) [...]

A Girl in a State of Superposition

In my recent post Secrets of the Talking Ass I discussed the phenomenon of Bein HaShmashot (twilight or dusk), which is neither day, nor night, nor both, nor neither, but rather a unique state having its own unique status and laws associated with it. What is interesting about Bein HaShmashot from our point of view is that it is uncannily similar to a quantum-mechanical state of superposition. As we discussed in that blog, an electron can be in a state of superposition of having its spin be up and down (with angular momentum directed clockwise and counterclockwise) or a photon in a state of superposition of horizontal and vertical polarization, or the Schrödinger cat in a state of superposition of being alive and being dead. Just as Bein HaShmashot the cat is neither [...]

Phinehas – the Slayer of Uncertainty

A strange episode at the end of the last Torah portion, Balak, where Phinehas (Pinchas) slain a Jewish prince caught in the act with a heathen woman, is rewarded in this week’s eponymous Torah portion with the priesthood.  This begs the question, what is the connection between the act of zealotry by Phinehas and the reward of priesthood he receives for it? By way of background, as we read in the previous Torah portion, the evil king, Balak, fails to bring a curse on the Jewish people by Balaam (Bilam).  According to Midrash, Balaam advises Balak to send most beautiful Midian women to seduce Jewish men (see Flavius Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Paragraphs 6-12). Balak heads the advice and uses Moabite and Midianite women to seduce Jewish men [...]

Secrets of the Talking Ass

And God opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Bilam: "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" And Bilam said to the ass: "Because you have mocked me; I would there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you." And the ass said to Bilam: "Am not I your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life to this day? Was I ever wont to do so to you?" And he said, "No." Num. 22:28-30 Despite the simple dialogue between Balaam (Bilam) and his ass in the Torah portion of Balak, this ass was no ordinary ass. This ass saw an angel where a prophet as great as her owner, Balaam, did not. It stands to reason that [...]

Prophesy by Entanglement

…And they prophesied in the camp. (Num. 11:27) In the Torah portion Behaalotecha, there is an interesting narrative: And the Lord said unto Moses: 'Gather unto Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and speak with thee there; and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them… And the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy elders; and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but [...]

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” [...]

God Collapses Sotah’s Wave Function

The story of Sotah, a suspected adulteress, is very troubling on the first blush. Why would a woman be subjected to such humiliation?  The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, points out that, to the contrary, the story of Sotah is the story of the boundless love of the Creator for his people.  Notwithstanding the strict Biblical prohibition of erasing God’s name, to vindicate the wrongly accused woman, God allows and, indeed, decrees to erase His holy Name by dissolving the scriptural verses written on a parchment in the water that the woman would drink to clear her name.  For as long as a woman is being suspected of infidelity, she cannot be intimate with her husband.  It takes a Divine intervention, whereby God sacrifices His honor in allowing erasing His holy Name, [...]

Suspected Adulteress as a Schrödinger Cat

In quantum mechanics, the state of a physical system is described by the so-called wave function (or the "wavefunction"). All attempts by Schrödinger, who first introduced the wave function, and others to interpret it as a scalar potential of some physical field, or as the de Broglie wave (as in particle-wave dualism) were not successful. In 1926, Max Born noticed that the squared amplitude of the wavefunction of a particle in a given region gives the probability of finding the particle in this region. He suggested that the wavefunction represented not a physical reality but rather our knowledge of the quantum state of an object. The wave function represents our knowledge of all possible quantum-mechanical states of an object and their probabilities. In other words, the quantum-mechanical state of a physical system is [...]

Creatio ex Nihilo and the Number Theory

As we began this Shabbat reading the Fourth Book of Torah—Numbers, I thought, it would be appropriate to post on this blog an excerpt from my article Creatio ex Nihilo, Number Theory, Quantum Vacuum, and the Big Bang, originally published in B’Or HaTorah (Jerusalem: 2007, No. 17, p.115). Introduction The kabbalistic principle of yesh m’ayin or creatio ex nihilo—creation of something from nothing—is difficult to fully understand because we have no experience of creating something from nothing. Although many human creative activities seem to create something new, in fact, they merely change the form or nature of things. Never do we create something from nothing. A sculptor takes a preexisting slab of marble and shapes it according to his imagination. So does a potter, who molds pottery out of clay; a glassblower, who forms liquid [...]

Paradox of the Red Heifer

Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid… The cow shall then be burned in his presence… The one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water and cleanse his body in water, and he shall be unclean until evening… Anyone touching the corpse of a human soul shall become unclean for seven days. On the third and seventh days, he shall cleanse himself with it, so that he can become clean. But if he does not sprinkle himself with it on the third and seventh days, he shall not become clean… They shall take for that unclean person from the ashes of the burnt purification offering, and it shall be placed in a vessel [filled] with [...]

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