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My Name Is God, and I Am Pleased to Make Your Acquaintance

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth...[1] (Genesis 1:1)   Classical biblical commentators have given the first words of the Torah many different translations and have interpreted them to have many different meanings. That said, one simple aspect has received little attention—that God is introducing Himself to us. If we take poetic license and change the order of the words, the first phrase in the Torah could be loosely translated as: “[My name is] God—[Who], in the beginning, created the heaven and the earth.” God is introducing Himself to us as the Creator of everything—heaven (i.e., the spiritual) and earth (i.e., the material). This interpretation of the first verse in the Torah may be helpful for the following reason. In truth, God is entirely unknowable. The Creator of everything, including [...]

Shavuot (in Russian)

Шавуот Праздник Дарования Торы Aлександр Полторак    Закончился праздник Песах.  Все евреи поспешно убрали пасхальную посуду в особые шкафы или на чердаки до следующего Песаха.  В домах появились после восьмидневного перерыва свежеиспечённые булки. Наступили будни... Прошедший праздник оставил во рту приятный привкус подгоревшей мацы, воспоминания о Седере, проведенном в кругу семьи, рассказы об Исходе. Но закончился ли на этом Песах? Мораль и Свобода Выбора Вспомним, что главная идея Песаха это идея свободы, свободы от рабства Египетского или иного, физического или духовного. Итак, Бог вывел еврейский народ из Египта, сделал нас свободными людьми. Но стали ли мы свободными, освободившись от гнёта египетских надсмотрщиков?  Подчас, раб, освобождённый своим хозяином, остаётся у него добровольно, ибо некуда и незачем ему идти, нет у него ни места, ни смысла жизни...  Что же это всё-таки такое, свобода? О свободе [...]

The Soul is in the Blood

For the life of the flesh is in the blood." (Leviticus 17:11) The word translated here as “life” in the Hebrew original is nefesh, i.e., “soul.” Torah appears to be telling us that soul of every live creature is in its blood. Indeed, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi says so explicitly in the Tanya: The abode of the animal soul derived from kelipat nogah in every Jew is in the heart; in the left ventricle, as it is filled with blood, and it is written, 'For the blood is the soul' (nefesh)…. just as the blood has its source in the heart, and from the heart it circulates into every organ…" (Likkutei Amarim, 9)[1] The animal soul is primarily vested in the blood (from where it spreads to the whole body and beyond). What does [...]

Salt: The Covenant of the Opposites

And every meal-offering of thine shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meal-offering; with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt." (Leviticus 2:13)   Torah dictates that all offerings to God must be brought together with salt. Classical commentators ask: What is so special about salt that it is an indispensable ingredient of any sacrifice? Moreover, why is it called the covenant of salt? Nachmanides explains: The Torah also uses this covenant as a model for other covenants, as both the priestly covenant[1] and the Davidic covenant[2] are called “covenant of salt” because they are upheld just as the sacrificial covenant of salt…. I am of the opinion that the significance is that the salt is water, which [...]

The Surrounding Light and the Penetrating Light

The Torah portion Vayakhel deals with the construction of the Mishkan, i.e., the “Tabernacle.” In Kabbalah, the Mishkan is viewed as a microcosm that represents a miniature model of the entire universe—both physical and spiritual. The Mishkan was comprised primarily of two categories of objects. The first category included the coverings that made up the roof and the walls surrounding the Mishkan. The second category included kelim—the objects inside the Mishkan. This is not the first time the description of the coverings and kelim appear in the Torah. In the Torah portion Teruma, God gives Moses detailed instructions for the construction of the Mishkan. Interestingly, in Teruma, God first speaks of the kelim and then of the coverings, whereas in Vayakhel, when Moses instructs the Jewish people, he reverses the order and first [...]

Wigner’s Friend Receives a Death Threat

It is related that on the day that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi died, the Sages decreed a fast, and begged for divine mercy so that he would not die. And they said: Anyone who says that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi has died will be stabbed with a sword. (Talmud, tr. Ketubot 104a)   We find an interesting example of the Wigner’s Friend paradox in the Gemara quoted above. The Gemara discusses the circumstances surrounding the death of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Juda the Prince, knows simply as the Rebbi), one of the greatest sages of Israel, who compiled Oral Torah in the Mishnah. Why did the Sages issued a death threat to “anyone who says that Rabbi has died” promising that he “will be stabbed with a sword”? The medieval Talmudist Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi (1520-1592), in [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

In the Beginning — It’s All About Change

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)   The first verse in the Torah is key to understanding the fundamentals of creation. As far as physics is concerned, there are three key words in this verse, which are highlighted in bold: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. According to Nachmanides, these three words—“beginning,” “heaven,” and “earth”—represent, respectively, time, space, and matter. It is easy to see that the “beginning” stands for time, because the “beginning” is clearly a temporal concept that sets off the beginning of time; that “heaven” is a metaphor for space, because the stars and the planets are perceived to be in the sky (i.e., heaven) when, in fact, they are moving in space;[1] and that “earth” is emblematic of matter, [...]

Abel and Cain Conflict—Wave-Particle Duality

…And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Eternal. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Eternal had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Eternal said unto Cain: “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up? and if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door; and unto thee is its desire, but thou mayest rule over it.” And Cain spoke unto Abel [...]

Primordial Serpent—the Incurable Atomist

Now the Serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Eternal God had made. (Genesis 3:1)   When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, He issued a decree: And the Eternal God commanded the man, saying: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.” (Genesis 2:16) Having commanded man to eat from every tree of the garden, including the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, God qualified His command: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) There appears to be some dissonance between verses 16 and 17. Verse 16 uses two words, akhol tokhel, each of which shares the [...]

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