Passover

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Counting Weeks and Days

There is a Biblical Commandment to count the days between the Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost). We start counting on the second day of Passover (the first day of the barley harvest in the land of Israel, when the wave-offering of the omer, i.e., “sheaf,” of ripe barley was made in the Jerusalem Temple) and finish on the eve of Shavuot—the day when two loaves of bread made of wheat were offered at the Temple. There are exactly seven weeks (forty-nine days) between these two holidays; we are commanded to count the weeks and the days. These forty-nine days are called days of Sefirat HaOmer (the ays of “counting the Omer”) or simple days of Sefirah. This commandment is given in the following verses of the Torah: And ye shall count [...]

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 [...]

Sabbatical Year – when the Wavefunctions are Collapsed

The Torah portion, Re’eh, talks about the Sabbatical Year—in Hebrew, Shemitah—the Seventh year. When the Sabbatical year comes, all loans are forgiven, and Jewish servants go free. This is difficult to understand. Why would a lender forgive a loan just because it’s the seventh year in the Shemitah cycle? Why would slaves be set free just because it’s the Sabbatical year? Another question is why do we translate Shemitah as the “Sabbatical year”? Besides the fact that it is the seventh year, and Shabbat is the seventh day, what connects the word “shemitah” with Shabbat? As Rabbi Yehoshua Steinberg writes in Biblical Hebrew Etymology, (see Re’eh: The Slippery Year? – The Wonders of the Holy Tongue), the three-letter root of the word “shemitah” – Shin-Mem-Tet – connote falling, collapsing, slipping, weakening, or disintegration. The two-letter [...]

Passover Seder—The Arrow of Time

The Passover Seder is called seder, i.e., "order" not without a reason. It is a highly structured and orchestrated ceremony that follows the ancient script—Passover Haggadah. The Seders is a play in four acts: Kiddush (sanctification), Magid (telling the story of the Exodus), Shulchan Orech (the festive meal), and Nirtzah (Hallel—the prayer for the Messianic redemption). This sequence sets the natural arrow of time past-present-future. The Past. During the Magid part of the Seder, we retell the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt—the narrative of our history. Eating of the matzah, drinking four cups of wine and other "simonim" (symbols) of the Seder table—bitter herbs, an egg, a bone, charoset, etc.—are all symbols that have historical significance. This part of the Seder clearly represents the past. The Present. During [...]

By |2019-04-14T16:45:56-04:00March 30th, 2018|Passover (Pesach), Time, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Pesach Sheini – in a State of Superposition

In physics, we speak of systems and states. A system is a collection of physical objects (particles, waves, etc.). A system can be in various states. For example, a coin could have two states—heads or tails. A top also has two possible states—it can be spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. Light can have two states as well—being in the vertical polarization or horizontal polarization. In classical mechanics, a system can only be in a single state, i.e., at any given point in time, a coin can be either in a state “Heads” or in the alternative state “Tales”. A top can either be spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. In quantum mechanics, a system can also be in a state of superposition. Let us say, the system has two possible states A and B. If a [...]

613 Degrees of Freedom

Passover has ended.  All Jews hastily remove their Passover dishes into special cabinets or the attic until next Passover.  After an eight-day break, home becomes filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.  Passover leaves us with the pleasant taste of burnt matzot, memories of the Seder spent with family, and stories of the Exodus.  But did Passover really end? In the Mishnah (the precursor of Talmud), the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost) is called “Atzeret.”  This word is familiar to us from Shemini Atzeret—the holiday that follows immediately after the seven days of Sukkot, often simply viewed as the last day (or, in Diaspora, the last two days) of Sukkot.  Either way, Shemini Atzeret is the conclusion of the festival of Sukkot.  By designating Shavuot as Atzeret, the Mishnah seems to imply that it is [...]

Four Cups and Three Matzoth

On Seder night we drink four cups of wine and eat three matzoth. Why four cups and not three? Why three matzoth and not four? The same numerical relationship exists among our forefathers. We have the patriarchs – Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob). But we have four matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah (Rebeca) Rachel, and Leah. This dynamics also manifests itself in the holiest name of God – Tetragrammaton – YHWH. Why does the four-letter Name have only three unique letters, Yud, Heh, and Vav? According to Sefer Yetzirah – a classic text of Kabbalah attributed to Abraham or to Rabbi Akiva – there are three letters of Hebrew Alef Bet called mothers: Alef, Mem, and Shin, which are considered to be “primary” letters. The three mothers represent the basic logical triad [...]

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 [...]

Pesach – Time of our Freedom

The holiday of Passover – Pesach – is called zman cheruteinu– time of our freedom. As we have discussed many times on this blog (see Interpreting Dreams; It’s the time, stupid! Carpe Diem; Mezuzah and Time; Riddle — the answer; Splitting the Sea), freedom can only be obtained by mastering time. Everything about celebrating Passover is related to time. It all starts on the Rosh Chodesh Nissan (the New Moon, the beginning of the month of Nissan – marked by the renewal of the monthly lunar cycle – during which we celebrate Passover).  On that day, the very first commandment was given to the Jewish people – the commandment to set the calendar by the lunar cycle, i.e., the commandment of keeping time. Classical commentators ask: Why the Torah (which means “Instruction”) does not have as [...]

It’s the time, stupid!

There is a continuous thread about the mastery of time that weaves through the last chapters of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) and continues through the beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus). The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker. Joseph's genius was not only in interpreting ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time but in understanding that the engagement in time (manifested in the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand) symbolized life for the chief butler and the passivity of the chief baker (who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets) [...]

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