Ramban

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Quantum Cheshire Cat vs. Venomous Snakes

A Study in Form and Matter And Moses prayed for the people.  And the Eternal said unto Moses: “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.” And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)   The Torah portion, Chukat, tells a bizarre story. Jews complain against God and Moses. God gets angry and sends venomous snakes that bite and kill many Jews. The people repent and ask Moses to pray for them. In response to Moses’s prayer, God instructs him to make a [...]

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 [...]

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, [...]

Singularity and Paradise

These are the chronicles of the heaven and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Eternal God made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4) The second chapter of Genesis contains many repetitions, the most famous of which is the second rendering of the story of the creation of Adam and Eve. The classical commentators explain that this chapter adds further details to the original story of creation told in chapter one. Indeed, the Torah itself makes it clear by stating that “these are chronicles of the heaven and the earth…” Thus, the biblical cosmology sketched out in the first chapter of Genesis is retold here in greater detail. *** And a river went out of Eden to water the garden. (Genesis 2:8-10) This verse positions Eden as the wellspring [...]

Big Bang

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא The Torah starts with two words—Bereshit bara—“In the beginning, [God] created…” Bereshit in Hebrew means “in the beginning,” and bara means “created.” What is interesting is that both words begin with the same letter, bet, the equivalent of b. Another two-word expression that describes the process of creation and each of whose two words also starts with the letter b is, of course, the Big Bang. This similarity could be a coincidence, but not according to Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi, known by the Hebrew acronym Ramban, 1194–1270). Here is Nahmanides’s description of the initial moments of the creation: At the briefest instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard. . . . From the [...]

Cosmological Rosh HaShanah

This Rosh HaShanah I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that I was giving a lecture in cosmology at a university when I suddenly realized that it was Rosh HaShanah. I panicked… What was I doing at the university on such a day instead of being in my synagogue, praying and listening to sounds of a shofar?! I decided to save the day by trying to weave the three main themes of Rosh HaShanah into my lecture on cosmology. And so I began… NASA/WMAP Science Team - Original version: NASA; modified by Cherkash In the Rosh HaShanah liturgy, we refer to this day as yom harat olam – the birthday of the world (Machzor Rosh HaShanah). According to modern cosmology, the world was born in an unfathomable explosion called the Big [...]

Two Beginnings

B’reshit bara Elokim et hashamaim v’et haaretz… In the beginning, God created heaven and earth… Alternative translation: With two beginnings God created heaven and earth… Genesis 1:1   *This is an abridged and updated version of my paper “Towards Reconciliation of Biblical and Cosmological Ages of the Universe” Presented at the Third Miami International Conference on Torah & Science in Dec. of 1999 and published in B’Or HaTorah, 13 (2002) p. 19. Contemporary science places the age of the universe in the thirteen to fourteen billion years range, or 13.787 ± 0.02, [1] to be precise.  This age is derived from both theoretical models as well as experimental data.  (For an overview of theoretical and experimental approaches to dating the universe and our planet Earth see my original paper TOWARDS RECONCILIATION OF BIBLICAL AND [...]

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