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Tishrei — Past, Present, and Future

The months of Tishrei is full of holidays, and they all share a common theme—the unification of time—past, present, and future. Picart, Blowing of the Shofars on Rosh Hashanah It all starts with Rosh HaShanah. Traditionally translated as the New Year, it literally means the Head of the Year. The word shanah has the same letters as the word shinui — “change.” As Aristotle famously wrote, time is change. The sages of Kabbalah agree—time, in its essence, is change. Thus, Rosh HaShanah can be translated as the Head of Time, or the Beginning of Time (since a related Hebrew word, reshit means the “beginning”). Indeed, it is all about time. Rosh HaShanah has three main themes—Zichronot (remembrances), Shofrot (Sounds of the Shofar), and Malchiot or  Kabalat Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of [...]

Standing and Moving

According to the Saadia Gaon, these two Torah portions – Nitzavim and Vayelech – are really one portion, which sometimes is split into two.  In the language of Quantum Mechanics (QM), the two portions are entangled, in a manner of speech, and are described by the single "wavefunction."  Needless to say, this is not meant in a literal sense, as QM describes physical objects, whereas these biblical chapters are certainly not.  Nevertheless, taking poetic license, we can loosely say that these portions are entangled, i.e., they are really one.  Nitzavim and Vayelech, however, speak of the opposite themes – “nitzavim” connotes standing( lit., you stand), while “vayelech” connotes walking (lit., …and he walked). As much as it seems paradoxical at first, from the physicist’s point of view, it is not surprising at all.  Typically, [...]

Shabbat in Numbers

Last week Torah portion, Emor, speaks about the prohibition of working on Shabbat. In fact, the Talmud enumerates precisely 39 categories of labor forbidden on Shabbat. But why 39? Rabbi Shimon b’ Rabbi Yossi ben Lakunya (Shabbat 49b) suggests that the number 39 can be derived from the number of times the various forms of the word “melacha” (work) appear in the Torah. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how this works out. In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Hananel ben Hushiel (990-1053) already pointed out that this word appears 61 times in the Torah, not 39! Actually, this word actually appears 63 times! Another Talmudic Sage, Rabbi Chanina of Sepphoris derives the number 39 homiletically strenuously computing gematria of the phrase, “These are the things.” (Shabbat 7:2) The lack of clear [...]

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 [...]

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