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The Puzzle of Pi

March 14 is celebrated by nerds around the world as the Pi Day. When written in digits, 3/14 represents first three digits of the number traditionally represented by the Greek letter “π” (pronounced pi) – 3.14. Pi Day is celebrated by eating pie and discussing the significance of π. Some folks who have too much time on their hands compete at memorizing decimal digits representing the value of pi. The record presently stands at 67,890 digits! While eating pie is optional, discussing the significance of π is truly mandatory. So, what is π and why is to so important? π is arguably the most famous mathematical constant, expressing the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter. If you take a circle with a diameter of 1, the circumference of this [...]

Chanukah Menorah – the River of Time

In a Kabbalistic meditation on lighting Chanukah Menorah, the Arizal links the menorah lights with a supernal river (see Candle on the River). The Arizal’s principal disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, writes in Shaar HaKavanot, Inyan Chanukah: One should meditate on the idea that the initials of the words ‘…l'hadleek ner Chanukah [to light the Chanukah candle]’ are the holy name called ‘Nachal’.” The first letters of  “l'hadleek ner Chanukah” are three letters, Lamed (L), Nun (N), and Chet (Ch). Rearranged, these letters spell the word NaChaL – a stream or a small river. As I wrote in my essays, “On the Nature of Time and the Age of the Universe,” and “Joseph—the Master of Time,” a river has been the metaphor for time across many cultures. Does this Kabbalistic meditation hints at a connection between Chanukah lights and [...]

Tisha B’Av on Shabbat – A Relativistic Perspective

Yesterday was the 9th day of the month of Av or, in Hebrew, Tisha B’Av. Usually, Tisha B’Av is marked by mourning and fasting. Yesterday, however, we ate festive meals, drank wine and were prohibited from fasting or displaying any signs of mourning. Because yesterday was Shabbat. Shabbat pushes off the observances of Tisha B’Av by a day. Indeed, today, Sunday, we fast and mourn the destruction of the First and the Second Holy Temple  – Bet Hamikdash – in Jerusalem, we remember the Holocaust and many other tragedies that befell the Jewish people. Why couldn’t we observe Tisha B’Av on Shabbat? After all, that was the day when on the 9th of Av, both Temples were destroyed! The simple explanation, of course, is that on Shabbat there is no mourning. On Shabbat, [...]

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

And the Eternal spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Eternal and died. (Leviticus 16:1)   The above verse seems perfectly innocuous and, on the surface, serves as a mere introduction to the laws of Yom Kippur service that follows. Much, however, lies beneath the surface. Some of the deepest secrets of Kabbala are hidden therein. Allow me to present them along the lines of Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll. Sex The story of two eldest sons of Aaron—Nadab (Nadav) and Abihu (Avihu)—dying is told in the Torah portion of Shemini: And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Eternal, which [...]

Mezuzah in Three Dimensions

The mezuzah is one of the few mitzvot (divine commandments) for which the Torah states its reward. In this case, the reward is long life for oneself and one's children: And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts ("mezuzot") of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers for as long as the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:20-21). According to the Tosafot and the Shulchan Aruch, the main function of the mezuzah is to protect the house from evil. Because of this attribute, the mezuzah has been called "the coat of arms in the knighthood of God."*  To begin to understand the mechanism of this effect of the mezuzah, [...]

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) [...]

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 [...]

Leprous Cats and Angry Birds

In the Torah portion Tazriah (Leviticus 13), the Schrödinger cat[1] gets leprosy. Well, it’s not really leprosy, it’s a mysterious supernatural disease called tzara’as, nowadays translated as psoriasis. And it’s not a cat, but a Jew who gets afflicted by tzara’as. In fact, cats, other animals, and even gentiles (i.e., non-Jewish humans) are immune to this spiritual malady. So why do I call a poor Jew afflicted with tzara’as a “Schrödinger cat”? Because he sure acts like one. Indeed, had I not studied quantum mechanics and had I not learned about the collapse of the wave function[2] back at the university, I would have surely discovered it by reading this Torah portion (parshah)! A Jewish person with a skin lesion or boldness (present company excluded) is brought to a priest (kohen), who examines it [...]

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