Monday, June 25, 2012

Maaseh Hamerkava and Chukas

The day of this post is 5 Tammuz. The reason I point this out is because this was the date that Yechezkel Hanavi witnessed his fantastic vision of the maaseh hamerkavah. This vision was a display of the angelic procession that surrounds the heavenly throne. In this vision Yechezkel sees that the angels have four different faces: a lion, a man, an eagle, and an ox (this last face was later replaced with the face of a cherub). (See Yechezkel 1 and 10.)

In my book, The Secrets of the Stars, I detailed how these four faces are also reflected in the signs of the zodiac that represent the first month of each season. As the earth circles around the sun, the backdrop of stars that would be behind the sun (if its light wasn't outshining them during daytime) change. When the world was initially created, the grouping of stars that was behind the sun during the first month of spring was Taurus the Ox, that of summer was Leo the Lion, that of autumn was Scorpius the Scorpion, and that of winter of Aquarius the Water Carrier. (Due to a phenomenon called axial precession, this has changed and these signs no longer accompany the first months of these seasons.)

If you look carefully, you will see that three out of four are three of the four faces of Yechezkel's vision. Taurus, Leo, and Aquarius have the faces of an ox, lion, and human repsectively. The only one that appears to not represent one of these faces is Scorpius. Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bacheye points out that the face of an eagle is often times only hinted at and not expressed outright. In fact, when looking at the banners of the encampment of Klal Yisrael in the wilderness we find a similar representation. Each shevet had a flag and each grouping of three had a specific banner.

Rabbeinu Bacheye points out that the four major banners appeared to display the faces of the angels of Yechezkel. The camp of Ephrayim had an ox, Yehuda had a lion, Reuven had mandrakes whose root structure looks very human like, and Dan's camp had an eagle. Although the northern encampment of Dan flew under this banner, his personal flag was that of a snake. This is peculiar because the banners of the other three camps were identical to the personal flag of the leader of that camp. It would seem that, once again, the eagle is somehow not displayed fully, in this case being represented by a snake just as in the sky it was exchanged for a scorpion. I do feel the need to point out that in ancient Babylonian astrology, the sign of Scorpius was depicted as an eagle and currently the constellation next to it is Aquila the Eagle.

This week's parsha, Chukas, seems to have the four elements expressed in it, as well. We find the Water Carrier of Aquarius in Moshe who is the human the brings forth water. Unfortunately, it was done this time by hitting the rock in a fashion for which Moshe was punished, but nevertheless it is found in the parsha. We find our snakes (similar to the Scorpion of Scorpius, this association is expounded upon in greater detail throughout The Secrets of the Stars) when venemous snakes are sent to punish Klal Yisrael for complaining about the manna, and the ox can be seen in the beginning of the parsha in the discussion of the parah adumah, red heifer. The lion may not be seen in the parsha itself, but is clearly referenced as Chukas is always read in the first month of summer, Tammuz. (The earliest in the year that Chukas can be read is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz which, although is technically 30 Sivan, is certainly part of Tammuz as it is its Rosh Chodesh.) This is the month that was symbolized by Leo the Lion when the world was created. Chukas is also always the parsha either preceding 5 Tammuz or, as in this year, right afterwards as well.

This post is a very quick overview and, unfortunately, due to the brief nature of this site I am not really able to expound significantly on these topics as much as I would like. In The Secrets of the Stars I dedicated an entire chapter to Yechezkel's vision and also discuss its relevance to us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dark Sunrise

When confronting Korach, Moshe states, "Morning will happen and Hashem will make known those that are to Him, etc." A fairly obvious question is why the delay, why didn't Moshe just have the showdown right then and there? What was the necessity to delay until morning?

The Maharasha addresses this issue in his commentary to Nedarim 39b.The Gemara mentions that when Korach challenged Moshe's authority the sun and moon ascended to the loftier heavens to demand justice on behalf of Moshe. They gave Hashem an ultimatum, either He should do justice for ben-Amram (Moshe), or they would refuse to shine from this point on. Hashem shot arrows at them and forced them back to their regular jobs and stated, "Every day the pagans bow to you and you continue to shine without defending My honor, but for the honor of a human you stand up!"

The Maharsha states that Moshe wanted to reference this celestial confrontation when rebuking Korach. He, therefore, stated that tomorrow morning justice will occur. Not because the sun will not shine, as was the sun's intent; rather, because Hashem will very clearly display who He has chosen to perform His service and who He has not. The Maharsha continues to state that this may be partially alluded to in the Rashi's commentary to this verse.

One thing that I find interesting about this is that it would seem the Maharsha felt that the sun was telling Hashem that justice will have to be carried out for Moshe. Either the sun will do it by not shining, or Hashem will perform a different miracle. Since Moshe was familiar with the discussion, had Hashem told the sun that he could adjudicate, then Moshe would have referenced the lack of the sun's shining the following morning as a testament to Moshe's authenticity. If this is true then why did the moon join with the sun in making the ultimatum? The determining factor was the sun, not the moon. The answer is quite obvious, though. The moon does not produce its own light, rather, it reflects that of the sun. Thus, if the sun were to cease shining, the moon would inevitably follow suit.

I concede that the Maharsha's commentary does seem a bit hard to read into the wording of the Gemara. The sun and moon seem to both be demanding justice and declaring that they will go on strike if justice was not served. It does not seem that the sun was stating that he would provide justice should Hashem choose not to carry it out. Any suggestions or answers?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Recently, important results were released from one of the foremost laboratories in the world, CERN. Neutrinos, a type of sub-atomic particle, do not travel faster than light. Now, you may be asking why this is news? According to Einstein's theories of relativity no particle can travel faster than light. The answer is that last September this same lab reported that they might have witnessed these particles traveling just slightly above the cosmic speed limit, the speed of light.

Now, it is of course true that general and special relativity are still just theories and there are a lot of questions that they cannot and do not answer. Scientists are still trying to resolve conflicts between these theories and the qualities observed in quantum mechanics. While both of these methods seem to have astoundingly accurate results in their respective areas of science (relativity in the macro and quantum mechanics in the micro), the two are essentially incompatible with each other. Nevertheless, these are the best theories out there now and within their respective fields have produced wondrous results. Things so basic to these theories, such as the assertion that no particle can travel faster than the speed of light, have been shown to hold up in many different experiments. Thus, if neutrinos were truly traveling faster then a significant portion of these sciences would need a complete overhaul! Alas, this was not the case. As Sergio Bertolucci presented in his results, it appears the results were erroneous due to a faulty element of the fiber-optic timing system.

I find one of the comments made by Bertolucci to be very telling. He mentioned that this final result was something that he had expected deep down even though many would have loved the excitement of having truly found these particles to be breaking the rules of science. To be part of a team that has discovered how relativity was not a sound theory would certainly have ensured these scientists a place in history. Science is replete with new discoveries rendering earlier ones obsolete. Whether they be that the earth is not flat to Einstein's theories replacing those of Newton, when massive discoveries are finally confirmed science generally abandons the old and begins to explore the new opportunities presented. Those who helped form these new opportunities are then immortalized. This is how the quest for objective truth perseveres.

One of the many flaws in this type of system is that when one thinks he has discovered something new it is not always so easy to give it up. How many times can a yeshiva student remember how he came up with a chiddush and although his chavrusah has adequately shown why this chiddush is wrong, the student just cannot let go. The discovery of objective truth is so powerful that its illusion is sometimes so tempting that one ends up net being able to let go. In the case with the neutrino we actually find scientists who appear to have acted with integrity and abandoned the previous findings when they could not be supported by further investigation.

This idea of bias is expressed very strongly in this week's parsha. The spies were unable to see the objective good of our beautiful land, Eretz Yisrael. Although Hashem had performed countless miracles and displayed that nothing stands in His way, the spies were unable to see past the enormous armies and fortified cities that they determined were impenetrable.

In our own lives we have so many biases that do not allow us to see things for what they truly are. Sometimes we are afraid of change, and other times we are driven by our personal desires. Regardless of the reason why, we often fall prey to seeing a very distorted view of reality. Klal Yisrael had been on the cusp of inheriting the Promised Land. However, one can only truly find his inheritance and place in this world if he is able to remove the "dusty glasses" that constantly cloud his vision.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Transits and Haughtiness

It is very exciting that in the next few days there will be a transit of Venus across the sun! This means that Venus will pass directly between us and the sun.

I remember the last time this happened, eight years ago. I set up my telescope (then I had an 8" Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain) early in the morning and watched as the black orb of Venus appeared to cross past the face of the sun. I admit that for those not very interested in astronomy this event is not as aesthetically pleasing as viewing the rings of Saturn or the craters of the moon, but the rarity of this event creates excitement itself. Additionally, those who do appreciate astronomy (and perhaps its history) definitely can appreciate this event with greater appreciation.

Such transits are relatively rare with a pairing of them spaced eight years apart (as is the case with this and the last) and then a duration of time that spans greater than a century prior to the next. In fact, the next time this event will occur will be in 2117. These events were crucial to earlier astronomers in helping them calculate the size of the solar system and of Venus. This was done from the seventeenth century onwards.

Such calculations are predicated on the fact that we exist in a heliocentric system and not a geocentric one. This means that the planets revolve around the sun and not the sun/planets around our planet. Believe it or not, even relatively recently there were "scientific" and Torah works that were still advocating the geocentric version, however, as time such views no longer seem to be adhered to by the greater number of scholars.

I do find it interesting that the solar system has the sun at its center, but from our perspective it would appear that we are the center of the universe. I think a lot of mussar can be taken from this concept. Naturally people see things only from their personal vantage point and often feel as though they are, in fact, "the center of the universe." It takes objective analysis and an open mind to listening to the truth that allows one to realize that his haughtiness is inappropriate. Gaavah, haughtiness, is a very difficult attribute to eradicate from within ourselves, but until one does so, he is effectively incapable of truly recognizing the emes, truth, in many situations.

Unfortunately, I do not think I will be able to witness this wonderful event as I have (b"H) upgraded my telescope to a 10" Meade Schmidt Cassegrain and do not have a solar filter for this size telescope. Although, one can view this without a telescope, it still requires proper protective eyewear and I do not have those either. I was lucky enough to see it eight years ago and I remember it clearly as, for me, it was memorable.