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Parashat Acharei Mot/Shabbat haGadol 5774 — 04/09/2014

Parashat Acharei Mot/Shabbat haGadol 5774 — 04/09/2014

Observe My statutes and ordinances – which a person shall do, and live because of them. (Vayikra 18:5)

It is known that the 248 parts of the body correspond to the 248 positive commandments of the Torah, and that each commandment’s fulfillment provides vitality to one particular part of the body. In turn, we also know that some parts of the body are not essential for life, such as the hand or leg. If someone is missing such a limb, although the loss is great, it does not affect his ability to go on living, and it is simply considered a handicap or blemish. In contrast, there are some parts of the body whose loss or ruin makes it impossible for the person to go on living. For example, injury to the brain or other internal organs can be fatal, for these are essential for life.

   It is no different regarding the “organs” of the soul, whose vitality in the eternal world depends upon Torah and mitzvos. Regarding some mitzvos, if a person transgresses them, he is considered nothing more than “blemished’ as the verse says, if he scorns a thing, it will cause him injury (Mishlei 13:13). The Vilna Gaon explains that when someone makes light of Hashem’s word and does not fulfill a certain mitzvah, the organ of his soul that needs this mitzvah is damaged for eternity, such as when a man does not fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin. Although he fulfilled all of the other mitzvos, his spiritual “arm” will be injured. In contrast, certain mitzvos of the Torah are associated with the brain, the heart, and other internal organs that are vital to life. If a person rebels regarding these, he brings death upon his soul.  (Chafetz Chaim)

There is a common conception in philosophy that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm – that is, the structure of the human being is in some sense parallel to the structure of the universe.  In our case, the Chafetz Chaim makes a correspondance between the human body and the structure of Torah, or part of it.  Since the Torah is the blueprint of creation according to our Sages, this implies a correspondance between the microcosm and macrocosm.  How is this to be understood?

I would like to bring an example from physics and mathematics.  We’re all familiar with the idea that physics uses a lot of mathematics, some of it quite abstruse (although not as abstruse as what the mathematicians themselves are doing!).  The question arises, why does physics use mathematics?  Or, looked at in another way, why can the world be described in terms of mathematics?  This question was posed more than 50 years ago by the great physicist Eugene Wigner in an article entitled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.  After all, mathematics is a purely mental exercise, where we create structures of thought that don’t necessarily have any connection to anything in objective creation, but merely have to be self-consistent.  Physics, on the other hand, is an investigation into the structure and behavior of physical objects.  Since physics (and all sciences) uses measurement, and measurement means a numerical comparison with a standard (how many meter sticks have to be put end-to-end to reach across this bridge?), it seems clear that somehow mathematics will have to be involved in physical descriptions of phenomena.  The question remains, why should the entire project of assigning numbers to objects and their properties, and then looking for relationships between the numbers, work at all?

Let me begin with an observation from physics.  Any time two physical systems interact, further examination shows them to be two aspects of one unified, underlying system.  For example, the electicity and magnetism were originally thought to be separate phenomena.  Maxwell’s equations codified the experimental facts that a current (moving electical charges) can create a magnetic field (electromagnet) and a changing magnetic field can create an electric field (electical generator).  It was soon realized that these two fields were actually two aspects of a single field, called the electromagnetic field – this was the first “unified field theory.”

Now it is clear that our subjective world – the world of our thoughts and ideas, interacts with the objective world.  Light waves enter our eyes and impinge on our  retina and we become conscious of objects.  Sound waves vibrate the tiny hairs in our inner ear and we become conscious of sounds.  We decide to move in a certain way and our body responds.  We plan an action and execute it and the configuration of the universe changes.  If the principle that we mentioned in regard to physical systems can be extended, we would have to say that the world of consciousness, of subjectivity, and the objective world “outside” are actually two aspects of one underlying reality.  If this is so, a correspondance between microcosm and macrocosm may not be so outlandish after all.

In fact, it may be that our Sages identify the source of this correspondance at the most fundamental level of existence.  They tell us that “Gd, Israel and Torah are One.”  Gd is the basis of all existence; Gd is pure Existence, pure Being.  I believe this corresponds to Israel, the abstract nation of Israel, which is, as it were, the object of Gd’s action.  But Gd is also the basis of consciousness – if we are conscious, surely Gd is conscious!  Therefore Gd must also be pure Consciousness.  I believe this corresponds to Gd in the Sages formulation.  The quality of consciousness is to be aware of something.  In the case of pure Consciousness, this can only be pure Self-awareness.  I believe that this quality of Self-Knowledge is represented by Torah, which is Knowledge (as we see in the Torah that we have in our hands).  Gd as Knower, Gd as Known and Gd as Knowing, are all one.  And if there is a correspondance between the subjective realm and the objective realm on the fundamental level, it will naturally project out to the more expressed levels of creation.

We learn that when we perform a mitzvah we nourish the specific part of our physical body that corresponds to that mitzvah, and siimultaneously nourish the corresponding part of our soul.  Now it seems, we nourish the supernal connection between Gd, Israel and Torah as well.  Think about it next time the opportunity to perform a mitzvah presents itself – the Seder for example!   Chag Kosher v’Sameach to all!