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    The Torah Science Foundation Newsletter

    Volume 1, Number 3
    Sivan 5762 / June 2002

    In this issue:

    1. TSF 9th Grade Science Curriculum
    2. Encounters: Freud and the Rebbe Rashab
    3. Kabbalah meets science-fiction

    1. TSF 9th Grade Science Curriculum.

    After two years of development the TSF is nearing the completion of a general science curriculum aimed at 9th graders, written in Hebrew. The introductory level High School curriculum's main goals are to introduce Jewish teachers and high school students to the vast size and scope of general themes of science, while orienting them to the various subject matters studied in each separate scientific discipline. At the same time, every scientific field and concept is explained from a Torah perspective, while challenging students to create a constructive link between areas of Torah study and areas of scientific discovery.

    The curriculum is structured around the concept of “Powers of Ten”, originally developed by the late architects Charles and Ray Eames. Students are taken on a conceptual journey through nature based on structures of different magnitudes. From the structure of clusters of galaxies to the structure of a nucleus of a single atom, students learn about the various dimensions of nature studied by the different sciences from Astronomy to Geology to Biology to Chemistry to Physics.

    This 9th grade science curriculum is presently in an experimental phase, and has been tested at the Levona Girls' High School in Israel. The curriculum was jointly developed with the Levona School and was reviewed by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh of Gal Einai (www.inner.org).

    The curriculum currently includes a textbook for teachers, in Hebrew, published by the New Text division of the Torah Science Foundation. A textbook/workbook for students is planned for publication during the upcoming school year. The Torah Science Foundation hopes to make the curriculum available in English in the near future.

    2. Encounters: Freud and the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    In this installment of our newsletter we begin a series of short notes and biographical sketches of encounters between great Torah and scientific personalities.

    We start with such an encounter between Rabbi Shalom Dov Schneersohn (the Rashab), the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1861-1920) with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) the father of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. Stories of the encounter abounded for many years based on a single brief passage among the works of Rabbi Shalom Dov's son, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    However, it was not until the publication of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn's personal notebooks, that the encounter was confirmed.

    In them, he discloses that in 1903, when the Rashab was seeking medical council on a neurological problem with one of his hands, he consulted the famous Sigmund Freud about the problem.

    Since childhood the Rashab had suffered from periods of paralysis in one of his hands. The condition worsened over time and in the winter of 1903 when he was 43 years old, the Rashab spent almost 2 months in Vienna receiving electrical therapy for his hand. Before deciding on the best course of treatment (as is revealed in his own correspondence from Vienna to friends and family) he consulted with Freud. At the time, Freud was seeing patients as a neurologist using his unique approach of treating neurological disorders based on psychological analysis (now known as psychoanalysis). As far as we know, there was only one such meeting, as the Rashab ultimately decided on a different course of treatment, based as mentioned above on electrical therapy.

    During his meeting with Freud, the two discussed the Rashab's lifestyle and insights into the nature of the psyche. Though we do not have the exact details, we know that one of the central topics discussed was the interaction between mind and emotions (symbolized by the brain and the heart). The Rashab explained that one basic operational aspect of Hassidism was to learn how to bridge the gap between the two, thus bringing that which can only be captured by the intellect to bear on the emotions. Freud objected to this by saying that the intellect and the emotions were like two continents separated by a great sea, preventing any form of communication.

    To which the Rashab responded by using a metaphor from technology, that Hassidism seeks to create paths of communication similar to the manner in which the telegraph is used to communicate across the oceans. Freud ended the encounter with the observation that in the Rashab's case: “the mind understands more than the heart can grasp, while the heart yearns for more than the mind can grasp.”

    Indeed, we may say that the difference between the scientific and Torah approach to knowledge and understanding is based on this statement. Torah, and specifically Hassidism, does not make do with either intellect or emotion alone, but rather sees the human experience in its entirety.

    Knowledge, whether it be of a theological o r a natural nature must include both faculties: the mind and the heart. Knowledge based on either the mind or the emotions alone, does not suit human needs. In its present state Science cannot address this urgent and important need of the bridging of the mind and the emotions. Indeed, it is one of our goals here at the Torah Science Foundation to explore and educate about the new dimensions that the bridging between Hassidism and science brings to human consciousness.

    *** A full length article by Moshe Genuth is planned for our website. The article will include an in-depth analysis of this encounter and its impact on both the Rashab and on Freud's psychoanalytic theory.

    3. Kabbalah meets science-fiction.

    It is intriguing to note that many works of fiction feature basic Kabbalistic principles despite the fact that the author is not known to have studied Kabbalah. One example is “Contact”, the book turned movie, by the famous astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Sagan, though Jewish is not known to have come in direct contact with Jewish thought in general or Kabbalah specifically. Yet "Contact" has some important Kabbalistic concepts embedded in its narrative. Here is the first draft of an article devoted to the analysis of these parallels.

    Knowing and not-Knowing: Dancing with G-d

    Are we alone in the universe? It is hard to look at the stars and not to ask that question. If we are not alone, who else is out there? Cosmic contemplation can be enjoyed in different ways. The Kabbalah tells us of about cosmic spheres, and a divine plan behind the apparent chaos. Fiction has the power to help us deal with the question as if it does not really touch us.

    Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer, explored the question of the presence of other living creatures in the universe in a book later made into a movie titled Contact. Here is a synopsis of Contact.

    Ellie Arroway, a bright and courageous young scientist, has a passion for astronomy that came from her father, who died when she was 9. Using rigorous scientific methods she listens to extra-planetary noise picked up by giant radio antennas.

    After 3 years of fruitless searching, money runs out and the plug is pulled from Ellie's cosmic eavesdropping. As she listens to her radio telescopes for the last time her heart skips a beat when she hears a signal coming in. Ellie and her colleagues ascertain its origin: Vega, a star 26 light years away from Earth. Her discovery causes great turmoil everywhere. Soon they realize that the signal encodes a message from an alien civilization with blueprints to build a machine enclosing a one-passenger pod.

    The machine is meant to transport its passenger to Vega, and hopefully back. While the machine is built, an international committee is appointed to select its passenger.

    Ellie is the front-runner. She dazzles the panel with her scientific knowledge and unbending commitment to truth. And then she is asked one final question:

    “Ellie, do you believe in G-d?”

    She hesitates. “I do not understand the relevance of the question to this project”, she replies. When pressed, her integrity gives her no choice but to admit that no, she does not believe in G-d. The panel thinks that faith is essential for extra-terrestrial travel, and chooses another candidate that professes to believe in a Creator.

    But a religious fanatic who feels that the project is sacrilegious kills the selected candidate. Ellie is given the job after all!

    At launch time, those in the control center see a brilliant light enveloping the machine as the pod drops through the machine's core. Inside the pod, Ellie' body experiences tremendous pressure and distortions as she feels the pod entering a wormhole—a Relativistic transit tunnel through Space.

    She wakes up on a beautiful beach and recognizes her father, looking much younger than when he died. He tells her “We searched the cosmos... and after all the suffering, after all the chaos and desolation of the void… the one thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other. That's why I sent the message. That's why I made contact”.

    “Who are you?”, Ellie asks. Her father explains that he belongs to a higher civilization that it is continuously searching for intelligent life in the cosmos. They found planet Earth and when Ellie was chosen to visit Vega, they decided that it would be easier for her to meet the higher civilization in the familiar context of encountering her father in a beach.

    “We are millions of intelligences in one consciousness...we're all descendants of the same stars, Ellie. All made of the same primordial atoms”. Ellie asks: “What happens now?” Her father answers “Now... you go home…”

    After what seems like hours later to her, Ellie wakes up in the pod, on Earth. She is shocked to find that people at ground control on Earth believe she never left. For them her pod had dropped through the core of the machine, only to emerge on the other side.

    Ellie tries to convince them of her visit to Vega and the contact made with others, but she is pressured to admit that her whole story is only a delusion. Ellie explains that her trip lasted 18 hours but, because of the Relativity of time, just a few minutes elapsed on Earth. Nobody believes her and she finds herself without any evidence to back her story.

    Though she realizes that the world cannot accept her story on faith alone, she remains convinced of its truth. Ellie experiences a transformation. Without empirical evidence, science cannot validate her story; she only has the certainty of her belief in the reality of her experience. She realizes that for others to follow her in exploring the Universe, they too will have to believe.

    The Kabbalah Picture

    How do we understand Ellie's passion for a search of the unknown while vehemently denying the existence of a Creator? According to Kabbalah, Ellie was right on the mark. Committed to a rigorous scientific probing of reality, she, like Pascal, only finds “the chaos and desolation of the void” That void, or vacuum, is described in Kabbalah as Tzimtzum (literally, contraction). Tzimtzum is G-d's first act of creation meant to “make space” for a finite universe in which G-d essence and intervention is completely hidden. Most important, the “space” generated by the tzimtzum allows for the existence of conscious beings, (that seem to be) separate from their Creator. This is the big difference between angels and humans. Angels are real creatures that populate many dimensions of the universe but they have no free will. So no tzimtzum is necessary for angels to exist. But tzimtzum is essential for humans and it makes possible for Ellie to declare that she does not believe in G-d.

    Tzimtzum is also indispensable to protect the “lower waters” (the material world) from the “higher waters” or “Ain Sof”, the infinite manifestation of divine light. From that perspective, humans are like little children that need to be protected from knowing too much about the “true” reality of the world. Tzimtzum provides a sustaining barrier between what human beings can know (rationally, and by experience) and the humbling and ultimately nullifying experience of that which cannot be known, that is, G-d. In scriptural teachings, it is Moses asking G-d to show him His face and G-d telling him: ”Men cannot see My face and live” [verify quote, cite source]. According to the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, the ultimate purpose of the Tzimtzum is a cosmic hide-and-seek game in which mankind searches for its 'hidden' Creator.

    Thus understood, Ellie and many real-life scientists “sense” the tzimtzum as a deep existential vacuum, and experience it as a longing for knowledge that is, at its core, a longing to know the Creator. According to Kabbalah, the formidable challenge is how to navigate the uncharted seas of what cannot be known—for if it were known, human consciousness would be swallowed back into the Creator's. Or, like the Jewish philosophic saying: if I were to know Him [G-d]—I would be Him!

    Ellie eventually realizes that the unknown can be navigated. But not with what she believed to be the only acceptable form of knowledge: scientifically verifiable and provable knowledge. Rather, Contact's message is that Belief is the key to negotiating the unknown in a quest to discover the Ultimate.

    Kabbalah teaches us that Belief is not merely a conviction and willingness to wonder, to be amazed, to revere that which lies beyond. Belief is an active force for discovery, for learning, stemming from a residual image of the Creator prior to the tzimtzum. This residual image is known as reshimu.

    Imagine being in a room with hundreds of other people meeting a very powerful world leader. When the leader leaves the room, a sensitive person feels that a residue of the magnetic power of the leader lingers in the room after his departure. This residual divine power, the reshimu, is engraved within our psyche.

    The power to navigate what can be known is provided by the tzimtzum; our ability to navigate what cannot be known, stems from the reshimu. Whereas exploring the knowable is a human-centered activity, journeying through the unknown is a Divine experience. As Rebbe Nachman of Bretslov, one of the greatest seekers of G-d used to say: “my I don't know is greater than my I know.” Knowing and not knowing are more than just descriptions ­ they are states of being, they are ways of 'standing in the world', of 'taking a stance on life'.



    © Copyright 2002 by the Torah Science Foundation

    Do not duplicate in any type of publication without prior approval from the Torah Science Foundation, 928 11th Street, S. Monica, CA 90403, Phone/Fax (310) 451-4787 or zeiger@torahscience.org

    Send all comments to: genuth@torahscience.org

     
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