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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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'.