KABBALAH, PURPOSE AND HUMAN NATURE:
David was thinking hard while his graduate students looked at him intensely. One of his students was giving his report to the weekly laboratory meeting about his latest research results. “How many times did you measure it?” asked David. “This is the fifth repeat and the results are nearly identical, within experimental error”, answered the student. He turned to the other students: “What do you think these data mean?” He knew the answer, but wanted his students to figure it out as well. A three-year search for the identity of a photoreceptor, a molecule specialized in trapping light within the cell and converting the light signal into a chemical messenger, has yielded the best answer yet, and this time, the answer seemed conclusive.
David walked briskly to the classroom where he was about to teach the next lecture of his undergraduate biology course, still unable to take his mind off the research meeting he had just left. The new findings could well be the most important discovery of his research career. He reflected on the first new results he obtained as a graduate student, nearly forty years ago. What a long, fulfilling, and also consuming road it had been. He then thought about the feelings shared with many graduate students of his generation. Deeply impressed by the dazzling rate of new discoveries, they thought that it was only a matter of time before a complete description of the Universe could be obtained. Yet the findings discussed in the last laboratory meeting conformed to the opposite pattern, which he began observing very early in his career. Each new discovery provides an important answer but also brings up key new questions that could not have been asked before. So the ever-increasing body of scientific knowledge does not seem to be reaching “the edges” of a well-defined universe, but rather hints at a continuously expanding, seemingly endless universe. For a scientist, then, the excitement of exploring the unknown keeps growing faster and faster. The sight of his students waiting in the classroom jolted David and forced his mind to focus on the task ahead. He smiled when he remembered that the subject he had to teach dealt with the function of light in the sensing of the environment by living creatures. He told the students that in the first few minutes of his class, he was going to explain how the basic facts of life described in the textbooks are first discovered in the laboratory. He then proceeded to share with the students the main points of the research meeting he just had.
“According to the biblical account of creation, Adam was the first fully conscious being – the first observer. Prior to the first human, the universe existed in a superposition of all possible states, including the states of existence and non-existence. When the first human looked for the first time at the universe, the world wave function immediately collapsed and the world came into physical existence. It was Adam who first collapsed the wave function. It is now easy to see why the Bible links the chronology of creation with Adam, and not before. Even though the universe could have already been billions of years old, Adam was the first human who actualized creation and brought it from a fuzzy state of existence/nonexistence into definite physical being.
Perhaps this is why the Pentateuch states (Genesis II:3) “And G-d blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because on it He had rested from all His work which G-d created to make.” Classical commentators suggest that the meaning of the peculiar expression “G-d created to make” is that G-d created man to complete His creation, to be a partner in creating the universe. Now it makes perfect sense. Initially G-d created the universe in amorphous spiritual form. Then he created man to complete the creation and transform the universe from its potential to its actual reality”.
Adapted from Alex Poltorak, “On the age of the Universe”2
“In the broadest sense, Kabbalah is a map of the creation of the Universe and its ultimate purpose”, explained David in the first session of his elective class, “Science, Cosmology and Beyond”. This class was very popular with undergraduate students of the humanities, and reflected David’s passion for the exploration of the interface between the transcendental and the cutting edge of scientific enquire. David was a dedicated student of Kabbalah, an ancient source of divine wisdom, and used it extensively in his course as a unifying principle between religion and science. “For example”, he explained to the students, “the key concept of the ten spheres, developed by the famous Kabbalist from Safed, the Arizal3 provides a remarkable model for the creation of the world. The model explains how a Divine, Infinite Being created a finite universe. In order to make creation possible, the Infinite Being had to contract, thus creating a “vacuum”, as it were. Infinite divine energy then entered this vacuum and cascaded down in a series of spheres, each representing a more attenuated level of divine, spiritual energy and a corresponding higher level of earthly, material energy”.
“But if God can do anything; why couldn’t He create a Universe outright?” asked one of the students.
“Imagine that a scientist was able to tap into solar energy at its source” explained David. “Such energy would be so hot and so powerful that it would burn any material exposed to it, so it would be impossible to use it for anything. God encountered the same predicament, so His infinite divine energy had to be attenuated for a finite universe to exist”
“A central property of a model is to test predictions”, asked another student, “Are you telling us that the Kabbalah offers such predictions?”
“Certainly” answered David. “Take for instance the question of time. One of the most remarkable statements made by Kabbalah is that time started with Creation and did not exist before it. This was in complete contradiction with Greek philosophers like Aristotle, who stated that time had existed forever. Remarkably, the physical sciences sided with Kabbalah a few decades ago, when relativity theory and the Big Bang theory provided scientific proof that time and space did not exist before the universe came into existence”.
“These developments are creating a real bonanza for scholars interested in the interface between religion and science. Take for instance the recent article by a distinguished physicist, Alex Poltorak, which you received as a handout. He uses a very advanced concept of quantum mechanics, the collapse of the wave function, to explain the apparent contradiction between the Pentateuch and science on the question of the age of the Universe, a key concept about time. Remarkably, he proposes a rigorous solution to the problem!”
“But what does it all mean?” asked one bewildered student. “What is the purpose of a Universe created in such a way?” David looked at the wall clock in front of him, and noted that he had run out of time. “You will have to wait until next week for the answer to your important question”, he said.
Adapted from “Meiy Ha’shiloach” by Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz,
“The Universe is full of signs of purpose” said David in the next meeting of his “Biology, Cosmology and Beyond” class: “A mother feeding her baby, bees gathering nectar to make honey, plants flowering just in time for the fruits to mature in the spring so that seeds are dispersed when the next rains fall”.
“But how can we conciliate that viewpoint with the feeling one gets reading the front page of a newspaper?” asked one student.
“Excellent question” answered David. “Let us distinguish between macro-purpose, which we will define as the purpose of the universe as willed by the Creator, and micro-purpose, which is the way each individual or group aligns with the overall purpose of the universe. The reality described by the front page of a newspaper hardly if ever describes the macro-purpose of the universe. It rather reflects the purpose of individuals or groups of individuals”.
“Perhaps one of the most specific statements about the macro-purpose of creation is found in the Talmud, the collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish law and tradition, telling us that the Divine motivation for creation was God’s desire to have a dwelling place in lower reality4. We are thus told that God has a deep longing to be universally acknowledged as the Creator of the world”.
“But an all-powerful God could easily impose His will on reality and force the world to recognize Him as the Creator” commented one of the students.
“Indeed” answered David. “But we learn in the Talmudic sources that the recognition God longs for has to be giving willingly, so a compulsory recognition would not do the job”.
“Each human being therefore has a choice: to become aligned with the macro-purpose of the universe, or to cultivate a personal cosmology, which could just reflect self-interest and be disconnected from any universal purpose”
“Do you believe that you being a scientist is part of the purpose of the universe?” asked one of the students.
“I do not think that a set of cosmic rules has preordained that I should be a scientist” answered David. “But each human being is a unique creation, and has a precious contribution to make to the purpose of the universe. We discussed earlier Poltorak’s exciting viewpoint of how, in the apparent chaos of quantum mechanics, Adam became the first observer that brought an ordered universe into existence. Each of us, Adam’s descendents, has a role to play in the continuous evolution of the cosmos. In my particular case, a given set of physical and spiritual characteristics created a potential purpose that has been expressed in me becoming a scientist. I feel particularly blessed with such a destiny that gives me the joy of new discoveries, which my spiritual being recognizes as aspects of the work of the Creator. Each of you is also a unique creation with the potential to contribute to the purpose of the universe in a precious way”
“Furthermore, Kabbalah teaches that individual destinies are interlocked in the space-time of the purpose of the universe”, continued David. “We find a most poetic example in the writings of the Chassidic master, Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitze. The Izhbitzer, as he is referred to, was explaining the verse in Genesis 1:26, Elokim said: Let us make man. Why the plural us? The Izhbitzer adheres to the teachings of the great Kabbalist, the Arizal, stating that every creation in the universe, a rock as well as a plant or an animal, has a divine spark, which endows it with some degree of consciousness. So every creation has some consciousness of being created and of the Creator. However, aside from humans, no creation has the ability to thank the Creator. As you can read in the handout, The Izhbitzer wrote that all creations joined efforts to compel God to create a human being so that they get a voice to express their gratitude to the Creator. Of particular interest is the Izhbitzer’s statement that all creations gave something of their being to create a human being (hence the plural, Let us make man). So in the vision of the Izhbitzer, the purpose of every creation is intimately connected in time and space with all other creations in the fulfillment of the purpose of the universe.”
A student raised his hand: “We learned earlier that the physical and spiritual dimensions of the universe are intimately connected. If so, what is the physical expression of this spiritual vision of the Izhbitzer? How do we conciliate such vision with evolutionary theory?”
“Taken at face value, the teaching of the Izhbitzer suggest that part of the biological features that humans share with other species arose from that participation of all creations in the creation of a human being”, said David. “Needless to say, we are yet to develop the conceptual and experimental tools to translate the Izhbitzer’s vision into a scientific conceptual domain. But let us remember that the religion and science field is in its infancy. In the same way that hardly anybody would have suspected the remarkable convergence that scientific cosmology and Kabbalah are experiencing today, we should hope to witness an equally dramatic convergence between Kabbalah and biology”.
"I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life!" (Deuteronomy 30:19)
She could feel the weight of the belt packed with explosives against her hips. Nadyia’s eyes scanned the park where her dispatcher had dropped her a few minutes ago and his parting words resonated in her head: “Walk naturally and look for a large group of people. Get in their midst and activate the belt”. She sensed her heart, cold as ice while she kept walking. In her mind, she saw the image of his boyfriend, recently killed by the enemy of her people, and her rage fueled her determination. She saw a group of women and children and started walking towards them. As she reached them, a 3-year old girl looked at her and her eyes locked into the child’s deep, round, blue eyes. Something snapped inside her, and she felt falling into a dark abyss. A few yards away, two policewomen were on her watch. With her legs shaking, she walked towards them, and asked them to take her away.
Adapted from a newscast account
of a real-life event.
"We didn't see any other option but to raise a child," 54-year old Margaret Kikis told a TV reporter from her hospital bed. "I came to this decision very quickly." In February 2002, St. Sgt. Beni Kikis was serving as a medic with his unit, and was killed when a terrorist opened fire at them. He was the youngest of two children to Margaret and Yuri Kikis.
When Beni was killed, his parents felt like they lost their purpose. The couple found a doctor willing to help them with fertility treatments. On March 21, Margaret Kikis gave birth to two healthy twins. Looking at his new son, Yuri Kikis noted the baby's resemblance to his older brother. He said that he would live in his brother's room when he gets older. Yet his wife insisted, "It's not an exchange. It's a completion. It's a continuation."
Adapted from a newspaper account of a real-life event5
It was the last class of the “Science, cosmology and beyond” course. Towards the end of the previous class, the students had engaged in a heated discussion about purpose in connection with good and evil. So David decided to devote the whole class to that subject, and also to share with the students some basic Kabbalistic concepts on good and evil, that illuminate the meaning of purpose.
“Would anybody in the class object to the statement that the authors of the attack to the Twin Towers on 9/11 had an outstanding sense of purpose?” asked David. Nobody in the class disagreed. “What about a statement declaring the destruction of the Twin Towers an ethically wrong, terrorist act?” All the students clearly agreed with the second statement as well. “We should therefore recognize that, however strong and determined, purpose in it of itself does not ensure an ethical act,” said David.
“You will recall that in one of our first classes we discussed the Kabbalistic model of the ten spheres developed by the Arizal to explain the creation of the world. In preparation for the creative act, God generated a vacuum and then introduced into that vacuum a ray of light. That ray of light is a classical example of divine energy throughout the Kabbalist literature. In fact, we all know that light is an archetypical symbol for goodness in many cultures, and its opposite, darkness, the corresponding symbol for evil.”
“Now”, David continued, “Kabbalah asks a most interesting question: Given that light is an expression of divine energy, what is the intrinsic nature of darkness? The surprising answer is that, according to Kabbalah, darkness does not exist; darkness is only the absence of light.”
“Such dramatic definition of darkness has far reaching implications. It means that, since God is continuously radiating light, and light is essentially good, God only does good. And, since evil does not have a nature of its own, the only way a human being can surrender to the forces of darkness is to first get disconnected from the light. So, when a human being gets disconnected from the macro-purpose of the universe, dark forces fill the void and such path can lead to terrorism.”
“What is the act that a terrorist is most frequently associated with?” asked David to the class.
Several students answered: “Death”.
“Correct” agreed David. “So we see these two pairs of opposite concepts: light/life and darkness/death. The Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 30:19) is unambiguous in its communication of God’s desire: Choose life! In today’s handout you can read two real-life stories about profound human struggles with the issues of life and death. Nadya is a Palestinian woman that chose to become a suicide bomber to avenge the killing of her boyfriend. At the very last moment, she was dissuaded by the way a 3-year old girl, a potential victim, looked at her. Margaret is a 54-year old Israeli woman that lost a son in a terrorist attack. She chose to have a baby at an age in which most women are grandmothers to recapture a sense of purpose in her life. Both Nadya and Margaret were engulfed by darkness and death, and despite all odds, had the willpower to find purpose in life.”
A look at the clock in the wall startled David. He had less than two minutes to summarize a tantalizing discussion and the whole course.
“We thus saw throughout the course that a life without purpose fails to do justice to the awesome and beautiful potential of each and every human being. But the real power of purpose comes from an organic connection between the purpose of each person, and the cosmic purpose of the universe. Some of you might be asking yourselves: How do I know what my purpose is? Kabbalah has a beautiful answer to that question: Each heart is endowed with a unique song; quiet your mind, carefully listen to the song of your heart, and you will have a valuable hint about the purpose of your being”
David left the classroom in the midst of a warm applause from the students. He had a few minutes to walk across campus to the molecular biology class he had to teach next.
1 From Google’s wordnet
2 Alex Poltorak, “On the age of the Universe” Boor Ha’Torah” 13:19-37, 2002
3 The Arizal is an acronym for Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi, of blessed memory." (1534-1572), who was a central figure of Kabbalah.
4 The Midrash (Tanchuma, Naso 16) states the ultimate purpose of creation: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, desired a dwelling place in lower reality."
5 Source: “Twins Born to the Kikis Family”www.onefamilyfund.org