Shavuot

The Equation of the Universe

by Rabbi Pinchas Kantrowitz
Shavuos, Order from Chaos
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The Equation of the Universe

Does the number 123456789101112 131415161718192021…have any meaning to you? At first glance it appears like a random list of numbers with some recognizable sequences such as 1 through 9 at the beginning, and three 1's in the middle. On closer inspection "Champernowne's Number C" is revealed as an orderly sequence of integers from 0 through 21 and upward. How about the number .42857142…? That's a bit harder, as no sequence is apparent. However, when we learn about what are commonly called "algorithms," we can recognize an algorithm of 3 divided by 7, the decimal equivalent of 3/7.

Human beings need order. The mind is unsettled when confronted with a disarray of perceptions.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in the introduction to his classic philosophic exposition "The Way of G-d," contrasts two types of people: One person has a wealth of information, and he also understands how all the information is interrelated. Another person has the same information as the first, yet he does not understand how all the different bits of information relate to one another. It's like the difference between looking at a well-arranged garden, planted in rows and patterns, and seeing a wild thicket or forest growing in confusion.

Without order, one is not only dissatisfied but can literally "go crazy." From birth a person is equipped with a unique tool, by which he surpasses the rest of Creation, suited to the task of making order from chaos -- the human mind.

"For the commandment is a candle, and Torah is light, and the path of life is ethical edification (Proverbs 6:23). At the beginning of his introduction to his great commentary "Derech Chaim" on "Ethics of the Fathers," the Maharal of Prague explains that man is lost in the dark of an opaque body, ensconced in the darkness of this world, until he wearies searching for the portal of light from above. The capacity of reason sets man apart from the animals, it enables him to explore, comprehend and seem to reign over his universe. Yet, reason alone is not a sufficient tool in the human endeavor to truly reign, to fully comprehend, and to sincerely and objectively explore. For man is trapped in the opaqueness of his physical nature. The commandments are the candle that lights our way, illuminating the path through the forest of this world as well as the rocks and stumps to avoid; the Torah is like an enormous bonfire which illuminates the entire countryside, giving meaning to the entire universe.

The Shavuot festival is called the "Festival of Weeks" because of the counting of seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. It is the only Festival for which a calendar date is not specifically mentioned; rather it is identified by its relation to another festival, Pesach.

Seven, explains the Maharal of Prague, is the number of the physical world. There are 7 days of the week and 7 "sides" to a room (the 4 walls, ceiling, floor, and the interior living space). Shabbat is the "interior living space" that gives definition and meaning to the 3 days that precede it, and to the 3 days that follow it.

By counting 7 weeks of 7 days, we explore every facet of the natural world and elevate these facets from their physical status, carrying them with us to the 50th day that is above nature. We bring light into the darkness of this world and "make sense" of a world of random numbers. May we merit, with Hashem's help, to raise ourselves to ever greater spiritual heights and assist in solving the "equation of the universe."


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Produced by Ohr Somayach Institutions, Jerusalem
Written by Rabbi Pinchas Kantrowitz
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow

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