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Light, Einstein, and the Mind of the Jewish People

The Primordial Light

There are two kinds of light in the world, the light which comes from the sun and the light which existed before creation. Everyone is familiar with the words of Genesis 1:3, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” This light is shrouded in mystery, where did the light come from? What was the light of the first day? After all God did not create the sun, the moon, and the stars until the fourth day.

The Jews are an extremely ancient people by any standards; their day-to-day calendar alone takes us back six thousand years. They also have a core of mystical traditions unequalled in intensity and complexity by any other. Among the first words of the Bible (Genesis 1: 2) we have: "And the earth was without form and void." The Hebrew expression "Tohu" (without form) has a more extensive meaning in the writings of the Kabbalah, where it denotes the World of chaos or original substance and energy that preceded Genesis. It was only with the collapse of this world of Tohu that our world, the world of Tikun (Restitution), could come into existence. But the confrontation between the primal disorder and the amended order continues as a fundamental feature of reality.

The Babylonian myth of Creation tells us of a victorious rebellion of male gods against Tiamat, the great mother who ruled the universe. They formed an alliance against her and chose Marduk to be their leader in this fight. After a bitter war Tiamat is slain, from her body heaven and earth are formed, and Marduk rules as supreme God.

To determine whether Marduk will be able to defeat Tiamat, he has to pass a test, which is the key to understanding the myth.

Then they placed a garment in their midst;
To Marduk, their first born, they said:
“Verily, O Lord, your destiny is supreme among the gods,
Command “to destroy and to create,” and it shall be!
By the word of your mouth let the garment be destroyed;
Command again, and let the garment be whole.”

When the great Mother is challenged by the male sons, the mole – who does not have the gift to procreate (the sperm is as indispensable for the formation of the child as the female egg but this knowledge is not an obvious recognizable fact like pregnancy or child-birth) must prove that he is not inferior. If he cannot produce with a womb, he produce with his mouth, his word, his thought. That is when we understand the meaning of the test: Marduk can defeat Tiamat only if he can prove that he can also create, out of sheer nothing, by the fiat of divine will, all that is beginning to be.

The Hebrews despised everything the Babylonians valued. They scorned the matriarchal principles of social organization and mocked its religion orientation. In the Bible’s version of Creation there is no union of earth god and sky goddess, no more analogy with procreation. The supremacy of a male god is established and hardly any trace of a previous matriarchal stage is left. God alone, whose unutterable majesty created the world by his word, makes the woman and her creative powers no longer necessary.
God spoke from out of the shroud of mystery and said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Before even there was a sun or a moon there was light. Now what is this light? This is a biblical puzzle which requires imagination.

Riding alongside the Light Beam

The special theory of relativity elevated light to a supremacy over both space and time. In Newtonian physics, light is the messenger for information traveling from here to there across space in a certain amount of time. For Newton, space and time were rigid and constant. Einstein turned everything upside down by declaring that space and time are relative and only the speed of light is constant. Indeed, it seems instead to be the very source of space and time.

Albert Einstein, going over and over the paradox of racing a light beam in which the germ of the special relativity theory was already present, imagined what would happen if a particular train hurtled away from a clock tower at the speed of light; that is instead of five miles per hour, the train raced away at 186,000 miles per second. He quickly realized that the clock would appear forever frozen at 12:00. Light always carries within it the frozen moment of an image’s creation.

Puzzled by the observation of time standing still, when Einstein was to take out his watch from his vest-pocket while riding in this special rapid-transit train moving at the speed of light, he was confronted by the fact that it continued faithfully to tick off the minutes oblivious to the train’s amazingly high velocity.
As Leonard Shlain explains, “There are now two times, one frozen on the face of the clock tower as seen by the passenger looking backward from this rapidly moving train, and the other recorded by the watches of the passengers in the train. Einstein concluded from this type of thought experiment that time was not absolute, but rather relative. Time, he realized, depended entirely upon the speed of the observer relative to the position of a clock or conversely, the speed of the clock relative the observer. This weird effect is unnoticeable in the everyday world because nothing travels anywhere near the speed of light.”

Einstein finally tapped into “God’s thoughts.” He would recall excitedly, “The solution came to me suddenly with the thought that our concepts and laws of space and time can only claim validity insofar as they stand in a clear relation to our experiences … By a revision of the concept of simultaneity into a more malleable form, I thus arrived at the theory of relativity.”

He did not believe in a personal God. However, Judaism remained the framework of his mind.

What Happened to Israel at Sinai

Three months or moons after the Exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews arrived at Mount Sinai. Following the Biblical story (Exodus 19: 1 – 6), at Mount Sinai, and through Moses, God entered into a Covenant with the people of Israel. The great mountain in which they received the Torah signifies the strength and stability of the eternal reign of God, which cannot be banished by some impulse to change and decline. Moses, whose brightness was so great that the Israelites could not look upon him, signifies that in the reign of blessedness the person is giving orders with heavenly divinity to human minds which cannot understand.

God was giving the Ten Commandments with unfailing clarity to the entire world. For while the capacity for making moral decisions is innate – the sympathetic circuit is hard-wired, at least in most of us – it still requires the right kind of experience in order to develop. Indeed, the framework of the compact was not new, neither were all its contents. The Code of Hammurabi and the legal system of Egypt contained prescriptions that dealt with the protection of persons and property rights and the basic organization of society. A question arises, what need was there to create something “new”? What set the Covenant apart from all others in human history, making it the foundation of Jewish existence and much of Christian, Muslim, and modern Western civilization? It was, as Kaufmann has explained, “in the very giving. For the first time morality was represented as a prophetic revelation, an expression of the supreme moral will of God.”

Sharing Israel’s Covenant

And when the people of Israel had been chosen by God to bring the divine and human together, I saw, as it was, that even speculative knowledge of God was not accessible to the “Gentiles.” At that time, our greatest mind, Pythagoras (died c 475 BC) thought that the whole cosmos could be described in terms of the whole numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. The Pythagoreans having been bought up in the study of mathematics, thought that things are numbers and that the whole cosmos is a scale and a number and that God was a mathematician.

Can we make a mathematical model of what an observer is doing, when an observer is observing and changing reality? Pythagoras left the observer out of the equation of God for a simple reason: it was easier to do things that way. Further, Socrates described his philosophical inspiration as the work of a personal benign demon. In Plato’s symposium Diotime of Mantineia tells him that “Everything demonic is intermediate between God and mortal. God has no contact with man, only through the demonic is there intercourse and conversation between man and gods, whether in the waking state or during sleep.”

Judaism has kept a brilliant, fractious, bickering, relentlessly skeptical people alive for three thousands years, made them the senior nation of the Western world, and turned them into a marvel and too often an obsession to so many of their fellow human beings. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Philistines, Greeks, and Hittites all had their distinct pagan beliefs and lived, in oscillating competition and cooperation, with the Hebrews of Canaan. Only the religion of the Israelites has survived in this form.

Certainly, religion of history, like Judaism, discovered God “in his mighty acts among the children of men.” Such a religion is a compound of memory and hope. It looks backward to what God already done. What was God to the Jews? They really didn’t have a theory of God. Paul Johnson alluded to this in his History of Christianity, “God did things: created the world, guided it, chose Israel, laid down the law; but it was not clear why he existed or what his ultimate purpose and ambition was. He appeared eccentric, sometimes motiveless. Nor was he all-powerful since, as judge, he was bound by his own law. In a sense, then, the law was God; there was thus no room for grace and a man could save himself only by his good works.”

According to the Covenant God made promise to be faithful in bestowing the good things of nature. He pledged Himself to give the rain that ensures the fruitfulness of the seasons and to perpetuate life in animals and men. But He established a bond between men’s righteousness and the cosmic order. He requires them to render Him worship and to observe His laws. “Flesh with blood you shall not eat … whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed, for man was made to the image of God. (Genesis 9: 5 – 6)”

These relevant religious images created by the Jews after the revelation of Mount Sinai can best be understood as unconscious expression of a new way of human-divine relationship that finds no parallel to the way of thinking in the ancient world. There is, however, a problem. How does the Covenant apply to the rest of mankind?


You shall be my treasured possession
Among all the peoples (Genesis 19:5)

It has been said often enough to become a platitude but I have better say it again: to know the story of an ethnic group is not the same as to understand that group. There is, perhaps, an essential core of Judaism, a core that Richard Dawkins himself might have nominated as the irreducible heart of his memetic theory, which we might set up as a candidate for discussion as potentially beyond the reach of factual refutation: The Jews are the Chosen People. Choosiness does not imply that they are superior creatures, only that their minds seem capable to have insights which are considered foreign to everyday experience.

British psychologist and author Stan Gooch thinks that the children of Israel are the Chosen People because they are the best – that is, the most successful and the most stable – mixing of our two parent genetic endowments: the Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens varieties of man. It would not surprise us, given the fact that it was in the Middle East – somewhere round about present-day Israel – that pure Neanderthal and pure Home Sapiens first met. “When the Sons of God came into the daughters of men and they bore children to them … these … were the might men of old, the men of renown.” Is this statement from the Book of Genesis really speaking of Homo Sapiens males meting Neanderthal females? So it seems self-evident to Gooch that “the Jews kept the memory of our fantastic biological adventure alive down through the tens of thousands of years that followed. Knowing that a miracle has happened, and knowing that they themselves were the outcome of that miracle, they determined to preserve themselves for all time, as the living proof that divine forces were directly and deliberately at work in human destiny.”

The Neanderthal man flourished in Europe and West Asia from about 200,000 years ago to about 30,000 years ago, when it became extinct. It would have shared territory with our own species, Homo Sapiens, for about 60.000 years. Their brains were as large as ours, but were structured differently. They lacked the large frontal lobes of the neo-cortex, which is where most of the thinking is done by modern man. There is no real evidence of symbolic language among the Neanderthals. But they had “a dream culture” of intuitive straight-forward knowledge.

Homo Sapiens is the first species capable to generate complex mental symbols and to manipulate them into new combinations. The secret is concealed in the mix. Gooch’s investigation gave meaning and value to the most puzzling passages of the Bible and explains why the people of Israel believed themselves chosen by God. God is no longer a mathematician. God was concerned with the affairs of man. Not only do men need God, in A. J. Heschel’s words, “God is also in need of men.”

This promise of special election has been a core factor of Jewish life for thousands of years. It is repeated in many places in the Bible. The intention of all this is to impress in the Jewish people what the prophets have frequently repeated: God has chosen the Israelites as his “peculiar (personal) treasure.” This means that they were to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

The key words in Exodus 19:5 are “peculiar treasure.” God revealed his will at this moment not to a selected prophet alone, or to a privileged class of priests, but to the whole people, and they in turn became together answerable for the terms of the Covenant. However, the mark of election is not birth, but people’s privilege and responsibility in their role of leading the pagan people to worship and serve the one true God. How could it be otherwise? Thus they profoundly changed Greek thinking in the first century of Common Era. It was the framework to a new Covenant. It has been used by Paul to make Judaic monotheism accessible to the entire Roman world.


Ponder These for a While

  • Did God create the primordial light or did it pre-exist?
  • What do the Jew people have that another race may not have?
  • Think of an example of an experience of Einstenian physics in your life.
  • Has the mind of Einstein defined the paradigm of the Jewish people?
  • Is it possible that by having the most balanced human mind ever, the Jewish people could easily assume the existence of an omnipotent God, who acts but is never visualized or characterized?
  • Can you think of a light without thinking about the sun or another electronic device?



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