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by Betzalel Avraham Feinstein
There is a famous question in philosophy: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Philosophers have been debating this question for centuries. The philosophers who answer "No," called idealists, are of the opinion that reality is whatever we perceive it to be. And the philosophers who answer "Yes," called realists, are of the opinion that reality exists independently of observers.
In the 1940's, the prominent cosmologist Abraham Zelmanov introduced his Anthropic Principle:
"The Universe has the interior we observe, because we observe the Universe in this way. It is impossible to divorce the Universe from the observer. The observable Universe depends on the observer and the observer depends on the Universe. If the contemporary physical conditions in the Universe change then the observer is changed. And vice versa, if the observer is changed then he will observe the world in another way. So the Universe he observes will be also changed. If no observers exist then the observable Universe as well does not exist."
The Anthropic Principle answer to the above question is both "Yes" and "No." "Yes," since the observer is dependent upon the observable Universe for his or her existence, so it is possible for sound, which is part of the observable Universe, to exist without an observer. And "No," since the observable Universe is dependent upon the observer for its existence, so it is impossible for sound to exist without an observer.
So the Anthropic Principle seems to be logically contradictory. But Zelmanov's Anthropic Principle is nevertheless consistent with Torah. How is this possible?
According to our Torah sages of blessed memory, only G-d is real, since only G-d has an independent existence that is not subject to change from external factors. The question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?", is based upon the assumption that either the observer or the observable Universe is real. Thus according to the reasoning of our Torah sages of blessed memory, the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?", is based upon a false premise, since both the observer and the observable universe are not real (according to the sages' definition of "real"). Hence, it is possible for the answer to the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" to be both "Yes" and "No" and still be consistent with Torah.
Betzalel Avraham Feinstein is an observant Jew and mathematician working for the government in Baltimore. G-d has entertained him with his own mathematical miracle: Two sets of twins. This article originally appeared in Progress in Physics.
This week's Torah portion, Shemini, contains three seemingly unconnected incidents and ideas. The portion opens with an account of the eighth day of the consecration of the Sanctuary, moves on to the death of Aaron's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, and concludes with a list of kosher animals and the prohibition against eating insects and reptiles.
On each of the first seven days of consecration, Moses built the Sanctuary only to take it apart again later that very same day. Only on the eighth day ("shemini") did he put it together, and it remained standing. On the eighth day, a fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrificial offerings. The eighth day thus had an advantage over the previous seven.
The two sons of Aaron were on an extremely high spiritual level. According to Chasidic teachings, their yearning for G-dliness was so powerful that their souls could simply not remain in their physical bodies, and they died. Although this is obviously not something G-d wants or expects from us, it nonetheless attests to their exalted spiritual stature.
After the Torah relates what happened to Nadav and Avihu it warns us against emulating their actions. From this we learn that the Jewish people were on such a high spiritual level at the time that a warning was necessary.
It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that after recounting two situations relating to exalted spiritual levels - the eighth day of consecration and the deaths of Nadav and Avihu - that the same Torah portion also contains the prohibition against eating insects and reptiles. The law against eating creatures in this category is perfectly understandable to the human mind; it is only human nature to find them repugnant. Why, then, does the Torah find it necessary to warn us about something that is so obvious?
The answer is that regardless of a Jew's spiritual standing he must always have kabalat ol, acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. Despite whatever spiritual attainments he many have achieved, in the end there is nothing as important as kabalat ol. A person must never think that because he is on a high spiritual level, he is automatically "immunized." Without genuine acceptance of the yoke of Heaven there is always the danger of deterioration - even to the point of eating insects and reptiles, G-d forbid!
Accordingly, the Torah's prohibition against eating creeping things immediately follows the other two incidents to teach us that kabalat ol is required in all circumstances and situations in life.
Adapted from Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot
by Jill K. Lerner
"What's this?" I asked my daughter as I thumbed through an April edition of the Torah Times. "A comprehensive listing of fruit trees in Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. and Canada? What do we need that for?"
"I don't know," she replied.
"Why do I spend good money to send you to that Jewish school?"
"I don't know."
"Hey, I thought you're supposed to know this stuff! What's up?"
"I don't know."
With that, I proceeded to call a friend to find out why we need a comprehensive listing of fruit trees in Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. and Canada.
"Hello, Pearl? There's a comprehensive listing of fruit trees in Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. and Canada in this week's Torah Times. Why do we need this?"
Pearl explained why such a listing is published. She described the special mitzva (COMmANdment) (commandment) that can be fulfilled only once a year. A blessing is recited the first time one sees a fruit tree in bloom during the Jewish month of Nissan.
"Wow, that's cool! But we only have a few days left in this month of Nissan. Did you make the blessing yet? No? Want to go find one of these fruit trees? This might be my first easy-to-do mitzva (COMmANdment)! I can hardly wait!"
The days started passing and it became obvious that Pearl and I weren't going to get together for this "it's such an easy mitzva (COMmANdment) even a beginner like me can do it" mitzva (COMmANdment). So I undertook to get it done without Pearl's expertise. Of course, I did take take Chana, my daughter, with me, since she seemed to need this missing aspect of her education. Off we went, on the last day of Nissan, armed with the comprehensive listing of fruit trees in Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. and Canada, in search of a nearby fruit tree.
We found a listing of a fruit tree not many blocks away, and with the excitement only a novice could feel, finally found the address of what was described in the listing as a peach tree in the front yard.
I took one look at this "tree" and exclaimed, "This is it?!" The supposed "tree" looked more like an ancient branch from a past civilization that had been discarded in the tiny patch of dirt, weeds, and a bit of standard city garbage pretending to be the front yard of a standard-issue Brooklyn house. "This can't be a peach tree," I declared. It was puny and decrepit. My experience with peach trees upstate, where I lived for 17 years, was of majestic foliage with branches raised heavenward, loaded this time of the year with innumerable blossoms that would soon bring forth an abundance of fruit to feed a variety of wildlife and any people who chose to partake. In this city version, I could count the blossoms on one hand on the lone branch mimicking a trunk. Surely the formation of a fruit on this would kill it.
"Yes, this is it," said Chana.
"Are you sure?"
"How do you know?"
"Well, this is the address."
"We can't make a blessing on THAT!"
"Well, we're supposed to be thanking G-d. Wouldn't He think we were mocking Him if we thanked Him for THAT?!"
"Do you want to try to find another fruit tree from the comprehensive listing of fruit trees in Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. and Canada?"
"Um, well, maybe. Do you?"
"No, I want ice cream. Let's say the blessing and go."
As we were discussing this, a young woman approached. She must have noticed that we were holding the comprehensive listing of fruit trees in Jewish communities throughout the U.S.A. and Canada because she smiled and said, "Oh, you can make a blessing on our fruit tree!"
"This is the peach tree?"
"Yes, it is. My younger sister had even written out the blessing and tied it onto the tree before we included it in the listing, but it looks like it fell off," she said, pointing to a particularly shredded strip of dirty ribbon loosely hanging from the branch, er, I mean trunk, of the tree. I thought the old ribbon was just part of the garbage but apparently it was a deliberate addition to the poor old tree.
"OK, thank you," I said as the woman continued into the house. "Well, I guess we'd better do this," I said to Chana, resigned to perform this mitzva (COMmANdment) no matter what the status of the tree.
"Great," Chana replied. "Then can we get ice cream?" I took a deep breath and carefully recited the Hebrew blessing that Chana had so thoughtfully transliterated for me. She recited it, too. When this glorious moment was over, I turned to Chana and said what was on my mind.
"We said the blessing. Do you feel any different?"
"Are we supposed to?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, what are we supposed to feel?"
"I don't know. Let's go get ice cream."
"Do you think we would've felt something if we'd recited this blessing on a more majestic tree?"
"I don't think we're supposed to actually feel anything. We did a mitzva (COMmANdment), and that's good. Let's go."
"But I thought I would feel something! I'll bet if there was a bigger tree..." But Chana began to tell me the story of why the Torah was given on plain, small, unadorned Mount Sinai....
Rabbi Yudi and Feige Ceitlin will soon be moving to Tucson, Arizona, where they will help expand and broaden the programs and activities at Chabad-Lubavitch of Tucson. Rabbi Arieh and Devorah Leah Raichman recently moved to Manaus, Brazil, where they have opened a new Chabad House to serve the local Jewish community and tourists. Rabbi Chaim and Fraidy Litvin will be arriving soon in Louisville, Kentucky, where they will be working at Chabad of Louisville as well as reaching out to Jews living in the communities of Henderson, Brownsboro, Jeffersonville and Lexington, Kentucky.
8th of lyar, 5731 
To the Students of the Girls Division of the Grammar School Lubavitch House, Stamford Hill London, England
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive the special Pesach [Passover] edition of your school magazine "Schoolainu." I hope you will send me also the future editions.
On the basis of the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] that a Jew has to live in accordance with the times - the times and seasons of the Torah as reflected in our Jewish calendar, the present days of sefira [counting the 49 days between the second night of Passover until Shavuos] have a timely message for each and every one of us.
As you surely know, our Sages tell us that the origin of the counting of these days goes back to Yetziyas Mitzrayim [the Exodus from Egypt], when our ancestors, immediately after leaving Egypt, began to count the days and weeks to the great day of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah, i.e., Shavuos]. For Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] had told them that the whole purpose of their being freed from Egyptian bondage was in order that they should receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and they eagerly and impatiently looked forward to it, counting each day that brought them nearer to that great moment.
On the basis of this, G-d later made it a mitzvah [commandment] for Jews to count these days of the omer, which connect Pesach, the Festival of Liberation (from physical slavery) with Shavuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah (true spiritual freedom).
If our ancestors were so eager to receive the Torah even though they hardly knew anything about it, how much more so, after Mattan Torah, must Jews appreciate the Torah and mitzvos, especially we, in our generation, who know what the Torah and mitzvos have meant for our people throughout the past generations.
Needless to say, that the appreciation and love of the Torah and mitzvos must express themselves in the daily life, in accordance with the teaching of our Sages that "the essential thing is the deed." By this is meant that the daily conduct should be such that it is clearly seen to be the result of the teaching and instruction of the Torah (Torah-hora'a), including every aspect of the daily life at home and in the school, etc. Where there is a will and determination to this effect, hatzlocho [success] is assured, as our Sages tell us that "nothing stands in the way of the will."
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the above, and that you should go from strength to strength in your advancement.
7th of Iyar, 5741 
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter of the 1st day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar and, as requested, will remember you for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.
There is surely no need to remind you that there is always room for advancement in matters of Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which is a must for its own sake, but is also the way to widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs.
The present days of sefira are particularly auspicious for such advancement, in preparation for the festival of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah i.e., Shavuos]. In this connection, it is noteworthy that in counting the days of the omer, we do not use the ordinal numbers (second day, third day, etc.) but the cardinal numbers (two days, three days, etc.).
This indicates that the advancement in matters of Torah and mitzvos is not just a matter of rising to a higher level, but at the same time it implies retention of all previous achievements in a cumulative way. Thus we say "shnei yomim" rather than "yom sheni" - the difference between two days and the second day.
With prayerful wishes for hatzlocho to you and yours,
CHANINA is Aramaic, meaning gracious or compassionate. Rabbi Chanina b. Dosa (3rd century c.e.) said, "He whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will be permanent; but he whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not be permanent." (Ethics of the Fathers 3:12)
CHANA means grace or gracious. Chana was the mother of Samuel the prophet (I Samuel 1:2). Another Chana, from Chanuka times, was known for her bravery in encouraging her seven sons not to bow down to idols despite certain death. Chana was also the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's mother.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we will bless the new month of Iyar. In the Torah, the months of the year aren't referred to by name but by sequential order, to teach us that the yearly cycle is an ongoing, continual process. Nisan, the month when the Jews left Egypt, is "the first month"; Iyar is "the second month." Each month is a preparation for the one that follows.
The month of Iyar is an especially auspicious time for healing. Indeed, its Hebrew letters are an acronym for "Ani G-d Rofecha," "I am G-d your Healer." The healing G-d provides, however, is very different from that of a human doctor. A regular doctor is given the ability and power to cure illness, but the cure is not retroactive. By contrast, G-d can remove the illness retroactively, so that it seems as if the person was never sick!
The month of Nisan, characterized by the miraculous redemption of the Jews from Egypt, "spills over" and influences the month of Iyar, to ensure that the healing will be in a G-dly manner. Only G-d, Who is above nature, can utterly root out illness as if it never existed.
In the same way that there is physical illness and health, so too is there spiritual illness and healing. During the time between Passover and Shavuot, it is customary to learn Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoons. Its pithy teachings inspire us to acquire positive character attributes and "heal" the soul. As the weather outside warms up from its winter coldness, so too does the Evil Inclination become thawed out and reactivated. Yet "armed" with the miraculous month of Nisan, and further fortified by our Sages' teachings, the month of Iyar provides us with an opportunity for "super-natural" spiritual wellness. For now is the perfect time to heal any infirmities that might exist, and work toward true spiritual liberation.
And Moses said: "This is the thing that G-d has commanded that you do-and the glory of G-d will appear to you." (Lev. 9:6)
Every mitzva (commandment) has inner, esoteric meanings. Even the most learned scholar cannot fully grasp these secrets, for human comprehension and understanding of the infinite is limited. This is why Moses commanded the Jews - "This is the thing that G-d has commanded" - no matter how much one has studied and no matter how many inner meanings a person has learned, the real reason to do a mitzva is because G-d has commanded. When your intent in performing a mitzva is solely because G-d wants that particular act to be performed, then "the glory of G-d will appear to you."
These are the animals you may eat...whichever divides the hoof (parsa) and chews (literally "brings up") the cud (geira) (Lev. 11:3)
The Hebrew words "parsa" and "geira" have more than one meaning. Parsa is related to the word meaning to cut bread, and the geira is an ancient coin that weights one-twentieth of a shekel coin. From this we learn that one of the primary distinguishing marks of a Jew is that he willingly shares his bread with the poor and distributes charity freely.
(Rabbi Zev HaMagid)
Sanctify yourselves, and you will be holy, because I am holy (Lev. 11:44)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said: If the father is wealthy, it is easier for the child to be successful in matters of livelihood. If he prefers, he doesn't need to work too hard since he can always fall back on his father. This is what the Torah means when it says "Sanctify yourselves": one needn't do more than begin to be involved in holy matters, and immediately "you will be holy," for "I am holy." Because G-d is holy and we are His, it will be easy for us to become Holy.
Rabbi Avraham Benyamin Sofer was the son and successor of the illustrious rabbi known as the Chasam Sofer. Rabbi Avraham Benyamin, who was called the Ksav Sofer, was appointed by the secular government to the head of Austro-Hungarian Jewry. To mark the Ksav Sofer's appointment, a gathering was made with all the heads of the Jewish communities throughout Austro-Hungaria. At the gathering, the Ksav Sofer addressed the crowd: "In honor of my illustrious guests, I would like to make a surprise presentation." All eyes turned to the Ksav Sofer as he removed his wallet and withdrew from it a small silk pouch. He opened it and took out a gold coin. "This coin is a half-shekel, the same coin used in the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple for sacrifices, and other needs."
Everyone in the room craned their necks to get a better look at the coin. Each person wanted to see it and hold it in his own hands, to experience a personal brush with history. The Ksav Sofer continued, "I received this half-shekel from my father, who received it from his father and so on through all the generations of my family from the times of the Holy Temple. This coin is the only one left; it is unique in the entire world."
An excited murmur passed through the crowd as the coin was passed and lovingly examined. While this was occurring on one side of the room, the rabbis across the room sat discussing its weight and shape and exchanging their differing opinions. A short while passed when suddenly one voice rose above the others saying, "Where is the half-shekel now?"
Everyone started searching for it, but it was as if the coin had disappeared into thin air. The Ksav Sofer turned white. He turned to the assembled crowd and said, "I do not, G-d forbid, suspect anyone of taking the coin. It is forbidden to suspect another Jew. But, it is possible that while your thoughts were so absorbed with the coin, one of you might have accidentally laid it down amongst his other possessions. Therefore, I ask you to please look through your things, and perhaps you will find it."
Everyone did as the rabbi requested, but the coin was not found. Then, the Ksav Sofer had another idea. "Since the coin has not been found, please check your neighbor." Everyone agreed, but suddenly one elderly rabbi who was known as a great scholar, opposed this idea. "It would be good to wait for fifteen minutes. Perhaps the coin will be found."
The Ksav Sofer agreed, but after the fifteen-minute wait, the coin failed to turn up. The elderly rabbi requested another fifteen-minute waiting period, but again it wasn't found. When a third time the rabbi asked for another fifteen minute period, everyone was coming to the conclusion that the rabbi had quietly pocketed the coin and was stalling in the hopes of finding a graceful way to extricate himself from the situation. Even the Ksav Sofer said, "Despite the request of the honorable rabbi, I won't extend the time. In the next five minutes please check your neighbor."
The rabbi again rose and with tears in his eyes, pleaded with the Ksav Sofer to wait yet another fifteen minutes. The Ksav Sofer stood in silence for the allotted time while the elderly rabbi stood in a corner and prayed. Many of the assembled notables were confident that the rabbi would soon admit that he had taken the coin, and waited expectantly.
Suddenly the shammes (orderly) rushed forward and exclaimed, "We found it! After the meal we removed the tablecloths and shook out the crumbs. I started thinking maybe we accidentally shook the coin into the garbage. I searched for it and just now I managed to find it in the garbage."
When everyone settled down, the rabbi asked permission to speak. "Gentlemen, I also have in my possession a gold half-shekel which has been passed down in my family as well. When I set out to attend this gathering, I intended to share with you my prized possession, and so I brought it with me.
"But when our host surprised me by bringing his coin, and in addition saying that his was unique, I left it in my pocket. Imagine what would have happened if we had searched and the coin had been found in my possession! I would have been considered a thief. Each time I requested another fifteen minutes, I prayed that in the merit of the Chasam Sofer I would not be shamed. Thank G-d, my prayers were answered and the coin was found." The rabbi removed the coin from his pocket and solemnly looked at the half-shekel, which was identical to the other.
When the gathering drew to a close the Ksav Sofer again addressed the crowd. "Do you know why we gathered today? It was to explain the words of the Mishna which teach that we should judge every person in a meritorious fashion, rather than assume that he is guilty. The Mishna appears clear and simple. But we can see for ourselves that if we had found the coin in the rabbi's pocket, would anyone have believed that he hadn't stolen it? Especially as I had stressed that it was unique, would anyone have believed that there was another like it in this very room? So we are gathered here to understand that sometimes circumstances point to someone's guilt, but we should still see him as innocent. We see how deep is this Mishna and how far we must extend ourselves to really fulfill this commandment."
In this week's Torah portion, the Torah lists four animals that have only one of the two kosher signs and are therefore non-kosher - camel, hyrax, hare and pig. Each animal symbolizes one of the four nations that enslaved the Jews in exile. We are now in the last of these four exiles, corresponding to the pig - "chazir" in Hebrew. The word "chazir" means "return." After this fourth and final exile the glory of the Jewish people will "return" to the way it was intended.