Monday, May 27, 2019

A Home at the Center of the Universe

Jewish law has some “basic” laws. What makes basic laws basic? I suppose because without grasping these at first, knowledge of the rest of Jewish law may not be appreciated. For this reason, Maimonides, in scoping out all of Torah’s laws in his great 14-volume compendium, begins his treatise with 10 chapters called:
Torah’s Most Basic Laws”. (LINK)

Curiously enough, one of these most fundamental Torah laws is a lesson in astronomy. We are taught, of all things, the shape of the universe! “It’s round”, says the Rambam. And to be sure we understand just what round means, he qualifies his description as “round like a ball”. This extra phrase “like a ball” is deliberate. It pays to know that the Rambam scrupulously paid heed to being exceptionally concise, never using extra words unless they were necessary. I suppose therefore that adding "like a ball", therefore, means to exclude ovoid or elliptical shapes.

So right from the start, the student of Jewish Law learns that Torah rejects the scientific theories of modern astronomy, whose theories invoke elliptical orbits.

Then we learn that this huge spherical universe is made up of 8 concentric spheres, one within the other, layered like an onion. Each sphere whirls or rotates in its own autonomous direction, irrespective of its neighboring inner or outer sphere's direction, although the direction or velocity of a neighboring sphere does have influence on an adjacent sphere.

Outside the 8th sphere, is the 9th dimensionless, starless, empty expanse that rotates the entire universe contained within it one full revolution every 24 hours.

In the middle of this concentrically layered universe of stacked, orbiting spheres, one inside the other, the lowermost or innermost sphere has, at its core -- an empty space. That is, the 1st or innermost sphere has within it a hollow core. It is inside this core where Earth and its atmosphere were placed. Although all spheres around the Earth's space are in constant rotation, the Earth itself remains stationary!

Here too the Torah's perspective differs from modern science. Astronomy subscribes to a heliocentric universe, with the sun at its core; Torah, on the other hand, teaches us that the universe is geocentric, with the Earth at the center of the universe. Modern science claims the Earth rotates; Torah, to the contrary, tells us the Earth is still.

Each sphere has a thickness, is transparent and intangible. Each sphere abuts with its adjacent spheres. Each of the 1st 7 contain a main planet. The 8th sphere contains all the other stars of the universe.

Now -- you might ask -- why would this shape and configuration of the universe constitute a "most basic law of Torah"? Among the thousands of laws in Judaism, why does this one deserve such an important status? Is it even relevant to religious conduct?

Maimonides tells why. Pondering the incredible organization, beauty and grace built into the universe, he says, inspires us to “Love your God!” and “Fear your God!”. Without this basic law’s knowledge, the laws of loving and fearing Hashem involved in many other Torah commandments may not otherwise be satisfied.

One can also draw a simple conclusion from knowing the above shape-of-the-world facts. The whole world revolves around us down here at the center of it all. We small creatures live in this huge universe, all of which was obviously meant to benefit us down here. We are the focus of it all. Obviously this gives man a sense of awe and, at the same time, a sense of responsibility, which implies dedicating oneself to a commitmentknowing he is the centerpiece of all of creation.

Parenthetically, now that NASA has 3 times sent antennas to outer space to map cosmic background radiation, 3 times they've confirmed that the pattern found cannot support a random distribution. Rather, their finding implies a source of intelligence! Cosmologists belied their anger at these findings by dubbing the plotted axis, which points to the Earth as being the center of the universe, "the axis of evil". Why evil? Evil because they did not expect an alignment of all that surrounds the universe (the outermost "sphere") with what they supposed was an insignificant Earth. If anything, it now shows that the earth is indeed at the center of the grand architect's master plan. Their findings, to their own surprise and dismay, point to a one God of the universe!

Chabad Chassidus is based on a most interesting axiom, which originates from one Midrashic quote, or a few at most; Namely, that the Creator of the universe desires to make this nethermost world of ours into His "home". That is, if all Jews were to behave according to Jewish law, this world would be a fitting place for God's Presence to manifest in its full glory. The above basic laws of Torah certainly support this exalted mission of the Jewish people.

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