Tag Archives: Noah’s Ark

Why Kiddush on Wine?

In this week’s parasha, Nasso, the Torah commands that a nazir is to abstain from wine and any other grape products. Wine appears frequently in the Torah, and plays a huge role in Judaism. Every Shabbat and holiday is ushered in with kiddush on wine, and concludes with a wine havdallah. Every wedding has a blessing on wine under the chuppah, as does a brit milah, and in ancient times wine libations were brought in the Temple. What makes wine so special?

The numerical value of “wine” (יין) is 70, a most significant number. It reminds us of the seventy names of God, of the seventy root nations of the world, and the seventy “faces” of Torah understanding. Our Sages famously stated that nichnas yayin, yatza sod, “when wine enters, secrets come out”. More than a simple proverb, it is a mathematical equation since the value of “secret” (סוד) is also 70. So, as seventy comes in, seventy comes out. On the surface level, the statement means that alcohol makes a person more likely to spill their secrets. On the deeper level, though, the Sages meant that one who drinks wine may be able to enter a mental state where they can uncover the secrets of Torah, and see it through all seventy faces. Wine can make “a man’s mind more receptive” (Yoma 76a).

Our Sages taught that wine is unique in that it defies the natural order: whereas other things degrade over time (as encapsulated in the second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, that the universe always tends towards disorder), wine improves and gets more valuable over time. Wine has another incredible scientific quirk: Japanese scientists researching electrical superconductors had a party in their lab and ended up accidentally discovering that wine makes certain metals superconductive!

Superconductivity refers to the property of being able to transmit electricity perfectly with no resistance and no energy loss. Generally, superconductivity requires cooling substances to near absolute zero (-273ºC). Some substances are able to superconduct at higher temperatures, around -90ºC, but even this is far too cold to be practical. Scientists around the world are therefore on the hunt for a room-temperature superconductor which, if found, would completely revolutionize the world. It would result in dramatic energy savings, and would allow for other cool phenomena like “quantum levitation”.

The Japanese scientists found that wine makes some things superconductive, especially iron-based compounds. And red wine especially was up to seven times more effective than other alcoholic beverages. No explanation for this has yet been found. It is all the more significant when we consider the central role that electricity plays in Jewish mysticism, and that our brains literally run on electrical signalling (suggesting how wine might make our brains more receptive to Torah secrets!) and that our bodies are full of iron, which makes our blood red, too.

While all of the above is fascinating, it does not explain why wine is so prevalent in Jewish rituals, especially in the recitation of every kiddush. What is the reason for wine? Continue reading

Science and the Great Flood

In this week’s parasha, Noach, we read about the Great Flood, when “all the fountains of the great deep split apart, and the floodgates of the skies opened” (Genesis 7:11). While it is easy to understand the rain that fell upon the Earth “for forty days and forty nights”, what is the Torah referring to when it speaks of the waters of the deep? Why does it say that the “great deep” had to be “split apart” (נִבְקְעוּ֙) to bring forth these waters? And the biggest mystery of all: how was there even enough water to cover the entire Earth with water anyway, up to the tallest mountains? Upon closer examination, we find that these mysterious waters of the deep actually hold the key to solving the entire mystery of the Flood.

Kola Superdeep Borehole

In May of 1970, Soviet scientists began drilling into the Earth’s crust in the far north of the Kola Peninsula between Norway and Russia. Their goal was to dig the deepest hole ever, and uncover what is really happening in the Earth’s innards. Nine years later, they broke the world record for depth, reaching almost 10 kilometres underground. They hit the deepest point in 1989, reaching 12,262 metres. Beyond this, they could no longer continue, for the temperature was much higher than expected (over 180ºC) and the rock became far too porous.

Along the way, the scientists found some bizarre things. One was small fossilized lifeforms more than 6 kilometres down, where lifeforms should not—and should never—have existed! Another shocking discovery was that the porous rock deep below was completely saturated with water. More recently, scientists from Northwestern University examined rocks from the mantle (which emerged from volcanoes) and found that they were composed of 1.5% water. After further research, they concluded that there is three times more water beneath the Earth’s crust than there are in all of the world’s oceans! The temperature down there is very high, but so is the pressure, keeping the water liquid and squeezing it out of the porous rocks. With this in mind, we can solve a number of great mysteries.

First, we now have a scientific source for where much of the water for the Flood came from. Rain clouds alone would not have been enough. Note how the Torah mentions the waters of the great deep first, before mentioning the rain, implying that the former was the more significant source of water. Second, we can better understand the Torah’s precise language, since it says the depths had to be “split apart” for the floodwaters to emerge. This splitting apart would certainly be required for all that water in the mantle beneath to emerge. Third, we can actually solve a scientific mystery for the baffled scientists at Kola who found fossilized ancient lifeforms deep below: Perhaps those lifeforms ended up there when the floodwaters returned underground and the surface closed back up, sealing lifeforms from above down beneath in a place where they otherwise could never have gotten.

There is one more wonderful confirmation of all this when we look at the way our Sages described the Flood: the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b) states that the floodwaters that came from below, “between their legs”, was boiling hot! This was measure for measure justice from God, since the people “sinned with heat, so they were punished with heat”. Heat here is a euphemism for sexual sin, and since the pre-Flood generation abused their nether regions, “between their legs”, God made sure that those floodwaters that came from below were boiling hot. Recall that the scientists at Kola were surprised that the temperature below was much hotter than they expected (yet the water remained in liquid form). They had to stop drilling because the rock was too mushy and “like plastic”. It is worth adding that the same page of Talmud says the water from below was not only hot, but also thick.

“Setting the Earth Upon the Waters”

There is one more fascinating mystery that can be solved with the scientific discovery of the Earth’s inner waters. Each morning, in Birkot HaShachar, we thank God for “setting the earth upon the waters” (רוקַע הָאָרֶץ עַל הַמָּיִם). This blessing troubled me for years. What does it mean that the earth is set upon the waters? Earth’s crust is set upon the rocky mantle, lying above the molten core—and the waters are resting upon the crust! It all seemed backwards. Yet, now we can see, as is often the case, that the Sages phrased it correctly all along: the crust is resting upon a mantle that is full of water, three times more water than in all the oceans! With that, we can appreciate this berakhah much more deeply, and recite it with ever-more kavanah.

Where Was the Garden of Eden?

This week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, begins with the passing of Sarah and Abraham’s securing of a burial plot for her. He specifically chooses Me’erat HaMakhpelah, a cave in Hebron, and pays a handsome price for it. Why was this place special and how did Abraham know that this was the right place to lay Sarah? The Zohar (I, 127a) comments that Abraham saw a vision of the Garden of Eden at that spot and, when he entered the cave, found Adam and Eve buried there. The Zohar suggests that this area was once the Garden of Eden!

It would definitely make sense for the Garden of Eden to be in the Holy Land. When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, the Torah says they lived east of it (Genesis 3:24). Cain, too, when banished, fled east—and there built the first city (Genesis 4:16-17). Since this city was in Mesopotamia, which is directly east of Israel, the implication is that Eden was in the Holy Land. Israel is called tabur ha’aretz, the “navel of the Earth” (Ezekiel 38:12), and is described in more mystical texts as the very centre of the entire universe, the point of origin of Creation.

Having said that, the Torah also says that Eden was locked up after Adam and Eve’s error, and God placed angels to guard its entrance (Genesis 3:24). What happened between that time and the time that Abraham found it? The only explanation that comes to mind is that Eden was destroyed during the Great Flood. Yet, the Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah 33:6) presents one opinion that the Land of Israel was not affect by the Great Flood! The proof is from Ezekiel 22:24, which says that Israel “was not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of fury.”

This solves another problem: where did the dove that Noah sent get an olive branch? The Midrash says it got the branch from Israel, which miraculously did not experience the Flood. Some hold that Israel did experience the Flood, just that it did not rain directly upon the Holy Land; water flowed in from surrounding lands. Finally, the Midrash presents an opinion that the dove got the olive branch directly from the Garden of Eden! This suggests Eden was not destroyed by the Flood.

And then there are altogether different opinions regarding the location of Eden. Continue reading