Friday, January 12, 2007

Dark Matter

In honor of the birthday of Marc Sarosi - a walking example of the kind of human greatness portrayed below.

Have you ever been mugged? I hope it never happens to anyone. But if you were, how do you think you would react? If someone grabbed something of yours and ran off...would you shout? Call for help? Run after him?

The famous Chafetz Chaim (who died in 1933) was once walking down the street in Radin. Someone stopped him to ask for a handout. When he pulled out his wallet to give the beggar a coin, the beggar grabbed the wallet and ran off. The Chafetz Chaim ran after him and shouted, “I forgive you! You can keep it! I give it to you! It’s yours!”

When an onlooker asked the rabbi why he responded that way, he explained: “The guy is obviously in need, desperate even. Eventually, he’ll think about what he did and may regret it. So why should he then benefit from stolen goods? Let him enjoy what’s his!”

How was his attitude towards other human beings different than most of us that caused him to react in that way?

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That story is timeless, but not exactly news. Have you heard the biggest news this week?

No, I mean the BIGGEST.

The Hubble telescope team completed a 3-D map of the dark matter of the universe. They call it dark matter because they don’t know what else to call it. Maybe it’s not even matter at all. But something is pulling all of those stars and galaxies in ways that stars and galaxies are not supposed to move on their own. It’s like when your pants don’t fit as well as they used to; now, you don’t see any changes in your physique, in fact when you suck it in and turn at just the right angle, you can pretty much imagine yourself in good shape. But some invisible force is making those pants tight. The best candidate for that force, say the smart guys, is invisible extra matter.

Now, how would you feel if someone came along and took an X-ray photo of your extra matter and put it on the internet? That’s what happened this week to our poor universe. Not just a photo – a 3-D photo!

(Click here for small version)

Well, to be honest, it’s not an actual photo, what they did was like looking at the relative tightness of the pants at different parts of your waistline, and then made a guesstimate as to the shape of the hidden matter.

The moral is that things are really not what they seem to be.

That’s a very Jewish idea – maybe even the core idea of Judaism. The physical world appears real and the spiritual world appears imaginary. In reality, the spiritual world is real and the physical world illusory. We appear to be human beings trying to have a spiritual experience once in awhile, and in reality we are spiritual beings having a human experience. There appears to be a real attempt to win the war in Iraq. In reality, there is a real attempt to appear like we’re winning the war in Iraq (that appears to be a cynical political comment but in reality it’s an empathetic spiritual comment). There appears to be a need to amass great wealth. In reality, there is a great need to give.

This last one is the biggest one of all. The most fundamental spiritual act is to give something that I feel is mine because I made it. There is a kabbalistic teaching that this spiritual practice is so fundamental to our human experience that we are each given 10 percent more income than we deserve, just so that we can give it away to worthy causes. If we don’t give that 10 percent, it will be taken from us. But due to our human illusions, giving that full 10 percent is so hard for a typical human that it is a definition of true greatness.

Shabbat Shalom.

UPCOMING PROGRAMS – email linda at for details

Jan 22-24 – Chicago (four different venues)
Jan 29-Feb 12 (Mondays) – three-part advanced Art of Amazement series in Baltimore
Feb 13 – Mill Valley – The Tribe (with Tiffany Shlain)
Mar 9-13 – San Francisco Bay Area, Shabbat Scholar-in-Residence and other programs

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