THE LIGHT OF THE UNIVERSE
Have you heard of BOAT?
I read about it this week
BOAT is an acronym for Brightest Of All Time. It is the name that has been given to the biggest cosmic explosion ever detected, that occurred on 9th October. It seems to have been the result of a massive dying star 2.4 billion light years away.
Noah’s Boat, the Ark is also associated with illumination, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Noah is instructed by G-d to build an Ark. He tells him: “Make a tzohar for the Ark.”
This word, tzohar, doesn’t appear anywhere else in the bible. Clearly, it refers to some form of illumination. But of what kind?
Rashi offers two explanations based on the midrash: “Some say it was a window. Others say it was a precious stone that gave light to them.” The precious stone had the miraculous quality that it was able to shine in the darkness and generate illumination inside the ark.
What were the rabbis of the midrash arguing about?
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory (whose second yahrzeit occurs in just over two weeks’ time, on 20th Marcheshvan) offers a fascinating explanation. (See Covenant and Conversation, 5780)
He suggests that the rabbis were debating a fundamental question of Torah.
Is the Torah is completely self-sufficient? Is the Torah so self-contained that it cannot be enhanced by the outside world? Certainly, at a mystic level, all would agree to this. The inner light of Torah radiates its deepest teachings without any outside reference. Indeed the title of the core work of Kabbala, the Zohar or Book of Radiance, reflects this idea. That is one side of the debate.
On the other side, there are those who say that Torah has to have a window to the outside world. That is, there is magnificence, beauty and wisdom which can enhance our appreciation of Torah.
Moses Maimonides (Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 2:2) made the radical suggestion that reflecting on the natural world was the way to achieve two things: the love of G-d and the reverence of G-d. Through science we gain a sense of the majesty and beauty, the almost infinite scope and intricate detail of creation and thus of the Creator. That is the source of love. Then, realising how small we are and how brief our lives are in the total scheme of things: that is the source of reverence.
The case Maimonides made in the 12th century has been compounded a thousand times by the scientific discoveries of our generation. Every new discovery of the vastness of the cosmos and the intricate detail of the micro-cosmos, fills the mind with awe.
Astronomers predict that the information being generated from the BOAT explosion will shed light on cosmology for many years to come. The light from Noah’s Boat, both inwards and outwards, continues to light up our lives.