Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat
Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5761
Schroedinger's Cat & Torah

Incongruities. You gotta love 'em!

Twice in Kedoshim we are reminded to not become involved with ghosts, or any kind of divination. And the stern warnings against following the practices of others, or worshipping idols or other Gds is emphasized repeatedly here and elsewhere in Torah. Yet in Acharei Mot we have this crazy goat "l'azazel" business. The folks at "Torah Tots" jokingly call it a sort of "X-File" - a great mystery of the Torah. And if we go back a bit, there's always good ol' Umim and Tumim! (Say, why didn't they just use the Urim & Tumim to decide which goat was for Gd and which was for Azazel?)

Well, incongruities often get me thinking. Two sides of my brain argue. One saying these are incongruous and one arguing that there are no incongruities whatsoever-that the idea that things are incongruous is a human-imposed layer of thinking upon the Torah.

Well, I, too, used to find myself very troubled by these seeming incongruities. Slowly, though a process of discovery which involves both knowledge of Judaism and of human physical science, I have come to realize that there aren't really incongruities at all. The Torah is simply in line with the physical properties of the Universe-and of course, it should be, since the same entity created both! and what brought me to this understanding? It was no other than dear old Schroedinger's cat.

For the non-physics-minded among you, Erwin Schroedinger, a physics professor, demonstrated a primary principle of the understanding (at that time) of quantum mechanics. Schroedinger postulated that observation interacts with quantum reality-that is, it is the observation of an uncertain event that causes the event to resolve into a definitive form. A cat is placed in a box, together with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays, and the geiger-counter detects an alpha particle, the hammer hits a flask of prussic acid (HCN), killing the cat. Before the observer opens the box, the cat's fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is itself in a superposition of decayed and undecayed states. Thus, said Schroedinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states before the observer opens the box, "observes" the cat, and "collapses" it's wave function.

Don't worry if you don't get it. The point is that matter or things (or situations in the Torah) can be in more than one state until they actually interact with an observer.

That is, the mitzvot of Torah, the lessons of Torah, the words of Torah don't resolve themselves into a definitive concept until someone interacts with them. And each interaction, just as with Schroedinger's cat, can be random and different.

Finally coming to this understanding of the Universe and Torah, I see now the futility and foolishness of pursuing apparent incongruities in the Torah. There aren't any until we read it. And for some, the act of reading will make an incongruity, and for others not. so it's not what's in the's what we do!

And doesn't that put a whole different spin (forgive the physics pun) on "naaseh v'nishma," "we will do and then we will listen."

Is this a liberal or traditional interpretation of Judaism and Torah? I say it's both..and remains so...until you encounter it and make it one or the other.

So don't let anyone tell you Torah and science don't mix well. The more we "discover" about our universe from a scientific standpoint, the more we come to realize that the Torah describes it perfectly already.

Recognize the power you have to alter the course of the universe (and if that's not free will, I don't know what is!) Until you open that cover or unroll that scroll, what's inside can be many things at once. But once you encounter and start reading, you collapse wave fronts all over the place and turn uncertain words into a concrete interpretation. Just remember your concrete interpretation may not be the same one that some else creates when they have the same encounter.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester

By the way, a nice simple explanation of Schroedinger's "Cat Paradox" can be found at

For the more adventurous, a simple web search under "Schroedinger and Cat" will turn up plenty of sites devoted to this argument between physicists.

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