This week’s parshah, Ha’azinu, begins with Deuteronomy 32:1: “Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וַאֲדַבֵּרָה וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ אִמְרֵי-פִי) When the Torah wanted to talk about the greatness of HaShem, it often referred to the awesomeness of nature as the most powerful thing to which humans could relate. David said in Psalms 19:2-3 that the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky demonstrates His handiwork, day unto day uttering speech and night unto night revealing knowledge. (הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד-אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ. יוֹם לְיוֹם יַבִּיעַ אֹמֶר וְלַיְלָה לְּלַיְלָה יְחַוֶּה-דָּעַת.)

Although the Torah is often promoted as a book of religion or spirituality, Genesis 1 began with attempts to explain phenomena that have traditionally come to be seen as the unique purview of science. The objects in the heavens and on the earth interact according to the laws of chemistry and physics. The heavens contain physical objects such as stars, galaxies, planets, black holes, supernovae, and asteroids that can be studied. The earth contains tangible objects like volcanoes, oceans, waterfalls, rivers, mountains, continents, and biological phenomena that can be measured. There are frequent references in the Tanakh to storms, earthquakes, thunder, roaring waves, and lightning. These are all the result of physical processes in nature that behave according to mathematical laws.

This week’s haftarah in II Samuel 22:31 says that the way of Elohim is perfect. He does not make mistakes. By definition, if something is incorrect, it cannot be from HaShem regardless of which human claims it. Failings by biblical characters were not bad reflections on HaShem, but just bad reflections on imperfect humanity.

II Samuel 22:31 also says that the word of HaShem is tried. Think about it. An omnipotent deity would not be afraid of having his statements examined and tested. If Elohim is omnipotent, then we are weaker than the smallest microbe in comparison to Him. He would not be offended by our search for verifiable truth and would not want us to blindly submit to whatever charismatic leader threatened or intimidated us the most. Rather than wanting us to blindly accept religious dictates because some wannabe prophet claimed he was infallible and divinely chosen to control other people’s behavior, HaShem would want us to remain free so we could continue to search for more verifiable truth. No human can know or have a monopoly on truth.

Eight weeks ago, the haftarah on Shabbat Nahamu included Isaiah 40:12, which portrayed HaShem measuring the heavens and earth. (מִי-מָדַד בְּשָׁעֳלוֹ מַיִם וְשָׁמַיִם בַּזֶּרֶת תִּכֵּן... וְשָׁקַל בַּפֶּלֶס הָרִים) “Who measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span… and weighed the mountains in scales?” Thus, Isaiah described HaShem as very interested in accuracy. Prophets make errors, but HaShem gets it right every time. In Deuteronomy 32:4, this week’s parshah says that the work of HaShem is perfect. (הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ)

Historians speculate that the construction of Solomon’s temple took place somewhere between the middle of the 10th century B.C.E. and 832 B.C.E. Geometers in Babylon, India, and Egypt were already aware a thousand years earlier that a circle’s circumference was always more than 3 times its diameter. Since the Creator of the universe included the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter in His formulation of cosmology, electromagnetism, mechanics, and thermodynamics, He obviously felt that the ratio was important. 

A mistake of more than a cubit in the description of the large basin used for priestly ablution in I Kings 7:23 seems somewhat embarrassing for anyone believing the Tanakh is totally and perfectly accurate and infallible. (וַיַּעַשׂ אֶת-הַיָּם מוּצָק עֶשֶׂר בָּאַמָּה מִשְּׂפָתוֹ עַד-שְׂפָתוֹ עָגֹל סָבִיב, וקוה שְׁלֹשִׁים בָּאַמָּה, יָסֹב אֹתוֹ סָבִיב.) Although the cubit itself varied from person to person, a fact remains: If the same person measured both the diameter and the circumference, then if the diameter was 10 cubits, then the circumference would have been more than 31 cubits, not 30. It is painfully obvious that the Creator of the universe wasn’t too carefully watching over the writing of I Kings 7:23 to make sure that the author got it exactly right. 

Although HaShem certainly is given credit for originally writing the Ten Commandments, Moshe is given credit for writing the larger Torah that contains the story about the Ten Commandments. The Torah then served as the foundation for all the biblical writers and Israeli prophets who came after Moshe. All of the prophets were likewise just humans and not gods themselves.

In ancient times, heroes of great stature in non-Jewish cultures were often presented as having been begotten by a god or born of a goddess. Pharoahs were considered divine. Yet in Judaism, the earthly prophet is not a deity. Moses was just a man and, according to his own book, disobeyed God. If he could make an error in judgment as when he overreacted and failed to speak to the rock at the waters of Meribah, could he have overreacted when so often meting out capital punishment for what today seems relatively minor offenses?

Scientists also are just humans and therefore subject to everything that being human entails. Yet science provides a powerful method by which beliefs, theories, conjectures, and guesses can be studied and checked for veracity. When a false theory is disproved, it is cause for celebration instead of embarrassment. Even when theories are unfortunately given the aura of dogma because of numerous seemingly verifying experiments, theories can be independently checked and disproved when subsequent data become available.

The lives and interactions of our forebears displayed behaviors and states of mind that are often areas of scientific research today. We are still asking many of the same questions about which our ancestors inquired in antiquity. Many of the tools and methods we use today are highly effective in finally finding real answers to mankind’s most persistent questions.

Mathematics provides methods for predicting outcomes, measuring, and quantifying data in order to test theory. It is the language in which the laws of nature are written. Our understanding of mathematics and how it relates to the universe is imperfect, but it appears to be the most accurate and powerful language at our disposal for studying and describing the real world.

Our knowledge and understanding of science and mathematics will continue to develop as we learn better methods for discovering verifiable truth. If truth were always obvious or easy to discover, then we possibly would have discovered all of it long ago. We discover more truth as we become mature enough as a species to handle it.

Nature is the only book written by HaShem Himself whose laws cannot be altered by humans. As Einstein famously said, “Subtle is the LORD, but malicious he is not.” New discoveries and insights are there to be teased from nature by those willing to invest sufficient time, effort, and concentration. The more verifiable truth we discover, the more we learn about Hashem because, by definition, Elohim is truth.

Yoeli’s Mandate: Leave your mark, make a difference for the good, and do your part to make sure that they never again devour Jacob or make his habitation waste.

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