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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

My accidental epiphany

By Rabbi Avi Shafran





How after all these years a science short continues to invigorate this rabbi's religious devotion

JewishWorldReview.com | In 1977, I found myself in a science museum viewing a short that — there's really no other way to put it — expanded my consciousness. It apparently did the same for many others and remains to this day, despite powerful advances in special effects, an impressive work.

Produced by the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames, "Powers of Ten" begins with a simple scene, a picnic in a Chicago park. As predicted by the voice-over, though, the camera pulls away from the picnic, at a rate of one power of ten per 10 seconds.

The zoom-out continues straight up, so that, in a few seconds, the picnic blanket is but a dot of color against the green expanse of the park, which soon enough, with the camera continuing to soar heavenward, itself shrinks to a speck. Then the viewer sees the outline of Lake Michigan, then North America; the earth's cloud cover next fills the screen, and then earth itself, which itself quickly recedes into the distance.

Eventually we see an image of our solar system and then the galaxy to which it belongs, before it, too, becomes but one of many galaxies. The camera seems to fly ever backward, until it reaches the farthest reaches of space.

The effect is visceral, or at least it was for me. It recalled to me how, as a child, I would sometimes lie flat on my back on our lawn on a clear dark night and concentrate my vision on the starry sky until I felt an inexplicable and sudden shock. It was as if the sheer vastness of the stars, of the universe itself, had somehow reached out and seized me; it was a frightening experience, yet one that, when feeling brave, I would occasionally seek out. Although "Powers of Ten" on a screen could not quite evoke that childhood shudder, it visually captured, maybe even more compellingly, the vastness of the cosmos.


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The film, which proceeds from outer space to inner space, zooming back in to the picnic and then further, into the skin of a picnicker, into one of his cells and its DNA, then into an atom and an electron, has been recently celebrated on the anniversary of its release. (Charles Eames passed away the following year, and his wife Ray, in an arresting irony, died precisely — to the Gregorian calendar day — ten years later.)

The short film actually plays a role in my life as an observant Jew, thrice daily when reciting the fundamental Jewish credo, the Sh'ma (at morning and evening prayers and before retiring).

The Sh'ma declares the Divine's transcendence of time and space, and, as we pronounce the Hebrew word echad ("one") Jewish Law prescribes that we try to conceptualize, to the degree we can, the immensity of the universe — "above and below and in all four directions" (Talmud, Brachos 13b) — and the fact that the Creator of it all is not of it at all but "beyond" it and in control of it.

One of the ancient Hebrew euphemisms for the Divine is "Makom," which literally means "place." The Talmud explains that the word describes the Divine because "the universe is not His place, but rather He is the 'Place' of the universe."

Leaving — even in our imaginations — the dimensions of time and space isn't an option for us mortals. We are like the two-dimensional residents of Flatland, Edwin Abbott's 1884 satirical fantasy world, trying to comprehend three-dimensional existence. There is a reason the Hebrew word for both time and space is "olam," rooted in "ne'elam," which means "hidden."

And yet, we are required all the same to concentrate, as we recite the first verse of the Sh'ma, on His transcendence of time and space. That can be done in an entirely intellectual manner, without any sort of visualization.

I find it helpful, though, when I recite the Sh'ma, to try to capture something of the feeling I felt as a child lying on the lawn on those starry nights. Images from "Powers of Ten," as they did 35 years ago, provide me a "visual" to accompany the intellectual recognition of the scope of the olam.

I doubt that the Eamses ever thought of their film as something that would come to invigorate a Jewish religious devotion. But that's what it did, at least for this Jew.

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Rabbi Avi Shafran is the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America







© 2012, Rabbi Avi Shafran