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Last week, we spoke about a Midrashic analysis of one of God’s names, this week I want to talk about a Midrashic analysis of another of God’s names. In this week’s Parsha, we meet the name Shakai, shin-dalet-yud. We pronounce it Shakai in deference to not using God’s name unnecessarily and the sages have an interesting interpretation of this name. They saw it as an acronym for the words, Mi she'Amar L'olamo Dai , ‘he who said to his world enough’. So what does it mean to say to your world, enough? It is almost as if the universe has a life of its own, God has to reign it in, enough universe. What does that even mean?
So I want to suggest that in recent years we have come to a kind of understanding of what this might mean. That’s truly mind bugling. The sages lived long before modern theories of cosmology but their words anticipate in eerie ways. Some of the things that scientists of our day and age have come to learn about the utterly universe. The universe really did need reigning in. had God not said to the universe, ‘enough’, you and I probably wouldn’t even be here today.
Let me review with you, some of what our modern cosmology has add in understanding the very beginnings of what we call a creation.
There was a cataclysmic explosion. Some-thingness came from nothingness, the big bang. According to modern physics, time itself as well as space, came into existence. You can’t say what happened before the bang. There was no before. Time itself begins here. In this massive explosion, everything begins. And what was there after the explosion? At first all there was were these subatomic particles, racing out from the center, there weren’t even any atoms yet. Over time the super-hot subatomic particles, speeding out from that initial explosion, cooled to a level that visible light first becomes apparent and in a blaze of brilliance, light comes into the world. Vayehi ohr. Overtime the force of gravity begins to cause these subatomic particles to coalesce to draw near to each other until the first simplest atoms are formed. Hydrogen atoms, hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe, it is a single electron, orbiting around a single proton and for a long time that’s all there is in the universe. These huge clouds of hydrogen but slowly, gravity draws the clouds closer together and friction between the hydrogen atoms causes the hydrogen to heat up. Until the cloud becomes so dense and so hot that it ignites in a thermo-nuclear reaction. The hydrogen burns and transforms itself to helium. We call these burning clouds of hydrogen, stars. Now, for a long time, there was a universe just with stars in it. How did we get the rest of the universe? So it turns out that if a star is big enough, if it has enough mass, towards the end of its life as it nearly exhaust all of its hydrogen fuel, gravity begins to cause the star to implode upon itself and now as the star caves in on itself, the remnants of the hydrogen become hotter and hotter as the friction goes stronger and stronger within the dying star. Until the star explodes in a mammoth explosion that we call a supernova. In the white, hot kiln of a supernova all of the heavy elements are formed – carbon, gold, zinc, copper and as the star explodes, these elements are cast out into the space and become the building block of things that we call planets. Before you know it, you have got a universe going.
So it all sounds fairly simple, right? I mean you start off with a big bang and pretty soon, you got stars, you got planets. Not so tough, right? But here is the interesting thing, the big bang as you recall, was an explosion. Now, typically explosions are not terribly ordered things. If I threw a grenade in a room and surveyed the scene afterwards, it is going to look pretty chaotic. There would be splotches of debris over there, shattered glass over here. It is the ultimate random event of an explosion. The problem is the big bang couldn’t afford to be random. We wouldn’t have the universe unless it was very, very finely tuned. Let me explain to you what I am talking about here. There is something that the cosmologists call the flatness problem. It goes like this – remember right after the big bang, you have all these subatomic particles speeding out into space. How fast were they going? You see if they were going a little bit too fast, gravity never would have been able to act upon them, to bring them together into atoms. To bring those atoms together into clouds and all you would have had is a universe of subatomic particles, no stars, no planets, no nothing.
Okay, so they can’t be going so fast but what if they were going a little bit too slow? Then gravity would have stopped the acceleration altogether and brought everything back into one big crunch and you wouldn’t have anything. Okay, so it had to be just right, not too fast, not too slow. But now, you might ask, but what was the margin for error here? I mean I guess we were pretty lucky living in this just right universe but how just right it has to be? What if I told you if the rate of expansion were 10% faster than what it was, we wouldn’t have the universe? If it was 10% slower than it was we wouldn’t have the universe. You would say, yeah you know, we were pretty lucky, we had 9 chances out of 10, of not having a universe and we got lucky and the 1 chance out of 10 prevailed and here we are. Okay but what if I told you that it wasn’t 1 out of 10 but it was 1 out of 100? 100 faster? No universe. One part out of 100 slower? No universe. So then you would say, well you know, then I guess we were really lucky. So what it is in fact then? Was it 10%? 1%? 0.1%? So cosmologists have estimated that the actual margin of error here to be 1 part in 10, to the 54th power. Yes, that’s right 10 to the -54th. That’s your odds here. 1 part in 10 followed by 54 zeros. We don’t make names for numbers that big. To give you a sense of this, it is estimated that all the leaves and all the trees in all North American forests and that’s about 24 zeros, 10 to the 24th power. 10 times the amount of leaves in all the forests in North America, that would be 10 to the 25th power. We now think that all the atoms in the observable universe, that is about 10 to the 81st power, so somewhere between that, somewhere between all the leaves of all the trees of North American, all the atoms in the universe, one part in that haystack, that’s the chance you have of having a universe with stars. And remember there is only one bang that we know of, I mean this is our universe, either it works or it doesn’t. But you know, it is not just the flatness problem. There are other problems too like the smoothness problem. In the initial explosion of the big bang, if the subatomic particles that were ejected out of it, came out kind of too clumpy with regions really close together to one another then you wouldn’t have hydrogen clouds to get together to form stars. The clouds would have been massive that gravity would have collapsed them into black holes. We would have a universe of black holes. You don’t get any life out of a black hole but if the universe wasn’t clumpy enough, if it was too smooth, all the subatomic particles that would have been too diffused, gravity never would have acted upon them at all to bring them together to form clouds, you would not have any clouds of hydrogen at all, no stars. Just a bunch of electrons and protons, scattered throughout the universe. Just clumpy enough so that the hydrogen clouds could come together to form stars, not too clumpy, or else it is a black hole. Well, again what’s the margin for error? This time it seems like it is 10 to the 10 thousandth, 100 and 23rd power. 10 followed by over 10,000 zeros and I am not making this stuff up. That’s how the British mathematicians Roger Penrose estimated it. He is one of the folks who proved the existence of black holes to begin with. Go out, read the literature on this, ‘Universes’ by John Lesly, ‘Just 6 numbers’ by Reese. Papers by cosmologists such as Devi’s and works by Stephen Hawking and it is just not the smoothness and flatness problems, there are like 13 different other areas in which we had to get it just right. The four strings of the four main forces of the universe. Gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear weak force, the nuclear strong force. Now these strings are plotted on vast scales but their ratios had to be just right. Just to give you an example about what we are talking here, the nuclear strong force is more or less 100 time stronger than electromagnetism. Electromagnetism is about 10,000 times stronger than the nuclear weak force. The nuclear weak force is about 10 thousand billion, billion, billion times stronger than gravity. But all that had to be fine-tuned too. If electromagnetism is a little bit stronger then all stars are red stars, too cold to ever become a supernova. If electromagnetism gets slightly weaker, all main sequence stars get to be very hot and short lived. You would never get any planets there either. So when you add it all up, this exploding universe, needed quite a dose of organization and order.
So a very long time ago, the Rabbis and the Midrash said Shakai, that name of God, Mi she'Amar L'olamo Dai, the one who says to his world, ‘enough’. Only in recent years have we began to understand, how deeply that is true.
1. Bereishit: Thank You, God...For Not Making Me A Woman?
2. Noach: Why Aren't Dinosaurs In the Torah?
3. Lech Lecha: The Battle For Abraham's Legacy
4. Vayeira: Abram, Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael and...Exodus?
5. Vayeira: Epilogue
6. Chayei Sarah: Eliezer and Samuel's Surprising Connection
7. Toldot: What Is Isaac's Legacy?
8. Vayeitzei: Understanding Rachel's World
9. Vayishlach: From Jacob to Israel
10. Vayeishev: Does God Speak To Us Today?
11. Miketz: Reversing the Sale of Joseph
12. Vayigash: Understanding Pharaoh's Dream
13. Shmot: Does God Really "Love" Us?
14. Va'era: Seeing God in Science
15. Bo: God's Justice In Action
16. Beshalach: Fruit Trees In the Sea?
17. Beshalach: Epilogue
18. Yitro: Seeing Ten Commandments in the Burning Bush
19. Mishpatim: Does Our History Become Laws?
20. Mishpatim: Epilogue
21. Terumah: Angels In the Tabernacle? Part I/2
22. Tetzaveh: Angels In the Tabernacle?- Part 2/2
23. Ki Tisa: A Closer Look At Kiddush
24. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
25. Vayikra: How Can We Relate To Sacrifices Today?
26. Tzav: A Deeper Look At The Priestly Role
27. Tzav: Epilogue
28. Shemini: What Does Aaron Teach Us About Loss?
29. Tazria-Metzora: Rejoining the Community
30. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Social Justice...and Sacrifices?
31. Emor: An Epic View of Jewish Holidays
32. Behar-Bechukotai: Walking With God
33. Bamidbar: Why We Count
34. Beha'alotecha: Where It All Went Wrong
35. Shelach: How Can We Relate To Such a Vengeful God?
36. Korach: Why Did Korach Rebel?
37. Chukat: Why Did Moses Hit The Rock?
38. Balak: What Is Israel's Purpose In The World?
39. Pinchas: What Is True Leadership?
40. Matot-Masei: The Art of Negotiation
41. Devarim: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 1/2
42. Va'etchanan: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 2/2
43. Eikev: Why Does The Nation Of Israel Merit The Land?
44. Why Do We Need Both Oral and Written Law?
45. Shoftim: The Significance of Saving Private Ryan
46. Ki Teitzei: How To Merit Long Life
47. Ki Tavo: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 1
48. Nitzavim: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 2/2
49. Vayeilech: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 1/3
50. Ha'azinu: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 2/3
51. V'Zot Habracha: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 3/3
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