Monday, May 16, 2005

Aleph-null elef alfei alafim

Some thoughts during pesukei d'zimrah yesterday morning:

This is undoubtedly influenced by being in the midst of reading Judaism, Physics, and God (Rabbi David Nelson), which is really growing on me. (I'll post a review when I finish it.)

In Nishmat Kol Chai it says "Ilu finu malei shirah kayam, ulshoneinu rinah kahamon galav, v'siftoteinu shevach k'merchavei rakia', v'eineinu m'irot kashemesh v'chayareiach, v'yadeinu f'rushot k'nishrei shamayim, v'ragleinu kalot ka'ayalot, ein anachnu maspikim l'hodot l'cha, Adonai Eloheinu vEilohei avoteinu, ulvareich et sh'mecha al achat mei'alef elef alfei alafim v'ribei riv'vot p'amim hatovot she'asita im avoteinu v'imanu." Translation from Siddur Eit Ratzon: "If our mouths overflowed with song as the sea, if our tongues surged with joy as the waves, if our lips could praise as endlessly as the sky, if our eyes could match the sun's radiance, if our arms had the reach of eagles' wings, if our legs could carry us as far as the deer, even then, our God and God of our ancestors, our thanks wouldn't even come close to matching all the gifts You have given to our fathers, to our mothers, and to us." (The last part literally says "for one of the thousand thousand thousands of thousands and tens-of-thousands of tens-of-thousands of times".)

So it occurs to me that this is basically the same as the formal definition of a limit approaching infinity that I learned back in high school: lim (x->∞) f(x) =∞ iff for every R > 0 there exists S>0 such that for all real numbers x>S, we have f(x)>R. No matter how powerful our hypothetical mouths and eyes and legs might be, there exists S>0 such that f(x)>R for all x>S.

Therefore this is all just a poetic way of saying that God is infinite in a formal way.

Also, earlier we read the verses from Nehemiah 9:6-7 : "Atah asita et hashamayim, sh'mei hashamayim v'chol tz'va'am, ha'aretz v'chol asher aleha, hayamim v'chol asher bahem ... Atah hu Adonai haElohim asher bacharta b'Avram v'hotzeito meiUr Kasdim v'samta sh'mo Avraham..." "You made the heaven ... the earth and everything on it, the seas and everything in them ... You are God who chose Abram and brought him out from Ur of the Kasdim and changed his name to Abraham..."

Maybe this was obvious to everyone else, but I realized that this isn't just a litany of praise, rattling off a list of God's accomplishments; it is a powerful statement of monotheism. You, the God who is responsible for everything physical in the universe, are the same God whom we encounter during our life transitions and at all times.

Monotheism is recognizing that different phenomena can all be explained by a single force. Nelson writes that the search for a unified field theory / TOE, and the faith in the existence of such a theory, is an act of monotheistic faith. I'll write more about this when I write about the book, and I would extend this to include Newton's theory of gravity (the apple falls from the tree due to the same force that causes planetary orbits), Maxwell's electromagnetism, and all other yichud (unification) in the history of physics.

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