Science in the Torah
Are Inanimate Objects Alive?
Matter is not what it appears to be. Modern science teaches us that the electrons which are constantly in motion even in inanimate objects are the essence of those objects. Does this have any parallel in the words of our sages? Apparently it does.
According to Kabbalah, everything that exists in the universe has a spiritual soul which enables its existence. This means that not only the living have a soul, but even the inanimate world. The difference is only what kind of soul and what are its capabilities. The animate world has a soul whose capabilities enable growth and movement, and therefore a body is able to develop and have mobility, while the inanimate has a soul which connects it various parts and enables its existence without the possibility of development, growth, change or mobility.
Among the many sources for this we will cite for example, the words of the famous kabbalist Rabbi Hayyim Vital in his Etz Hayyim, in the “Short Gate of Atzilut, Bri’ah, Yetzira and Asiya”, Chapter 10 (page 117):
“The inanimate are metals and stones… their soul…. is therefore called the compound soul [which combines between all the parts] and it enables them to exist and be maintained as they are without any change occurring. Because this soul only has one power [to exist].”
The sages of Kabbalah also taught that as opposed to the superficial observation that after its creation, the universe continues to exist independently, the truth of the matter is that the totality of Creation continues to receive every second G-d’s spiritual infusion (scientists usually use the word “energy” to describe this activating force). This force enables the existence of the universe. If this spiritual force which vivifies and activates the universe would stop, the entire universe would become non-existent.
This is why we recite in the blessing of Yotzer ha-Meorot in the morning prayers: “Who in His goodness continually renews every day the act of Creation.” Wasn’t the world already created? So how can one talk about its being “continually renewed every day”?
Because the universe is continually and daily receiving the spiritual force that keeps it alive and enables its existence. Without this infusion which comes continuously from our Creator, the world would simply stop to exist.
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One doesn’t have to be a prophet to know that those weak of faith will hear the above information and think it is completely disconnected from reality. After all:
1) Do inanimate objects have any discernible vitality?
2) What does it mean that they have a “compound soul”? In which way is the soul of a piece of metal or a small stone compound and connected?
3) How can we know that without constant energy, which flows continually from our Creator, the universe will stop existing?
Let us reflect on revolutionary scientific discoveries that were made in recent generations. We may find that this teaches us how to relate to Jewish beliefs which derive from a supernatural source, the Supreme Power that created all existence.
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One of the major discoveries of the past century was the fact that all matter is composed of tiny particles which are called atoms (for instance, the head of a pin contains over 300,000,000,000,000 atoms).
Every atom is composed of a nucleus containing protons that have a positive charge, and electrons with a negative charge which orbit the nucleus at tremendous speed, and which determine the atom’s shape. (The blades of a fan rotate at such a fast speed that it looks to our eyes as if it is a round disc without separate propellers. This explains why electrons, which are orbiting the nucleus at a speed that approaches light, do not appear individually but appear as one opaque, impassable atomic unit.) Since all physical matter, such as stone, metal, etc. is composed of countless densely packed atoms like these, they are perceived as solid.
Another important fact. The nucleus and the electrons together take up only 1/500,000 of the atom’s size. By way of illustration, the amount of matter in an atom is so small, and its internal space is so large, that the distance between the atom’s nucleus and the electrons that orbit it, is parallel to the distance between the earth and the sun!
Connecting these facts to understand the reality of existence, we find that almost all matter in the universe is essentially empty. What we are seeing when we view objects (or the universe itself) is nothing more than the immense speed of the electrons’ perpetual movement.
The intimidating scientific conclusion is that if for any reason at all, the “mysterious energy” which propels electrons should stop, the universe would simple stop existing!! Most of the atom is empty and hollow, and its material components are so small that they cannot be seen or felt, and only the optical illusion which results from the powerful speed of electrons is what gives us the sense of seeing and feeling objects.
We therefore know:
1. As opposed to the immutable appearance of matter, internally all matter is in perpetual movement. Saying it in other words: Inanimate matter has an inner vitality (= a soul)!
2. Atoms are compound and interconnected. Their compound state enables us to feel the solid state of a stone or metal (or in Rabbi Hayyim Vital’s words: ‘It is therefore called the compound soul”).
3. If our Creator’s continual life force which propels the electrons would cease, the universe would simply go out of existence.
Now we understand “Who in His goodness continually renews every day the act of Creation!”
The lesson for us is double:
1. Only the Creator of the universe Who knows all the mysteries of His Creation down to the tiniest details of matter could have revealed this amazing information in His Torah which He gave to His people more than 3,000 years ago.
2. This provides us an example of the proper way to relate to the Torah when its statements seem strange to us. Dear reader, how would you have reacted to what we brought in the beginning of this chapter about inanimate objects having a “soul” if you hadn’t known the revolutionary scientific discoveries that confirm it?
. Rabbi Hayyim Vital, the outstanding disciple of the famous kabbalist, the holy Rabbi Isaac Luria. He wrote the book “Etz Hayyim” which contains the kabbalistic foundations which he received from his teacher. He lived 500 years ago.