Today the World was Conceived

Can the world have been created by chance?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism מבחנה

Hayom Harat Olam, hayom ya’amod bamishpat kol yitzurei olamim - today the world was conceived, today all the world's creatures will be judged,(Machzor, Rosh Hashanah, Musaf prayer).

I was recently asked by Yaron, a bare-headed Israeli: “ You are wearing a knit-kipa. Don’t you ever doubt, ever think that maybe G-d doesn’t really exist?”

I thought for a second, remembered some very old memories, and responded: “Back when I was in my last two years of college, I was a Chemistry major, and worked on the project of a PhD student. It was the late 60’s, and Northwestern University had a prize-winning inorganic chemist named Fred Basolo. The organic chemistry department had a wizard named James A. Marshall, who benefited from Basolo’s input, and was making use of a process that he called the 'solvated electron'. Using the extra electron of the simple metal lithium, we 'ripped' that electron off the lithium atom by dissolving it in liquid nitrogen.

"This allowed us to add the electron to methyl and ethyl groups, which could then be inserted to different locations, and different sides, of steroid-like molecules.

"Lithium is not easy to handle. The soft metal has to be kept under oil, as it explodes in contact with water. Many times, I had milligram amounts of lithium left after reactions, and when I tossed the “leftovers” in a lab sink, got little explosions. While doing the reactions themselves, which could run for 24-48 hours, I was always sweating bullets, as I added chunks of lithium to a bath of liquid nitrogen, which was produced by running nitrogen gas over dry ice.

"One day, I walked into the lab, to find that another grad student’s hood had exploded, taking a corner of the lab with it. After that, whenever I saw the beautiful, deadly blue color which was the tipoff that lithium’s electron had gone into solution (and was now available to the methyl radical to attack the double bonds of the mock steroid), I was a real basket-case of nerves, wet with sweat.

"The target steroid-like hexadienones had to be tailor- made, and this was where Professor Marshall marshaled all his genius. Dressed in his ever-present polo shirt, he would grab a clipboard, and look like a football coach outlining a complicated play. Some of his sequences were 13 steps long, and he would blueprint the steps, sometimes erasing and designing a different course to reach his target.

"Doc Marshall’s bag of tricks included all aspects of organic chemistry as he engineered targets, some of which took me weeks to create; in the end, after the solvated electron attacked the target, I might end up with 20mg of a product which had the methyl group sitting where the Doc wanted it, on the top of the molecule, rather than on the bottom.

"All this was more than 40 years ago. Chemistry still works this way (by the way, the name “solvated electron” didn’t catch on, and the use of lithium in this way carries someone else’s name).  Biochemists, however, use computers to design molecules that are thousands of times bigger than the teeny ones that we built. The planning and work is mind-boggling."

Which brings me to the answer to Yaron: only a fool could be an atheist, or doubt that this world exists by design. It’s incredible for any scientist, aware of all the planning, design, and “melechet machshevet” (a work that is exceedingly well thought out) that goes into building one molecule under  lab conditions, to turn around and think that this world could have been created by chance.

Everyone knows that the entropy and disorder of any system will increase without someone adding energy to bring order to that system. Nonetheless, blind, obstinate, highly intelligent people foolishly  insist that this Universe just happened.

This is why we pray on Rosh Hashana: “Hayom Harat Olam”, this is the day that the world was “conceived”, in the word’s every meaning ( Rav Matis Weinberg). The Great “Mesovev” (Miamonides’ term), the prime Source who conceived the blueprint of all the molecules in Creation, and set them into being , is the One who we coronate as King (Malchiot) on Rosh Hashana.

Moreover, this is the Yom Hazikaron, the day of “Remembrance”. Zikaron, though, implies much more than simple memory. “Zikaron” is the way we create patterns and order out of chaos (again, Rav Matis). We become G-d’s partners in Creation, “returning”(Teshuva) to Gan Eden, to Man as he was created, in order to use the vital force of all Life(Rav Kook’s translation of Teshuva)  to recreate our own very identities and selves, should we so “choose”.

“Choose” is the vital word here. “And you should choose Life” (Devarim 30; 19) ,says the Torah, because choice is the essence of creating Life :  “uvacharta (bachayim)”. Rav Weinberg explains that this word, bachar, is composed of two words: “b” and “Chor”, literally “in the hole”. We are to pigeonhole everything, judging objectively and thereby  putting everything in the Universe in its proper place. Thus we are to judge our world, and ourselves, on this Yom Hadin, Day of Judgement (another day for Rosh Hashanah).

Jews become partners in Creation with the Great Creator by choosing Life (whose vital Force is Teshuva), judging ourselves and recreating our identities, if we so choose.

Rav Weinberg stresses that we misunderstand the holy Temple as only the place of sacrifice; throughout the Torah, and in the Rambam’s Yad Hachazakah, it is called the Beit Ha’Bechira, verily “The House of Choice”. It is the site from which the physical Universe spread out (the source of the Big Bang), the seat of Torah, law and absolute Truth in Justice.

We spend two days of Rosh Hashanah participating in an objective( Din) appraisal and re-creation of our very Selves, answering “ to be or not to be” as we read the Akeida, the Binding of Isaac, an episode that questions Man’s very existence.

If we do such an honest appraisal, there is no way that Israel could lower its sights to accept phony standards of Judaism as real, granting unearned legitimacy to “every stream”; no way to accept a vision of creating Peace, as an ersatz replacement for creating a Jewish homeland according to the vision of the Prophets and Jews throughout the ages; and no way we’d be shaking hands with terrorist Jew-killers and accepting them to live in the holy Land along with the holy People.

It is a matter of proper judgement and Choice.

In the words of Rav Yehoshua Eichenstein, the Zidichoiver Rebbe: “ On this Yom Hadin, may we all be zoche(merit) to judge properly and fix those things that yet need to reach their shleimut, their completeness and wholeness”.