“Incomplete” Parashat Tzav – Pesach 5777

Only a few days stand between us and Pesach. People are working overtime to finish cleaning the last rooms in their houses for Pesach so that not even the smallest speck of chametz can be found. Pesach is typically accompanied by a plethora of divrei Torah that all revolve around the innate evil of chametz. Chametz is not merely flour that has been allowed to rise. In these divrei Torah, chametz signifies all that is pernicious in this world. For instance, chametz is compared to haughtiness. The Talmud in Tractate Berachot [17a] asserts that while Am Yisrael would like nothing more than to perform Hashem’s will, we are too often thwarted by the “leavening in the dough”, i.e. the evil inclination. Rav Shmuel Eidels, better known as the MaHarSha, explains that the leavening metaphor alludes to leaving the “middle path” for radicalism, which is always a precursor to sin. Another direction is to compare the word chametz to the word “machmitz” – to miss out. Best to get rid of the chametz. I have always wondered why, if chametz is such a terrible thing, are we permitted to eat it during the fifty-one weeks of the year that are not Pesach. Wouldn’t it be a better idea were we to exclude it from our diet completely?

Rav J.B. Soloveichik[1], writing in “Festival of Freedom”, explains that chametz represents something that has reached “the end of the line”. It represents completeness. When water comes into contact with flour a chemical reaction takes place and the flour leavens. Once this reaction has transpired, the growth potential of the flour has been exhausted. It is what it is. Rav Soloveichik compares chametz to the mature adult who prefers cold logic over visceral emotion and hard facts over intuition. This emotional and spiritual progress comes at the cost of the deadening of “the living experience of fellowship with G-d”.

Matzo is the predecessor of chametz. It represents incompleteness. It represents “the childlike clinging to and longing for G-d, of finding Him not at the level of [the intellect], but at the level of naïveté, faith, and feeling.” Matzo represents the things that we adults have pretty much grown out of. According to Rav Soloveichik, “The delivery from all restrictions and limitations[2], the ascent from bondsmen to freemen, is attainable with the root experience of man, with his childlike commitments and perceptions, with the uncritical surrender to and naïve trust in G-d, with the pre-adulthood notions and verities”. When Moshe approaches Pharaoh, he tells him [Shemot 7:16] “Send out my people so that they might serve me”. It is a simple matter for the child to throw off the chains of one master and to replace them with the chains of another. The adult, who craves independence, is eager to throw off his shackles but is not quick to replace them with others. If order to reaffirm our unquestioning acceptance of Hashem’s rule, we must negate our intellectual self. We must admit our incompleteness. We perform this symbolically by eating matzo. Obviously we were never meant to remain children. We are commanded to continually probe the universe, to continually sharpen our intellect so that it can be used as a tool with which we search for G-dliness. And yet, says Rav Soloveichik, “The prelude to the illumination of one’s experience is the self-denial of the mature person and the emergence of the child”. Each year, during the seven days of Pesach, we eat matzo to remind ourselves that while grow we must, we will never – we can never – be completely complete.

This understanding of Pesach jibes very well with a well-known understanding of Sukkot. It is not a coincidence that the holiday of Sukkot falls at the end of the summer, just as we are gathering our crops from the field. Just as we are admiring our handiwork, just as we are about to benefit from the fruits of our labour, we are commanded to leave our homes for seven days and to live in a simple hut. We enter the sukkah as a pre-emptive measure, to remind us that as complete as we would like to believe we have become, we will always retain some measure of incompleteness.

About thirty-five years ago I spent a Shabbat in Kiryat Arba, next door to Hevron, where I met a most fascinating person. I do not remember his name but I do remember that he was a mathematician who had spent the first part of his life far from Torah and mitzvot. It was Kurt Gödel who convinced him – who proved to him – that there was a better way. Gödel was an Austrian mathematician who lived in the previous century. Because of his close association with Jews, he was forced out of Austria in 1938 and he made his way to the US, where he accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton[3]. In 1931, while still in Vienna, Gödel published his “Incompleteness Theorem”.

Douglas Hofstadter, writing in his famous “Gödel, Escher, and Bach”, explains the Incompleteness Theorem as follows: “All consistent axiomatic formulations of number theory include undecidable propositions.” The mathematician from Kiryat Arba put it this way[4]: “Any system that is complex enough to be useful will always contain axioms that cannot be proved”. Perry Marshall, a well-known business consultant who happens to be a vocal creationist, paraphrases the theorem as follows: “Anything you can draw a circle around cannot explain itself without referring to something outside the circle – something you have to assume but cannot prove”. The most straightforward example is geometry. Euclidean Geometry is based upon Euclid’s Five Postulates, or Axioms. One of these postulates asserts that a straight line can be drawn between any two points. This makes a lot of sense and in my fifty three years I have never come across two points that can’t be connected with a straight line. But it is impossible to prove this postulate. It will always remain a conjecture. We can never know for sure that there aren’t two points lurking out there that for some reason cannot be connected with one straight line. Nevertheless, with these “unprovable” postulates in hand it is possible to construct powerful geometric tools. These tools, in turn, can be used to build bridges, skyscrapers, and Iron Dome.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem proves that all logical systems, from mathematics to physics to philosophy, must be based upon unprovable axioms. The biggest ramification of the Incompleteness Theorem as far as physicists are concerned is that there will never be a “Theory of Everything”, an all-encompassing framework of physics that fully explains all physical aspects of the universe Such a theory is a theoretical impossibility. In Marshall’s words, “The universe (all matter, energy, space and time) cannot explain itself”. The biggest ramification, as far as the mathematician from Kiryat Arba was concerned, is that not only does the Incompleteness Theorem leave room for faith, it demands faith: faith and reason are intimately connected. If we drill deep enough, we will eventually find something beyond proof, be it Euclid’s Postulates, the force of gravity, or Hashem. The moment we accept as axiomatically true the existence of a Divine Being Who revealed Himself to Am Yisrael at Sinai, only then can we build the logical construct that is Judaism.

Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot return us to that primal axiom, each in their own way. On Pesach we eat matzo, a symbol of incomplete growth. On Sukkot we extricate ourselves from the lap of luxury to spend seven days in a wooden hut, returning to an earlier, more simple, time, and on Shavuot we celebrate the Revelation at Sinai, in which we were introduced to the primal axiom. Three times each year the Jewish calendar forces us to acknowledge the incompleteness of the universe, reminding us of what we can know, what we must know, and what we can never know.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach veKasher,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yechiel ben Shprintza.

[1] Some of you might have noticed that last week’s shiur was also built around the words of Rav Soloveichik. I have been overseas for the past two weeks and the only book I took with me was the “Masoret HaRav” chumash. You use what you have.

[2] The comparison of Mitzrayim (Egypt) to Meitzarim (limitations) is classic Chabad philosophy. Rav Soloveichik was first taught Torah by a Chabad melamed.

[3] Albert Einstein was at Princeton at the same time and he and Gödel became close friends.

[4] I clearly remember his words to this day.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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