And when the Tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up… (Num. 1:51)
During the wonders of Israelites in the desert, the Tabernacle (Heb. “Mishkan”), existed as a sanctuary only during their encampments. Whenever they traveled, the Mishkan was taken down and disassembled to be carried by Levites during the journey. When God commanded Moses to set the camp, the Mishkan was reassembled and set up again.
Let us fast forward some three-and-a-half thousand years to the beginning of the 20 c. It was a time of great intellectual turmoil. The discovery of the atom’s structure by Rutherford, according to which an atom resembled the solar system with a nucleus at the center and electrons orbiting the nucleus, was followed by intense research into the structure of atoms of various chemical elements. Every atom tested unexpectedly exhibited discrete spectral lines instead of the expected continuous spectrum. It was if atoms were able to absorb and emit energy only of certain discrete frequencies.
In 1913, Niels Bohr proposed an atomic model, in which electrons “orbiting” the nucleus in their orbitals could only occupy certain orbitals having discrete energy levels. (See my earlier post, Jacob’s Ladder.) Electrons could jump from one orbital to another (“quantum leaps”) but they could not be found in between. Nobody could understand why.
One night, on June 7, 1925, a junior colleague of Niels Bohr, young German physicist Werner Heisenberg, was walking in the park engrossed in thought. It was a dark night barely lit by sparse street lights. Suddenly, he saw a dark figure of a man emerge from the darkness as the man passed under one of the streetlights only to disappear again into darkness. A minute later the man reemerged near the next light and disappeared again. The figure kept on popping in and out of site as it appeared under a streetlight and disappeared into the night. Strange, thought Heisenberg, this man seems to only exist when next to a street lamp disappearing into darkness in between the lights. Of course, Heisenberg could trace in his mind the path along which that man was walking, but he was not visible in between the streetlights, as if he didn’t exist. Heisenberg couldn’t get the disappearing man out of his mind. And then it hit him like a thunderbolt—electrons in the atom behave the same way—they only appear on certain orbitals and, when jumping from one orbital to the next, disappear in between! Heisenberg rushed to his room and worked through the night putting this idea into the language of mathematics. He later wrote:
It was about three o’ clock at night when the final result of the calculation lay before me. At first, I was deeply shaken. I was so excited that I could not think of sleep. So I left the house and awaited the sunrise on the top of a rock.”
Matrix mechanics—the first form of quantum mechanics—was thus born. Subatomic particles obeying the laws of quantum mechanics behave not like objects we are familiar with. They exist only in certain states and “disappear” in between.
So too in the Sinai desert, the encampments of Israelites were discrete states, which they could occupy in the desert. The Mishkan, Tabernacle “appeared” (was reassembled and erected) when in one of these discrete states, and “disappeared” (taken down and disassembled) in between. In this sense, Mishkan represents a metaphor of quantum reality.
As it turns out, the analogy between the Tabernacle (“Mishkan”) and quantum reality goes much deeper.
The quantum world is best described today by the Quantum Field Theory. According to this theory, there are no particles, only fields. When we interact with a field, it manifests itself as a quantum of the field, which, to some extent, looks and behaves like a particle. For example, when we interact with an electromagnetic field, it manifests itself as a photon – a quantum of the electromagnetic field. An electron, according to the Quantum Field Theory, is not really a particle but a quantum of the electron field, which is a quantum field that is spread across the entire universe. This quantum is an excitation of that field. It is a measurable state of the field with which we interact. A photon is nothing more than an excitation of the electromagnetic field, or a quantum of that field. Sometimes, such quanta (photons or electrons, as well as other subatomic “particles”) behave like particles and other times they behave like waves. In reality, they are neither particles nor waves, but excitations of their respective quantum fields. Since three of the four fundamental forces have been already unified in the Standard Model (with gravity still awaiting its unification), one can even speak of one universal field whose excitations are sometimes perceived as quanta of matter (e.g., electrons) and other times as quanta of fields that carry fundamental forces (e.g., photons – the carriers of electromagnetic force).
An amazing property of the Quantum Field Theory is that we can only speak of field quanta as we interact with the field, when the field assumes one of its permitted and measurable states and manifests itself as a quantum (or the “particle”). In between these interactions, the state and the nature of the field are quite indeterminate. Just as we cannot speak of the position of an electron in between the orbitals in the atom, or speak of a trajectory of a particle between the points where it manifests itself through the interaction with other particles, we cannot say anything certain about the nature of quantum reality (the quantum field) in between the states where it manifests itself interacting with the observer. We can only speak of the probabilities to find the field in any one of the permitted states (the “spectrum”).
Let’s now turn to the Mishkan – the Tabernacle, where God revealed Himself to Israelites in the Sinai desert. The word “mishkan” is etymologically related to the word Shechinah—God’s presence in the world. (The word, schunah, in modern Hebrew, means a neighborhood, i.e., a local presence).
God, of course, is present everywhere. Not only He is present everywhere in space, He is the space in which we are present. (The sum of the numerical values of the letters of the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, squared equal to the numerical value of the word hamakom, “the place”: (Y)2(H)2(W)2(H)2 = 102+ 52+ 62+ 52=186; HaMaKoM = 5+40+100+40=186.)
Similarly, not only God is Eternal, He is the time in which we exist as his proper Name, YHWH, means hayah (is), hoveh (was), ihiyeh (will be) – present, past, and future. Not only we are unable to apply to God such concepts as when or where, we cannot say anything concrete about God at all, except that He is our Creator (and only because He said so Himself at the beginning of Genesis!) However, He chose to manifest Himself in this world in one of the allowed “quantum” states: it had to be in the Mishkan and only during the encampments of Israelites in the desert, when God’s presence – the Shechinah – rested in the Mishkan. Taking a poetic license, perhaps we can say, that the Shechinah was the local “excitation” of the Godly light Ohr En Sof (the “quantum field”), as it were. Mishkan (and, later, Bet HaMikdash – the Holly Temple in Jerusalem) were the only places (quantum states) where we could interact with the Divine directly and perceive manifestation of the Divine.
As we can see, the Tabernacle – Mishkan – is a metaphor for the quantum reality in more ways than one. To me, the incredible advancements in science in general and in our understanding of quantum reality with the development of Quantum Field Theory in particular are all signs of the approaching Messianic redemption which, inter alia, will redeem us not only from the physical and spiritual exile-galut, but also from our intellectual galut, from our state of ignorance when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). At that time God Presence – the Shechinah – will be redeemed from the galut (the state of indeterminacy) as well and will manifest itself openly (in other words assume a “measurable,” i.e., manifest quantum state) in the Third Jerusalem Temple—Bet HaMikdash HaShlishi—may it be rebuilt immediately!
First published on www.QuantumTorah.com in May 2017.