WHO SAW IT COMING?
The world was stunned by the first images coming from the James Webb space telescope.
Never before had we seen images with such clarity and from so deep into space.
In fact the headlines screamed, “James Webb telescope takes us to the edge of the universe!”
Does this present us with a theological challenge?
TORAH and SCIENCE
According to the Torah, there can be no contradiction between Torah and Science (if Science represents understanding the physical universe), in fact the Torah is the blueprint for all of Creation. (see my article about the Age of the Universe)
Maimonides teaches us that after we learn all of the Written Torah and Oral Torah, we must learn Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics etc to help us gain a deeper understanding of the Oneness of the Creator.
Similarly, the more we learn Torah, the deeper will be our understanding of Science.
THE GENIUS OF VILNA
This makes sense based on what we said above about the parallelisms between Torah and Science.
In the 18th Century, perhaps the greatest example of this was the great Sage Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman also known as the Gaon of Vilna (Genius of the City of Vilna). He was respected and revered by both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
The Jews looked to him for solutions to the Torah challenges of the generation, and the non-Jews sought advice on Scientific problems they were grappling with.
One of the Gaon’s prime students, Rabbi Hillel Rivlin of Shklov wrote a book “Kol HaTorah” about the information his teacher had communicated to him about the approaching end days and messianic era. Note that the Gaon taught R. Hillel this information before Hillel moved to Israel in 1809.
R. Hillel reveals in Chapter 5:8 (translation by Joel Bakst – “The Secret Doctrine of the Gaon of Vilna”)
“With the gradual opening of the Gates of Wisdom above [deeper meanings of the Torah] AND below [science and technology], the messianic revelation which will begin from the year 5600 [1840-the beginning of the industrial revolution] will resemble the wisdom of King Solomon in his day. Through our arousal from below [Science and Technology], this revelation will result in the development of lenses [ i.e. more powerful telescopes] that will allow mankind to reach the limits of telescopic observation and actually glimpse the Wondrous End (Ketz HaPlaot) that lies in the far reaches of the universe.”
As King Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Eccl. 1:9 … we knew it all along.
As we unveil the secrets of the Universe, so too will we unveil the secrets hidden in our Holy Torah.
The Gaon of Vilna understood from the Oral Torah that “seeing the edge of the universe” would be a milestone on the world’s march to the Messianic Era when the Light once more will shine forth from Jerusalem.
May we see it speedily in our days.