From Albert Einstein to Rabbenu
Continuing our interview with Rav Ofer Erez, shlita, adapted and translated from Hithadshut magazine.
You can read Part 1 HERE.
Q: Rebbe Nachman was one of the figures that you connected to when you made teshuva. Where there other figures that you connected to, before then?
Truthfully, I had a lot of knowledge and learning in the scientific arena, but as I mentioned, I also felt that something profound was missing. One of the figures who I felt drawn to in a notably deep way at that time was Albert Einstein.
He also experienced something of a spiritual search, at a particular point in his life, but he didn’t merit to make teshuva as a result. There were days when I felt very attached to him, and I found a lot of points of similarity between our lives and his own search for spirituality.
Then suddenly I got introduced to Rebbe Nachman, who quickly became the most important figure for me, and who stretched his hand out towards me to take me out of where I was, to help me make teshuva.
Q: How did that connection with Rebbe Nachman occur, given that you were immersed in a world with so little connection to spirituality and holiness?
It happened at a time when I was very busy studying a particular subject in the ‘Torah’ of quantum physics. It was a very deep subject that was on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge and theoretical physics, something that was within the material world but also above the material world.
Physics busied itself only with the material world, whatever could be contained within the borders of ‘mass’ and ‘movement’ etc. What was beyond that was beyond the realm of physics.
A short while before this, Einstein had discovered electromagnetic radiation – or to give it its more common name – energy. The process of resolving all the apparent contradictions and of trying to classify, in a scientific fashion.
What energy waves actually were, stretched out over a few years, until it was clearly determined that there were two separate spheres of activity. Namely: energy and matter. And, that there wasn’t really a connection between them, despite the fact that these two things really defined the borders of scientific research.
In this manner, the scientific community settled their minds about the matter, and they could once again sleep at night.
But then another huge question suddenly popped up, namely that in the process of undertaking research into the ‘nucleus’ of atoms, they’d clearly discovered electromagnetism, which clearly demonstrated that energy actually existed within matter.
And in a similar fashion, they’d also discovered the nuclei of atoms and other ‘data’ pertaining to the matter in the midst of these electromagnetic waves, too. The scientists are still struggling to explain this subject, even today, and this is what I decided to do my final work for my degree on, at the university.
THE FOUR LEVELS OF CREATION
Around this time, I found a book which contained one of Rabbenu’s discussions, it was called: Conversations, stories, and dreams, by Pinchas Sadei, a famous secular author who actually merited to acquire emuna at the end of his life.
And there, in one sentence, I felt that Rebbe Nachman had very simply reconciled the scientists’ whole big conundrum.
Rabbenu wrote that there were four levels of creation, namely inanimate matter, vegetation, living organisms, and speech and that these four levels were connected. And between the material world and the spiritual world, there was light.
And with this, he reconciled all of science’s profound contradictions. He did this in essence by stating the fact that there is light, i.e. energy, to be found between all four levels of material life.
When I showed this stuff to the scientists, they were very excited about it, and they asked me to write an additional thesis on the subject. I agreed on the condition that I’d be able to write about the things that really interested me.
They asked me what that was, and I told them that I wanted to investigate the evolution of the world, over the last 200 years, and how science had evolved, together with the evolution of the arts and also society itself. I wanted to reveal the connections that were binding these three spheres together.
They had no idea where I’d got that idea from, but they agreed. In the Zohar, it talks about all these types of ‘evolutions’. After I’d written this research paper and turned it into the university, they got very excited about it and asked me to publicize it by writing to all of the leading scientists of the day, which would guarantee me a glittering scientific career.
But at that point, I pulled a disappearing act and went straight to join forces with Rabbenu.
Q: Certainly, nothing ever happens for no reason, and you were even a good shaliach (messenger) to find the spiritual aspects contained in your scientific research. Since then, have you had any opportunity to use your scientific training to further any other spiritual goals or processes?
This story is hot off the presses: One day this week, I was giving a shiur (Torah class) in the centre of the country, and people from every sort of background come this to this class, including those who appear to be very far indeed from Jewish observance – but their hearts are still on fire for Hashem!
Over the last few weeks, a young guy has been attending who spent many years living in chutz l’aretz (outside of Israel), and he started asking me all the difficult questions the scientists have about quantum physics.
With Hashem’s help, I was able to answer all of his questions, and he got a lot of chizzuk (spiritual strengthening) from this. It was the first time that he’d heard answers to the convoluted questions that he’d got entangled with.
Obviously, this was the opening required to try to get him into ‘Rabbenu’s tent’. Sometimes, we have to learn things in order to be able to deal with people who live in a completely different reality.
We have to enter into their reality in order to create an opportunity to influence them, there.
Q: Like many of the other leading figures in Breslov chassidut, Rav Ofer Erez also traveled a long path that took him through the Lithuanian Yeshiva world, which is where he learned in-depth study of the Gemara.
We asked the Rav to tell us a little bit about his time studying at the kollel associated with the Slabodka yeshiva.
I got to the Slabodka yeshiva after I’d already come closer to Breslov. It was certainly a very special yeshiva, which had the ‘space’ to accept everyone, and not only did I never hear a single word there that was said against Breslov chassidut, just the opposite was occurring.
The people there who were interested in discussing the essence of Breslov chassidut with me were sincerely interested in the subject and weren’t just trying to disqualify it or to criticize it.
I remember some very lengthy conversations I had with one of the yeshiva’s rabbis about Rabbenu HaKadosh (Rebbe Nachman) and his advice. Even my chevruta (learning partner) there was a chassid, but it was only later on that he told me that he was a Breslover chassid.
At that time, there were 15 students in the yeshiva who got closer to Breslov, and together we got stronger in our avodat Hashem (holy endeavors).
I should add here that it was a place with a lot of daat (spiritual wisdom), with a lot of deep, intellectually-stimulating learning, but which still recognized that there are many different paths that a person can follow in pursuit of their avodat Hashem.