Recently we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein‘s Theory of Relativity. Einstein stated that the theory of relativity belongs to a class of “principle-theories”. As such it employs an analytic method. This means that the elements which comprise this theory are not based on hypothesis but on empirical discovery. The empirical discovery leads to understanding the general characteristics of natural processes. Mathematical models are then developed to describe accurately the observed natural processes. Therefore, by analytical means the necessary conditions that have to be satisfied are deduced. Separate events must satisfy these conditions. Experience should then match the conclusions. There is no disputing Einstein’s unique genius and contribution to life in the past 100 years. I like to think there is part of his thinking that can be rooted in a Jewish sensibility of curiosity.
I was thinking about this when reading Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. There we learn that Pharaoh is being vexed by two strange dreams. His cup-bearer recalls his experience of Yosef who correctly interpreted dreams in prison. On the merit of Yosef ability to interpret Pharaoh will through the veil of the dreams of the cup-bearer and the baker, Pharaoh brings Yosef to interpret his dreams. After Pharaoh recounts his two dreams we read:
And Yosef said to Pharaoh: ‘The dream of Pharaoh is one; what God is about to do God has declared to Pharaoh. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. And the seven lean and ill-favored cows that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind; they shall be seven years of famine. That is the thing which I spoke to Pharaoh: what God is about to do God has shown to Pharaoh. ( Genesis 41: 25- 28)
Yosef, like Einstein, had a gift to interpret subtle facts and a desire to share that vision even if it did not make sense to others. Like Einstein Yosef’s theory would be tested to ensure that the experience matched the conclusions ( or minimally he bought himself 7 years to live). The most interesting part for me is his claim that is all “one dream”. As we see in the rest of the Torah the drive for the descendants of Israel is to forge a relationship to the unified God. Both Yosef and Einstein felt drawn to come up with a plausible and unified theory for how the world works. Even if you do not believe that God created the universe in which this Theory of Relativity might be true, you could image how the story of the Yosef and the Israelites pursuit of the One might have inspired this Theory.