Call Me Nano-Man
Parshat Vayakhel 5779
Call me Nano-Man. I am the future. I laugh silently at the geek in front of me as he pulls a 5 pound laptop out of his carry-on, and places it its own basket in the security line at the airport. I laugh at the security guard who has no idea that I’m carrying four laptops right through the detector, each one smaller than a penny. I feel like a human walking among dinosaurs and mastodons, but I’m used to it.
The security guard tells me I can’t take my Starbucks Chai Latte through, so I decide to give him a run for his money. I pour the whole cup on my clothes, and then to the amazement of everyone around me, with a quick “Oops” I shake every drop free without leaving even a tiny stain. They are surely staring at me with those sycophantic adoring eyes the Nano-Man gets everywhere, but they wouldn’t understand the trillions of nano-shields that coat my clothes protecting me from stains, germs, bacteria, and the grubby baby in the stroller next to me. What do they know about fullerenes or buckyballs?
Oh, I used to be like them, content with mini and the occasional micro. But then I got sick, and it wasn’t until I drank a few billion nano-bots that swarmed around my body obliterating every errant molecule, that I understood that we need nano, now. I only sleep two hours a night, (one quick injection of nano-bots to my brain stems keeps my pontine tegmentum firing wildly, cramming a full nights worth of REM sleep into two hours), and I feels GREAT! I spend all my extra time roaming the lab, finding new applications of nano-tech as I go about saving the world, one nano-meter at a time. (A nano-meter is one millionth of a millimeter, and nano-tech involves the usage of particles 1-1,000 nanometers in size.)
The bandage I invented can stop the most severe wounds immediately, as the nano-particles turn into a fibrous healing web upon contact with blood. Military casualties are down 37%, and emergency rooms deaths have dropped 22%, but that isn’t enough for the Nano-Man. I liberated the housecleaners of the world by developing a spray-on film of nano-particles that dissolves dirt and bacteria, eliminating the need to constantly dust and clean any furniture or appliance sprayed with it. I traveled to third world countries far and near, attaching my nano-filter to village pumps, so that even bacteria can’t slip out into their water. Oh, they did shower me with their colorful beads, rain dances, and native food patties, but they don’t understand the Nano-Man, for me, it’s all in a day’s work (that’s 22 hours mind you)!
What really gets me pumped is driving my 1957 Cadillac Eldorado up Woodward Ave on a bright Sunday afternoon. I touch a button on the dashboard and every molecule of paint shifts slightly, thus catching a different wavelength of light and turning into a different color. How eyeballs pop! I could’a sold that car for a million cool, not once but a dozen times! Yes, the Nano-Man is the King of Woodward, and that’s where the fun starts and stops.
Well, the Nano-Man doesn’t really exist. (Sorry to dash your dreams and fantasies, but I guess that while I’m at it, I might as well inform you that Elvis is dead, and the Tooth Fairy isn’t real.) All of the technologies described above are currently being worked on, but nano-research is facing some very large obstacles, which slow it down dramatically. Sadly enough, the biggest challenge it faces is ignorance.
A recent University of Wisconsin survey of over 1,000 Americans found that only 29% of respondents thought nanotechnology research was morally acceptable. The remaining 71%, who believe it is morally unacceptable, are the people who hold back the research. Because of them, funding is scarce, labs are reluctant to devote time to projects that will be unpopular, and most colleges don’t offer comprehensive nano-courses.
So what do those 71% have against nano-tech? Why is it morally unacceptable? The reality is that the vast majority don’t really understand what nanotechnology is, as was discovered in follow up questions. The reason people have moral problems with it, is that they equate it with other types of research they don’t approve of, such as stem cell research, genetic modified food research, and cloning research. (The only reason I would be opposed to it is that it creates arrogant super heroes like Nano-Man. I hated him ever since I created him a few hours ago!) So what we have discovered is that essentially, people’s ignorance is slowing down one of the frontiers of science that one day will provide us with countless useful and even lifesaving products. A little bit of ignorance sure goes a long way!
But why do people answer a survey about nano-technology when they don’t even know what it means?
I believe the problem is that people are afraid of voids. Every time someone asks a question, they open a void. People feel compelled to fill that void, whether they have the answer to the question or not. People become experts on other individuals, national policy, moral dilemmas, and halachic rulings just because someone asks them a question. We need to learn that it’s OK to leave the void empty, we don’t have any obligation to fill it. (Another example of voidophobia are people afraid of the silent void when there is no conversation. Many feel the need to fill that void, and chatter ridiculously just to keep a moment of silence at bay.)
The teachings of the Sages, are replete with statements extolling the virtues of leaving the void created by a question as a void, and remaining silent.
“Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know.’” (Talmud Berachot 4A)
“Rabbi Akiva said… A protective fence for wisdom is silence” (Ethics of Our Fathers 3:17)
“Shimon is son says: All my days I have been raised among the Sages, and I have found nothing better for oneself that silence” (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:18)
“And if someone asks you something about a matter in which you are not fluent, do not be ashamed to say’I don’t know’” (Tractate Kalla Rabbasi, Chap. 4)
Seven traits characterize an uncultivated person and seven a learned one. A learned person does not begin speaking before one who is greater than he… he does not interrupt the words of his fellow, he does not answer impetuously… and the reverse of these characterize an uncultivated person. (Ethics of Our Fathers, 5:9)
People will always ask us questions. Why did X quit? Is global warming really a human-caused phenomenon? Why has Y been so quiet lately? What’s causing the stock market to be so shaky? Who was responsible for the flopped party last week? We can’t have the best answer to every question asked of us, but we feel the need to answer every question asked of us.
Try to count the number of times you say “I don’t know” in one week, and you may be surprised by how frequently or infrequently you use those three powerful words. Let’s try to talk about things we really know and understand. For everything else, there’s always Nano-Man!
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s parsha, Vayakel, we read about the actual building of the Tabernacle and the vessels that were in it (in Parshat Terumah we only read about the instructions, here we read about them being done.) The Torah tells us that there was a copper vessel that was filled with water (called a laver) and was used by the Kohanim, the priests, to wash their hands and feet as they came in to serve in the Tabernacle. It was made of copper from a peculiar source. “He made the laver of copper and its base copper, from the mirrors of the multitudes of massed at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” (Exodus, 38:8) Rashi explains that many women came forward and donated even their mirrors, an item normally coveted by women in those days. These donations were used for the laver, a vessel from which the Kohanim would wash themselves before starting their Temple Service. Why were the mirrors used specifically for that vessel?
The Maggid of Mezeritch used to say that we should use other people as mirrors. When we look at ourselves we barely see anything wrong with ourselves. The best way to know our deficiencies is to look at what deficiencies we see in others. That is usually a very accurate measure of what we need to work on. In this sense, we are using others as a mirror, as they reflect back to us the issues we need to work on.
The priest’s job in the Tabernacle was to help bring people closer to G-d, to help them atone for their sins. A priest could hypothetically spend his entire day helping people bring sin-offerings, which could give a person a “holier-than-thou” feeling. For this reason, every day as the priests walked in to start their service they washed their hands and feet with a laver made out of mirrors. This was to remind them that whatever negativity they see in others throughout the course of the day, is a reflection of something in them.
Today, we don’t have a Tabernacle, we don’t have a laver, and we don’t have sacrifices, but we sure do have lots of mirrors, so many people walking around who we see fault in. Let’s remember that they are best used as a tool not for other-judgment but for self-judgment!
Vayakel begins with Moshe gathering all the Jewish people and telling them about the laws of Shabbat. Moshe goes on to tell them about the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. (In the previous portions, Teruma and Titzaveh, Ha-shem commanded Moshe about the building of the Mishkan; now Moshe tells the people, and the people actually build it.) The two concepts are connected in that one is not allowed to desecrate Shabbos for the purpose of building the Mishkan. We don’t break G-d’s special time (Shabbos) to build Him a special place (the Mishkan); it would defeat the purpose.
The Torah describes the donations needed which included gold, silver, and copper (these were the days before titanium-palladium alloys were all the rage), the different colored wools, goat skins, herbs, spices, and, most important, the volunteering of time by the craftsmen to build the Mishkan. (I’m assuming hat with the entire nation stuck in the desert, and unemployment running close to 100%, it wasn’t too difficult to get volunteers!) Two people were appointed to be the managers of this colossal and divine endeavor, Betzalel, from the tribe Yehuda, which was considered the most royal of the tribes, and Oholiab, from Dan, which was considered the lowliest of the tribes, thus indicating that when it comes to building a dwelling place for G-d, everyone is equal.
The Parsha then describes in detail the making of the curtains, covering cloths, partitions, and walls of the Tabernacle. Next it depicts the creation of the Holy Ark with its cover, the Table, the Menorah, the Incense Altar, the outdoor Offering Altar, the Laver (a special vessel used by the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet before Temple service), and the courtyard posts which had cloth sheets that wrapped around them, used to enclose the Temple courtyard. By the end of Vayakel, the entire Tabernacle is built. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week- Those who dance are thought to be quite insane by those who cannot hear the music.- Angela Monet
Random Fact of the Week: It takes 16,550 kernels of durum wheat to make a pound of pasta.
Funny Line of the Week: Cross country skiing is great, if you live in a small country!
Have a Superliscious Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham