Butterflies Are More Fun
At Touro Synagogue
July 7, 2018
On Shabbat seventy-five congregants and visitors heard Touro Synagogue’s Rabbi Marc Mandel speak about people who make a difference.
After welcoming everyone, the Rabbi gave shoutouts to Jeannie and Jay Schottenstein for their “extraordinary dedication to the well-being of the Jewish people all over the world and in the US and Israel where so many great projects are undertaken thanks to your philanthropy and commitment,” and for their “concern and care to make sure our Shul continues to serve as a vibrant community dedicated to sharing its history with everyone,”
And to Paul Glasser, vice-president of Touro College, which has campuses all over the globe. Paul Glasser has been serving as a leader in the Jewish community for decades, and to Milton and Doryne Davis, leaders in Englewood, New Jersey.
Milton Davis’s father was a Holocaust survivor from Munkács, Hungary, now Mukachevo, Ukraine. During WW II, eighty-five percent of the Munkács Jewish community was murdered, most in Auschwitz.
I visited Munkács in June. Munkács nestles in the Carpathian Mountains. Before WWII the population was over 40% Jewish. Now it is a lively Ukrainian town, but signs of the past exist. There is a very small Jewish community.
The Jewish cemetery was marked for destruction during the Soviet era; the matzevot (headstones) were buried in four pits. Public pressure prevented the final destruction. Thousands of flat stones cover the grave sites. (If it does not appear,a video slide show is at https://youtu.be/88f5tJPiaMI)
Monuments have been assembled from matzevot that have been retrieved from the pits. Relatives moved a few of the graves and matzevot to a new cemetery. Both cemeteries are fenced and cared for. The caretaker made sure that we washed our hands on leaving the cemetery.
Does what we do make a difference? If not, what is the meaning of life? These are questions that keep some of us awake at night.
In The Vocation of Man (1800), Johann Gottlieb Fichte states, "You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby ... changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole".
To Sir Isaac Newton, it was the three body problem. For Newton, that meant predicting, with mathematical certainty, the positions of the sun, moon and earth at any particular time.
In Einstein’s theory of relativity, the three bodies are any three objects, but since time changes, it becomes a fourth object.
Science fiction writers know a good thing when they see it. Time travel is often used to show how a small alteration in the past leads to a different future. In 1952 Ray Bradbury wrote a short story, 'A Sound of Thunder,' about a hunt that traveled 55 million years back in time to slay a dinosaur. The hunter had a melt down, crushed a butterfly with his boot, and the future changed. If you are a Trekkie, you know what I am taking about. Think timeline and temporal wars.
In 1961, MIT mathematician and meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz pioneered chaos theory after he realized that the predictions of meteorological models were not always accurate, and that small changes in initial conditions could lead to vastly different outcomes.
Lorenz described it in terms of one flap of a seagull’s wings causing a hurricane. His colleagues told him, 'Butterflies are more fun.' When Lorenz wrote an untitled paper, a colleague, Dr. Philip Merilees, pounced. The title became, 'Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?' and the “butterfly effect” was launched.
I asked Newporter Mrs. Namel Chadash if she could make sense of this. She did not disappoint.
“So, Reb Ginsburg, vas is all dis meshugaas? Do you really think people are interested in Newton, Fichte, and butterflies? Genug already!
“Let me explain you the three body problem. When I told my three kindele, Beth, Judy, and Aaron, to sit still, they never listened. Vey iz mir, a few minutes later they were gone. Now that’s a three body problem! I solved it with a kick in the tuchas!
“Professor Fichte-Geshichte, in Newport we know a thing or two about sand. If you walk on Easton’s beach, the only thing that will change is your feet, with those tiny grains of sand clinging. If that bothers you, just go to Island Park, and enjoy the rocks. That’s da ganze geshichte!
“And as for you, Professor Lorenz, alvays you shouldn’t listen to your friends. Stick with seagulls. My Jonathan Livingston would never hurt a flea, just an occasional clam. When your feet are stuck in the sand at First Beach, just keep your eyes overhead. Since you have your head in the clouds, vat do they say, ‘No problem!’”
Rabbi Mandel touched on all of this in his Torah talk, including the meaning of life, and the difference a person makes and should make.
“Individuals play an important role in the world. We see it in these last few Torah readings.
“In today’s Parsha, it’s Pincus who manages to calm things down in the Jewish camp. Last week it was Balak, who hired Balaam who created one of our most important tefillot, ‘Ma Tovu.’
“This week millions of people were focused on one individual-one person-I’m referring to LeBron James. Millions of people followed his decision to move to Los Angeles.
“LeBron James, known as King James. No different than any other king. Well-known throughout the world. The power of one individual to influence the lives of millions of people.
“You might say basketball is not that important. That misses the point. In today’s world of social media and the Internet everything is equal. King James is just as important as any other big news item and it’s all about one person. Of course this doesn’t last forever.
“.In this week’s pasha – the leader of the Jews, Moshe, Moses, tells God, 'I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. Please, find someone else.' Franz Kafka said, 'The meaning of life is that it stops.' A human being stops! The greatness of a person, the thoughts, the intelligence, the beauty, it all stops.
“Our job is to utilize the energy and strength that we have while we can, while we are strong, while our minds are sharp.
“Let us do like Moshe, Yehoshua, Miriam and the daughters of Zelophehad, who told Moshe, 'We want a share in the land of Israel, there are no boys in our family, just girls. We want a share…’ They showed their love for Israel and were rewarded with a share.
“We have to learn from these women to show our dedication to Israel and not take it for granted. These are the lessons that we need to learn from this week’s great people.
And Shabbat Shalom from Jewish Newport