Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stars, Angels, Space, and the Firmament

According to the Abarbanel quoted by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, stars are in a way the "bodies" of angels. Not that the star-angel relationship is exactly comparable to the body-soul relationship, but there is a strong connection between the stars and angels.

This idea helps to show a Torah-Science parallel in the Midrash Tanchuma on Parasha Vayigash, sif 6.

The Midrash writes: "Rabbi Shimon said: The entire firmament (rakiah) is of water, and the angels of fire, and those ministering to Him of burning fire (lohait), and the water does not extinguish the fire, and the fire does not burn/consume the water."

Now, the definition of the rakiah is something that I have never gotten a definitive answer to.

According to this Midrash, it is completely made of water. However, as on the 2nd day of Bereishis, "water" may have multiple meanings. I have never heard a definitive explanation of the separating of water and water, etc.

Perhaps, the "water" that is being described is the fabric of space-time or the vacuum of space. Like the water we know here on Earth, the vacuum of space extinguishes fire almost immediately (since fire requires oxygen to burn). Thus, one (who is ignorant of current Science) would expect that all the stars should burn out and vanish immediately!

On the other hand, perhaps space is like a small amount of water, which here on Earth can be consumed (i.e. evaporated) by fire, in which case one (who is ignorant of current Science) could expect that the stars would consume all of space!

The truth as it now appears to be, is that the "fire" that stars run on is based on fusion reactions and hydrostatic equilibrium, and is not the sort of fire that requires Oxygen to burn. Thus, the stars shine away, and everything is fine.

This could parallel what this Midrash is saying. The firmament/water (space) does not extinguish the angels/stars, and the stars do not consume the space.

I don't have any idea at the moment what the difference in physical representation between the angels of fire and the "ministers" of burning fire are. Perhaps, "those who minister Him", are those objects in space that are immensely more powerful than stars, such as gamma-ray bursts, black hole flares, quasars, AGNs, etc.