Parashat Nasso: The sine curve of life
As I pondered the exhibit on sound waves at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, an intriguing thought entered my mind: Are our lives dictated by sine waves? Before me, sound waves were causing Styrofoam pebbles to align into evenly spaced ridges. By altering the pitch and the volume, one could increase or decrease the spacing and the height of the pebbles. Although we can’t perceive the sound waves that are formed from our voice, they take the shape of the up and down sine curve. If the matter in our body is also just solidified energy, then it must move in sine waves as well; how does that influence us?
Stocks also mimic a sine cure. After taking a course in technical analysis, I learned that stocks move up and down, frequently in a pattern that models a Fibonacci sequence. Now stocks don’t move buy themselves; it’s the people buying them that cause their price to fluctuate. Are we buying and selling based upon the same earthly influence that shapes the shell of a nautilus and the seeds of a sunflower? It’s odd, but it seems we humans are hardwired to sell a stock after a certain percentage gain or buy it again after a certain fall in price. Einstein is reported to have said, “I want to know God’s thoughts.” Did this God create us with a fixed greed/fear ratio that resembles a stock chart?
If we look at human life, we all go through our ups and downs. Birth starts our chart and then we go through the ups and downs of play, success and failure in school, the gain and loss of jobs, health and sickness, marriage and divorce, the birth of our children, the death of our elders, and so on. With regards to the spiritual plane, our life is certainly as volatile. If we just follow the trajectory of the Children of Israel in Egypt we see this plainly: Moshe comes to redeem them, but he fails and then they need to gather their own straw. The first plague comes, but falls empty handed. Subsequent plagues come, Pharoah promises to let them go, our hopes rise only to be dashed by his subsequent change of heart. All the firstborn in Egypt die and the Children of Israel are finally free. Less than one week later, they’re trapped at Red Sea facing the charge of three hundred chariots. The sea splits for them and they break into exalted song, only to be followed by lack of potable water, complaints, and Amalek’s attack. They gather in harmony to accept the exalted Torah at Sinai, only to be followed by the confusion and embarrassment of the Golden Calf forty days later. After every high, comes a subsequent low. It’s discouraging. Nevertheless, this pattern can have an advantage.
Parashat Nasso contains three juxtaposed topics: the sotah, the nazir, and birkat kohanim. The sotah is the wife whose fidelity is questioned and she’s brought to the Temple to be tested. The nazir is someone who wants to sanctify his life by refraining from wine and impurity. The Birkat Kohanim is the blessing the priests gave to the Jewish people in the Temple on a daily basis. Why are these three enterprises juxtaposed together?
There is an encouraging lesson here. Sometimes our sine curve hits new lows. We are desperate and seek affection in the wrong places. We spoil our relationships and lose the trust of our loved ones. Nonetheless, the Torah gives us hope; it teaches us that we can elevate ourselves and change things around. We can lift ourselves off that bottom by following the nazir’s example. We can separate from the wine, from the empty addictions of our lives, move away from impurity, and be worthy of God’s blessings.
We all know people who became slaves to addiction. We know many who were down and out, but successful in turning their lives around. J.K. Rowling shared with the graduates of Harvard University that after her marriage dissolved, all her fears came true. She was an unemployed, divorced woman with a single child, living off welfare. She decided then and there that things couldn’t get worse and she would concentrate on developing the one great plot she had for a novel. From the bottom of her curve, writing on napkins, the Harry Potter series was born, and with it, one off the greatest turn-arounds in history.
Life indeed acts like a sine curve. We rarely move statically, rather life is full of ups and downs. But in this life, one given to us to face challenge and grow, we don’t have to remain on the bottom. Parashat Nasso teaches us that even if we are on the lowest levels of the sotah, we can purify ourselves like the nazir and be worthy of God’s blessings. Oh, the advantages of that beloved sine curve.