The Particle that Became a Wave
A mentsch tracht un G-t lacht – old Yiddish saying
(Loose translation: Man plans, G-d laughs)
Did you ever make a plan that totally didn’t work out as you thought it would? Did you ever host an event and felt that you had all the bases covered only to discover that you just didn’t?
How did you react to your plan being thwarted? How did you feel when you realized that you’re not in control?
Last night I had an embarrassing experience that I would sooner forget were it not for the fact that many others shared the same experience with me. So, instead of escaping into denial, I will face it head on with complete accountability.
Let me put it this way. I planned one thing and G-d had other plans. We planned an evening called Quantum Chanukah, to probe the quantum mysteries of waves and particles, the paradoxical properties of light and energy — all part of our five part series The Sound of Light. Instead, we went off on an entire different journey.
So what does one do when things don’t go according to your plan, and one that you promised to many others? Initially, I attempted to put things back on course without being disrespectful. Try as I did I was unsuccessful. Frustration then turned into fury. Finally, I decided to just lean back and let go. I took a deep breath, smiled inside and allowed destiny take its course.
What I heard was a distinguished professor, a Jew, humbly sharing his personal life story. Professor Branover shared with us how he traveled from absolute atheism to absolute faith; from being a member of the Communist youth party to becoming a full-fledged Chabad Chassid. He described the horrors of growing up under Stalin who killed over 40 million of his own people; the relentless war that the Soviet Union fought against Jews. Being completely assimilated, the professor had no idea why he was being targeted as a Jew, though he had reached great heights as a scientist.
Finally, what touched him most was when he saw Jews, Chassidim, going on with their lives, caring for their families and friends, helping those in need, building underground Jewish networks, relentlessly living Jewish lives with complete disregard of the enemy surrounding them. “Insane, irrational,” he thought, “these Chassidic Jews were living in a reality that was completely different than their surroundings!” A handful of Jews who would not go down, and were determined to fight the great Soviet regime.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, when he was arrested by the Communists in 1927, refused to cooperate with the authorities. They threatened the Rebbe and then proceeded to beat him. One of his Communist captors was a Jew, who told the Rebbe in Yiddish: “Mir velen aych oislernen,” “we will teach you [who is boss].” The Rebbe replied: “Mir velen zehn ver vemen,” “we will see who [will teach] whom.”
Prof. Branover shared the deep pride that he and the other Russian Jews felt in realizing that they were fighting a meaningful war – a terrible war, but one that they were convinced they would win. They were making history – they were standing at the front, and every move they mad was infused with profound confidence that we will ultimately show you who will win in the end.
And then things began easing up in the former Soviet Union. Finally, after over 70 years of the most oppressive rule, the Soviet Union crumbled, and today – many decades later – the Rebbe’s words “mir velen zehn ver vemen” were fulfilled…
Prof. Branover stood for over two hours sharing with us a different, higher reality. One that can only be seen through the lens of oppression, when your innermost beliefs are challenged and must therefore become crystallized.
As I listened to him I realized that this was his quantum state of consciousness – now just as it was back when he was struggling in the former Soviet Union.
Completely not according to plan. The topic was meant to be about quantum mechanics, light, physics and mysticism. We were supposed to discuss “waves and particles and beyond.” Instead we only heard about the beyond.
And then it dawned upon me that though the words never came out, this was indeed about waves and particles, just in a different language – the language called emotions and personal experience.
The physicists tell us that light behaves both like a wave and a particle. Once someone observes the light, then the light takes on one of the two properties. So we observers actually change the course of events happening around us.
The Russian Jews were changing the course of history with every breath they took, with every step they made.
Yes, it’s true many of us are intrigued by the dual properties of light, their psychological parallels and practical applications. But there were people before us that did not have the luxury to analyze, discuss, debate these issues and then go.. to sleep. They were changing particles into waves and waves into particles just by living their daily lives.
The Chassidic masters tell us that the wave and particle properties in light are about integrating matter and spirit, the details and the big picture (see The Physics of Light and Chanukah Lite). Fascinating indeed. Yet, there were those before us that fused waves and particles with their simple actions and profound faith.
Perhaps, I thought to myself, someone that has actually experienced with his blood and tears the transition between wave and particle cannot really find the words to talk about it.
So, on one hand I am still second guessing myself, and feel indebted to deliver what we promised to the people who attended: A discussion on quantum waves and particles. But on the other hand, perhaps we delivered much more than was expected: A living model of the quantum experience, a place far beyond waves and particles, which has the power to turn a wave into a particle and a particle a wave.
Personally I learned something about making plans. Sometimes you think you’re looking for one thing, and when you let go, you actually discover something more important.
Fiascos, waves, particles, tension, resolution, rotzo, shuv, quarks, leptons, chaos, order – “sounds like one big fiasco to me,” as someone told me. So, next time things don’t work out as planned, remember: Life is complex. The deeper you dig, the more complex it gets. But deep beneath/beyond it all – if you dig deep enough, or perhaps, if you stop digging at all and just let go – the deepest truth that emerges is the most complex thing of all: simple innocence.
Sometimes you start out looking for a specific particle and instead you end up with a wave.