Friday, February 13, 2009

invisible forces around us

Since creation, people have been aware that there are certain forces around us that are invisible and cannot be detected by our five senses . They cannot be seen, smelled, tasted, felt or touched, yet we know that they are there only because of the effect they have on things around us. Some have been known since ancient times, while others have first been discovered in the last few hundred years.

While some of these forces are part of nature, others are produced by man. While sometimes they seem to be extremely beneficial, they also can be very dangerous.

Let's begin by examining these invisible forces and learn a little about them.

The force of gravity was certainly known since man was created. When Adam took his first jump up and came back down, he certainly must have realized that there must be an invisible force which pulled him back down to earth. It wasn't till years later that Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) explained the laws of this mysterious force called gravity. He explained that all of matter, no matter how small or large, exerts a pulling force on each other. He even figured out the mathematical formula for the strength of this invisible force. With this he was able to explain the exact paths the heavenly planets take when they go around the sun or the earth. While no scientist has ever seen gravity, we sure know lots about it. Yet, so far, no one has ever discovered a way to block this invisible force. It seems to penetrate through everything. If only man could find a way to block it, then we would easily be able to fly!

Another force that has been known to us since ancient times is magnetism. These stones, also known as loadstones, are found in the earth. They either attract one another or push away from each other ,depending on how they are placed. A magnetic needle left to turn on its own always points in a north-south direction. There obviously must be an invisible force around the world that is responsible for this happening, yet no scientist has ever seen this invisible force. We know it is there only because of the way magnets behave. We call this force a magnetic field.

It was a Danish physicist named Hans Oersted who first observed, in 1820, that a current flowing through a wire created an invisible electro-magnetic field all around it. Yet it took man thousands of years to make a most remarkable discovery. When a metal wire cuts through an invisible magnetic field, it creates an electrical movement in the wire called a current. Man had finally discovered the secret of how to produce electricity. (While Voltaire had made a battery some years earlier, it was still not strong enough for much practical use.) Now that the electric motor was born, Thomas A. Edison would use it to invent the light bulb (in 1879) which would light up the world. Electricity would change life forever as more and more uses would be found for it. This brilliant discovery was first made by a English physicist by the name of Michael Faraday in the year 1831. Others credit Joseph Henry, an American physicist, for this discovery.

Magnets produce electricity and electricity can produce an electro-magnet. Yet surprisingly, even the average person today doesn't seem to realize that around every electric current there exists an invisible electromagnetic force. Amazing! Electricity is only around for a little more than 170 years and look at how it has changed the world! Can you just imagine how advanced man would be today had Adam made this discovery some five thousand years ago?

And while Henry built the first electromagnet, it was Samuel Morse who actually learned how to use this new discovery to send sound hundreds of miles away. He built his telegraph in the 1840's.

It didn't take much longer for Alexader Graham Bell to accidentally discover how to transmit a voice through these same wires, and the telephone was born in 1876. People could speak to each other even though they were thousands of miles apart. What a small world it became!

It was first a Scottish scientist, James Maxwell, who in 1873, worked out mathematical equations that indicated that electric circuits radiated electromagnetic waves that traveled at the speed of light, and it was Heinrich Hertz who produced such waves in the late 1880's. But it took an Italian by the name of Guglielmo Marconi to learn how to generate Hertz's and Maxwell's invisible electromagnetic waves and make words fly through space. Radio was born in 1898, just a little more than 100 years ago. Broadcasting as we know it today was established by the BBC in 1922.

Within a few more years people discovered how to use these same invisible forces to send pictures through space.

Man was beginning to discover some of the deep secrets hidden in G-d's universe. Electric motors, electricity, light, cars, trains, airplanes, sound, radio, telephone, tape recorder, video cameras, television, computers; Electromagnetism had created a new dreamworld that one could never have thought possible in ancient times. One wonders what the world will look like in a hundred years from now!

In 1895, Professor William Roentgen accidently discovered how to make rays that could penetrate through solids, and called them x-rays. These remarkable rays had many medical uses. They could be used to study the structures in the body and the body organs, to detect foreign bodies or to help repair broken bones. For many years they were a major diagnostic tool in reducing the threat of tuberculosis.

It took a scientist by the name of Bacquerel to soon discover that there were certain elements in nature that gave off natural radioactivity. Pierre and Marie Curie then began to isolate the actual sources of this radiation and in 1898 they announced the discovery of radium. Soon after, scientists learned how to use the radioactive element of uranium to set off a chain reaction that would release the enormous power Hashem had hidden inside each atom and thereby build an atomic bomb that could easily devastate all of mankind.

At about the same time scientists discovered that the entire world was constantly being bombarded by all sorts of strange radiation from outer space. They named these invisible strange rays infared, ultraviolet, cosmic rays, gamma rays etc. Scientists stand baffled to try to explain what all these strange radiations are all about and what effects they have on our world. Obviously if G-d created them, then they must serve a purpose. G-d does not create things for no reason.

As scientists have discovered how to generate these invisible forces to benefit mankind, they have also discovered that some of these electromagnetic forces can be extremely dangerous. While x-rays can be very beneficial, they can also kill man. While an atomic reactor can be used for the benefit of mankind, it can be used to destroy it as well. They are a double-edged sword. They can do much good, but also cause great harm.

Even today, with all that we know, we still cannot determine what effects all these strange forces have on man. Scientists have found that these electromagnetic forces affect our cells, especially our DNA. While we now use electromagnetic radiation to kill the deadly cancers, one wonders if they themselves may actually be the cause. About this, there exists much controversy.

While some studies seems to say that all is okay, there are others that prove that some of this man-made radiation may be very dangerous. Some studies show that cellular phones can cause brain cancer. Some warn that electromagnetic radiation from microwaves, cell phones, mobile phones, TV screens and other strong sources can damage cells in a way that is potentially cancer causing. Even too much ultraviolet rays from the sun have been shown to cause skin cancer, and must therefore be avoided.

It may still be too soon to answer these questions. Much more time and information is needed to be sure of the answer. We simply don't know enough about these strange forces since we are just beginning to learn about them. It will take years before we can be sure of the answer, so in the meantime it would only make sense to take precautions.

Yet we must be extremely careful not to allow any personal bias to enter into our search for the answer to these difficult questions. That's because there is always the great danger that we may not want to face up to the truth. After all, what would we do if it were positively proven without the shadow of a doubt that electromagnetic waves are definitely a serious health hazard .Would we then be willing to shut down all radio, cell phone and television transmissions? What would we do with all the power lines next to our homes? Yes! There is always the danger that we may not be willing to stare the truth in the face! The answer to this question may simply be to frightful to contemplate!


As scientists dig deeper and deeper into the secrets and mysteries of creation, they realize more and more the great wisdom that lies hidden within. The amazing order and complexities that lie hidden in every cell, molecule and atom are astounding and defy the imagination The more they learn , the more wondrous it all seems. As they study the DNA, they realize how wondrous the entire process is. Surely the time will come for them to see Who has created it all, and what purpose lies in all of it.

While scientists stand baffled at all they see happening around them and try to find answers to these most difficult questions, perhaps we Jews ought to take a good look at what our chachomim have to say about some of these phenomena.

The Chofetz Chaim in his sefer on Shmiras Ha'loshon, brings a most frightening Zohar found in parshas Pikudei. Let me just summarize it in brief.

"When someone speaks loshon ho'rah, one's words travel into the heavens above and cause a powerful force to descend upon the earth which is extremely destructive, causing great harm and damage."

Yes! Perhaps the best way to prevent these terrible forces of destruction is to carefully watch every word we say. Only if we take this Zohar Ha'kodosh to heart, will we realize how careful one must be not to speak loshon ho'rah and certainly never to be motzei shem rah!

I must also note that there are other invisible forces which have not been discussed in this essay since they have still not been detected by man and we only know of their existence because the Torah tells us so. Take for example the two opposing forces of kedusha and tumah. While Geiger built a machine called a geigercounter that can detect radiation, we still have no instrument that can detect tumah and therefore we still can't prove its existence.

Perhaps some day in the future, as scientists keep learning more of the earth's secrets, they will understand the reasons for Hashem's chukim such as not wearing wool and linen, or not eating milk and meat etc.

One can think of the Torah as being the instruction manual that comes along with the world Hashem created. It tells us how to use His world without causing any damage. We'd better follow its guidelines very carefully in order that we don't upset things. The Zohar says that with every sin we do, we cause unbelievable damage to distant galaxies that may be light-years away.

Let's remember that scientists have just begun to scratch the surface of knowledge. We're first beginning to understand a very small bit of what's happening around us. The more we learn, the more questions it raises and the more we realize how little we actually know and how much more we still have to learn.

In the meantime, let's follow the instruction manual very carefully lest we cause irreparable damage to ourselves and the beautiful world we live in.