Harav Ginsburgh teaching Torah math to high school students in Philadelphia.
By Yonatan Gordon
Ever since AP Calculus in high school, I haven’t found math to be the most exciting discipline. While I enjoy reading about the developments in science, I, like most of you reading this, prefer the popularized versions. That is why when headlines about math kept on coming up in the news feed, I kept overlooking it.
But one and after, these articles kept coming up. Not seeing anything of interest, I decided to see what all the excitement was about.
The video is titled exactly as a math video would be, with no more than one word for marketing purposes, and the rest the equation being presented. It’s only 7:50 minutes long, so I encourage you to watch “ASTOUNDING: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + … = -1/12” before reading further:
For those who have read some of my previous articles, you know that our focus is on the point of attraction or marketability behind current events, not the details.
Instead, our interest is on the concept. Whether it is correct or not, the idea that infinity = – 1/12 has brought math to the forefront of public consciousness. Since the video was published on January 9th, close to 1.3 million people have viewed it, with close to 4,000 comments, and again, dozens of news articles.
During the video, Tony couldn’t think of an intuitive reason for why infinity equals – 1/12. But while the Torah has many twelves (e.g., tribes, months of year) when looking to come up with a meaningful correspondence, it is important to present something more profound than an educated guess.
In order to recognize the significance of this equation first takes the acknowledgement that the only true infinity is the Infinite God. With this in mind, we can then begin to appreciate the greater awakening now taking place in the world.
Twelve Perspective on Infinity
Before looking at the date when the video was published, I began thinking about the formation of the twelve tribes camped around the Tabernacle in the desert. As they comprised a circumference of encampments around the Tabernacle, they each had a diagonal vantage point while looking at the Tabernacle in the center.
As taught by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh in his book Lectures on Torah and Modern Physics, one of the basic principles in Kabbalah is called the “twelve diagonals” (אלכסו גבולי יב) which the Book of Formation relates to the diagonal encampments of the twelve tribes around the Tabernacle. Additionally, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that the word “diagonal” in Hebrew, אלכס, means “seeing the nothing” א סכל. So if you can see the “diagonal” of something, you are seeing the aspect of “nothingness” in it. If you want to see nothingness, do not look straight, look diagonally.
But I was still in the educated guess stage, until I found another reference to this concept of twelve diagonals, related to the twelve springs mentioned in the Torah portion of Beshalach. As Rabbi Ginsburgh explained in a class entitled The Oasis of Transformation:
The fountains in this weeks Torah-Portion (B’shalach) are described as einot, which literally means “eyes.” The eye is our perspective on reality. Each tribe is an individual soul root of the collective soul of Israel. Each tribe perceives reality from its own unique angle, diagonally. A straight perception of reality sees the object as it was created — its tangibility. A diagonal perspective gives a glimpse of the nothingness that precedes the somethingness of creation — its intangibility. One of the purposes of the Jewish soul is to be able to perceive, not just believe, that the world is being recreated. In order to see and experience recreation one must be able to see things from an angle–diagonally.
The thought then came to mind to check and see what date the video was published. Words cannot describe this moment from today, a sense of excitement and inspiration that we should all experience from our well-intentioned Torah learning. The date when the video was published, January 9th, corresponded to the fifth reading of the Torah portion of Beshalach (for those of us who divide the weekly Torah portion into the days of the week), which begins with exactly the verse quoted above:
Then they came of Eilim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there by the water.
What is the connection again? Infinity, as we quoted, is the perception of the nothingness that precedes the somethingness of creation; the appreciation of the Infinite One before the tzimtzum (initial contraction of God’s infinite light).
In order to perceive this Infinity, we first need to negate our own sense of self. This is the – 1/12 experience. When each of the twelve tribes, and the individuals within, negate their own sense of somethingness, then the true, Infinite somethingness becomes revealed before their eyes.
Being able to sense Divine providence during our learning, relates to an important Kabbalistic principle called Binyan Partzuf Rachel, and relates specifically to today, the 22nd of Shevat, the memorial day of passing for the devoted wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. For more on this, please read: Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson: A Lessonin Building the World.
*The relationship of this equation to the twelve springs, also indicates that the number seventy, the seventy date palms in the verse, is also a natural result of this equation. This is for the mathematicians reading this to figure out. Please email me if you do. As mentioned in the article quoted above, seventy relates to the seventy soul powers or the transformative nature of reality.