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The Black Curtain
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

If G-d has given such an awesome power to such a small quantity for the purposes of destruction, He undoubtedly has done the same, and even more, for constructive and beneficial purposes. The Rebbe - Mind Over Matter - p.245. 

New discoveries in nanoscience give us insight into creation, our personal lives, and the times we live in.

Let's go back to the beginning of the universe - before the real Big Bang, when Hashem said "Let there be light, and there was light." What was there then? Nothingness, void, blackness. In Hebrew, it's called ayin.

But what was before the ayin? Of course it was, and still is, Hashem alone. The ayin is tzimtzum, a withholding of the divine presence to make room for a world and to allow us to have free choice. In order for us to exist, we need a separation, or at least a perceived separation between G-d and us. This separation is also referred to as a paroches, or curtain.

Separation is nasty. It creates anxiety and confusion, enables evil, and catalyzes conflict. In Chassidic terms, separation is about galus, exile from before G-d's presence. On this side of the black curtain, life can be bleak, our future looks hopeless.

We know of course that all this is temporary and soon Hashem's game of hide and seek will be up. In the meantime we have to open up our eyes and see that ultimately the black curtain does not define reality and it's really within our ability to discover the light within it, peer beyond it and even pull it aside.

New discoveries in nanoscience help us do just that.

Nano stuff is tiny, measured in nanometers which are only a millionth of a millimeter wide. The term nanotechnology refers to the whole gamut of infinitesimal gizmos created in recent years that promise to benefit our lives.

For example, using a chemical niobium nitride (NbN), scientists have developed the blackest material known to man, thousands of times blacker than black paint. Uniquely unreflective, it absorbs nearly 100% of all light that hits it. It also happens to be one of the thinnest materials known to man, only a few nanometers thick, or about one ten-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair.

The uncanny blackness of NbN is due to its low reflectivity and high light sensitivity across a broad spectrum of wavelengths. That allows it to capture nearly every photon of light that hits it. The boon for the solar energy industry is tremendous as less light wasted means more light converted into electricity.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us that science and technology contain valuable lessons to help us understand ourselves, our Creator, and our mission to reveal Him in this world.

Light normally prevails. Turn on a light in a dark room and instantly the darkness vanishes. But there is a kind of darkness that is so powerful, it can completely overpower light, just like NbN does. But ultimately, the mountains of separation that darkness creates are just tiny molehills. Being only a few atoms thick, we could walk right through a veil of NbN or blow it away with our breath, allowing the light to shine through unhindered.

We know that the divine attribute of gevurah, which is the source of tzimtzum is really there for a higher purpose, a concealment for the sake of a greater revelation. This is like NbN, that traps light and transforms it into electricity that can then be used for any and all purposes.

Why be intimidated by darkness when it's only a little nothing, there for our benefit in any case? In the ultimate redemption, may it come speedily, Tisha B'Av, the darkest day on the Jewish calendar, will become a great Yom Tov.

In the meantime, many Yekkishe and Litvish communities hang a black curtain in front of the ark on the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av to indicate the depth of our sorrow.  Chassidim, on the other hand, treat that Shabbos as the happiest Shabbos of the year to ensure that we don't fall into sadness or mourning which are forbidden on Shabbos.

Here too, NbN teaches us a lesson. The darkness may seem overwhelming but it's flimsy. And whatever darkness is there can be transformed to useful light as well.

The Rebbe teaches us that revelations in science are the result of revelations in Torah, and especially Chassidus. During the period leading up to Tisha B'Av, the Nine Days, we are enjoined to somber up, as the Talmud states, "Mi shenichnas Av, m'atim b'simcha - When the month of Av arrives, we decrease in joy," which means that we are obliged to refrain from many activities that naturally cause happiness. Chassidim, as usual, have their own twist on the adage, which we interpret as follows: When the month of Av arrives, we decrease [in all those happy activities, but even this decrease we do] in joy.

It's this joy that breaks through all boundaries and brings Moshiach NOW!



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