Ph.D., New York University, 1972
M.S., New York University, 1971
B.A., Harvard University, 1969
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Lederle Graduate Research Tower, Box 34515
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-4515
Adjunct Professor, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies
University of Massachusetts Amherst
See Section 7 for further information.
Publications, talks, and lecture notes in mathematics
Publications on the Torah, literature, the Holocaust, and meditation
Teaching material for Stat 515H (Fall 2015)
Photograph by Ben Barnhart, computer graphics by Donna Meisse for UMass Magazine
This photograph accompanies the article
Mediums of Vast Extent: A Rare Intellectual Juggling Act.
This composite photograph shows on the right the opening verses
of the Hebrew Bible and on the left a formula from my 1997
mathematics book superimposed on a passage from my novel.
A photograph in the garden of the Emily Dickinson Homestead
accompanies the article The Poet and the Mathematician. As
a rule, mathematicians do not write scholarly critiques of poetry
and the Bible: the exception to the rule, Professor Richard Ellis....
The Beginning of Wisdom.   Life as a miracle
My New Book.   Self-healing, meditation, and the Bible
My 1985 Book.   Its Importance
Book has been reprinted.   My 1985 book is reprinted in 2006
Award.   UMass Outstanding Faculty Award for Research
Grant.   Grant from the National Science Foundation
Paper.   Research article featured in Nonlinearity
Translations.   Two articles on Torah translated into Polish
Buddhist Teachings.   Meditation, emptiness, the four noble truths, . . .
Indras Net.   Teachings and digital image
Jewish Spirituality. The path of blessing, emptiness, 1020 tovot, . . .
Gliding.   Gliding into an interview for SIAM News
Preserving Jewish Memory.   The Lithuania Project of my son Michael
Convergence.   Buddhism, Judaism, poetry, prose
Section 0.   The Beginning of Wisdom: Life as a Miracle
Section 1.   Research in Mathematics
Section 2.   Online Copies of Research in Mathematics
Section 3.   Other Mathematical Items
Section 4.   Teaching Material in Mathematics
Section 5.   My 1985 Book Is Reprinted in 2006
Section 6.   My Book About Self-Healing, Meditation, and the Bible
Section 7.   Judaic Studies and Literature
Section 8.   Translation into Polish of Two Articles on Torah
Section 9.   Activities in Jewish Affairs
Section 10.   Additional Writings
Section 11a.   Buddhist Spirituality
Section 11b.   Jewish Spirituality
Section 12.     Honors and Awards
Section 13.     Articles About My Work
Section 14.     Biographical Profiles
Section 15.     Preserving Jewish Memory in Lithuania
Section 16.     Convergence: Buddhism, Judaism, Poetry, Prose
Photograph by Carol Lollis for Amherst Bulletin
Both Kafka and I love this photograph taken in our book-lined cave.
Click to see an enlarged version. The photo accompanies the article
Expecting the Unexpected: Deviations Common in Life of Math Professor.
Chancellor John V. Lombardi presenting me with the Outstanding Faculty
Award for Research in the College of Natural Sciences,
University of Massachusetts Amherst. Click to see an enlarged version.
Overwhelmed with inexorable, intoxicating gratitude.   Before he began, Alessandro leaned back in his chair and looked at the sky as if to take refreshment from the light. When I came back from the war I had lost everything, but I was grateful nonetheless to be alive. Despite what I had seen, despite the destruction of all I had once taken for granted, despite the wounds I had sustained and my memory of men, far better than me, who were obliterated, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, inexorable, intoxicating gratitude.
Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War, page 743
The Wonder of It AllConnecting. Our world is permeated with noise and distraction. How shall we learn to connect, through the noise and distraction, to the source of all being? How shall we learn to open ourselves up to the multitudinous, eternally unfolding miracles within miracles within miracles of our blessed human existence? By cultivating silence, and in a mindspace of silence, by cultivating mindfulness. Buddhist meditation is one path. Another is the path of blessing.
by Ralph Marston
Do you ever wonder
At the wonder of it all?
Do you ever stand in awe
of the tiniest things
and how perfectly they work together?
Do you ever stop to think
about all the possibilities
and how even though they have no limit
they grow in number with every minute?
. . .
When Lawrence understood, it was as if the math teacher had suddenly played the good part of Bachs Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor on a pipe organ the size of the Spiral Nebula in Andromeda — the part where Uncle Johann dissects the architecture of the Universe in one merciless descending ever-mutating chord, as if his foot is thrusting through skidding layers of garbage until it finally strikes bedrock.
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon, page 7
This is the kind of question Henry liked to put to himself when he was a schoolboy: what are the chances of this particular fish, from that shoal, off that continental shelf ending up in the pages, no, on this page of this copy of the Daily Mirror? Something just short of infinity to one. Similarly, the grains of sand on a beach, arranged just so. The random ordering of the world, the unimaginable odds against any particular condition, still please him. Even as a child, and especially after Aberfan, he never believed in fate or providence, or the future being made by someone in the sky. Instead, at every instant, a trillion trillion futures; the pickiness of pure chance and physical laws seemed like freedom from the scheming of a gloomy god.
Ian McEwan, Saturday, pages 128–129
These points have already been recognized and publicized to some extent by a number of people, who see large deviation theory as the proper mathematical framework in which problems of statistical mechanics can be formulated and solved efficiently and, if need be, rigorously. Ellis  is to be credited for providing what is perhaps the most complete expression of this view, in a book that has played a major part in bringing large deviations into physics. ... The use of large deviation techniques for studying these systems has its roots in the work of Ruelle , Lanford , and especially Ellis [7,8,10]. Ellis  is the first that explicitly referred to the mathematical theory of large deviations, as developed by Donsker and Varadhan [2–5], among others.The book features a large deviation theorem first proved by J. Gärtner and then generalized by me in the paper Large Deviations for a General Class of Random Vectors, Annals of Probability, 12:1–12 (1984). Now known as the Gärtner-Ellis theorem, it has been applied numerous times in the mathematical, statistical, physical, and engineering literature. For a comprehensive treatment of the theory of large deviations featuring applications and further generalizations, I recommend the monograph by A. Dembo and O. Zeitouni, Large Deviation Techniques and Applications, Second Edition, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998. J. Gärtner's contribution to the Gärtner-Ellis Theorem and my contribution are discussed on page 68 of this monograph.
Student #1. “Prof. Ellis did an absolutely amazing job teaching this course. Not only is it difficult to make people understand these new topics, but to come in every day prepared and give perfect lectures is a difficult task. He did both of these things to perfection. For the first time a professor made analysis interesting to me. He always found the best ways to explain hard topics in detail. He was excellent at not only motivating ideas, but excellent at giving step-by-step methods to get ideas through to his students. He was always helpful in office hours and very approachable. He took this class very seriously, and for that I am grateful. I look forward to being able to take another class with him some day. He did an excellent job.”
Student #2. “Dr. Ellis is an absolutely wonderful teacher. He is an excellent communicator, and he has a wonderful classroom presence. He is thorough, without beating things into the ground, and works at a great pace. He has reasonable demands, and they are always tempered with compassion and understanding. I was really very nervous about the material, having not had analysis as an undergraduate (beyond calculus and sequences and series), and he really put the material out there at an accessible level. I think he is great.”
“I would like to begin by thanking my advisor Richard S. Ellis, to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude for his superb guidance, understanding, invaluable help, and great generosity and for teaching me not only about mathematics, but also about life. I would also like to thank him for his infinite kindness, for all his good advice inside and outside mathematics, and for doing so many nice things for me. Thank you for being so wonderful!”
“Professor Ellis is not only a clear and knowledgeable lecturer, but also, perhaps more importantly, an amazing person and a true role model. He was always helpful, always available for questions during office hours or outside them, and his advice has been invaluable to me. Overall it was a great class, and I feel fortunate to have been able to take a course with Professor Ellis.”
On June 15, 2005 I was informed by Dr. Catriona M. Byrne that my 1985 book, Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics, would be republished by Springer-Verlag in the Classics in Mathematics series. Dr. Byrne is the Executive Director for Mathematics in Heidelberg, Germany. Here is a quotation from her letter.
Your book Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics (Grundlehren der Mathematischen Wissenschaften, Vol. 271), has been unavailable for some time. We are well aware of the significance of this book in the mathematical literature, even today, many years after its original publication, and would like to reprint it. . . . However, your book unquestionably belongs to the modern classics of the field, and we know that there is a sizeable audience, in particular among the younger generation of mathematicians and mathematics students, who know of books like yours by reputation and would like to acquire them if they were available in a different price category.The book was reprinted in 2006, and it can be ordered online. The front matter is also available online. Here is a description of the Classics in Mathematics series in which the reprinted book appears. This appears on the back cover of the reprint along with two reviews.
Springer-Verlag began publishing books in higher mathematics in 1920, when the series Grundlehren der mathematischen Wissenschaften, initially conceived as a series of advanced textbooks, was founded by Richard Courant. A few years later a new series Ergebnisse der Mathematik und ihrer Grenzgebiete, survey reports of recent mathematical research, was added.An advertisement for both my book and the book Multidimensional Diffusion Processes by D. W. Stroock and S. R. S. Varadhan can be viewed online. It appears on page 60 in the Springer Mathematics Newsletter, 1/2006.
Of over 400 books published in these series, many have become recognized classics and remain standard references for their subject. Springer is reissuing a selected few of these highly successful books in a new, inexpensive softcover edition to make them easily accessible to younger generations of students and researchers.
An interesting story related to the reprinting of my book unfolded with an email sent to me in August 2003 by Emily Tanimura in Paris concerning the book, which was then out of print. Emily wanted to purchase the book is now out of print, but was having difficulty locating a copy to buy. In her next email she made the following startling revelation concerning a crime wave that my out-of-print book had caused.
Perhaps it is time for Springer to print more copies. There seems to be a great demand. In Paris the book has become something of a collectors item. Indeed my previous copy was stolen and so were the copies of most of our university libraries.
Emily then suggested that this larceny should persuade Springer to reprint the book.
[I]t is probably rare to have written a book that has caused a crime wave in the academic community. Against this background perhaps Springer could be persuaded that reprinting the book is a civic duty.
Emilys experience with my book involved multiple losses. First her own copy was stolen. Then all the libraries from which she tried to borrow a copy reported that the book had been stolen. Finally, a copy that she had borrowed from someone else was stolen. However, Emily transcended the negativity of her predicament by writing a witty and insightful account of her experiences. I am grateful to her for contributing to my web page her honest, humorous analysis of the corruptibility of the human soul.
Another way of regarding Emilys experiences is suggested by a review of a poetry book written by a person whose copy of the book had been stolen from a pub. The reviewer wrote the following. I took it to a pub, had a beer or two too many, left without the book. Realised it was left two minutes later, went back, too late! Gone. I figure whoever nabbed it was also in need of the clarity, the crystal limning, the in-your-face reality. Could the same be said of any of the people who nabbed Emilys copies of Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics and who stripped this book from the mathematical libraries of Paris?
Is my book unique in this respect? When I communicated Emilys experiences to a representative of Springer-Verlag, I received the following reply.
What you write about its disappearing from various mathematical libraries is interesting. Similar things have been reported rather often of other books on stochastic processes, diffusions, large deviations, stochastic calculus, optimal stopping, and so on, ever since the great surge of interest in mathematical finance of recent years.
In 2000 the blinding pain of incapacitating headaches nearly destroyed my career. The wisdom about pain, suffering, and healing that the headaches would reveal is the subject of my book, Blinding Pain, Simple Truth: Changing Your Life Through Buddhist Meditation. Click here to go to the website. The book was published in 2011 by Rainbow Books, an independent publisher founded in 1979. The book is available at Amazon.com.
The book describes how Buddhist teachings and daily meditation can empower readers to heal the suffering caused by physical and emotional pain. As the book shows, Buddhist teachings also provide a new lens for reading the Bible, yielding fresh insights into fundamental questions of birth and death, ego and enlightenment, sickness and health — insights that speak in surprisingly relevant ways to spiritual seekers and to those who want to heal themselves. My goal is to help people who suffer from physical or emotional pain. I would like to inspire them to reexamine their experiences with suffering and pain and eventually to embrace their lives with equanimity, gratitude, and joy.
Those experiences seem so long ago. I have not thought much about the topics of that essay since publication five and a half years ago. In fact, my obsession with Christian anti-Semitism, Nazis, and the Holocaust, which started in my youth and energized those essays as well as a novel I was not able to publish, seems to have passed. They were part of an earlier phase of my life.Here is a quotation from the person's reply.
You are a gifted writer. Please don't give up with your unpublished novel, or keep the pen going in some other similar project. Something happened deep inside when I read the essay. You are handling powerful stuff when you write!
. . . I am sorry you will be leaving us. You have made a great impression on a lot of our students, and they will remember you fondly.        The 2002–2003 brochure for the Mini-School can be viewed here. Click to see the front side and the reverse side. A photo of me and a student appears in the upper right on the reverse side. In order to read the brochure, choose a larger text size in the browser and click on the icon that appears in the lower right corner of the screen.
The extraordinary sequence of events that began with an email from Dr. Willi Niemann shows why I maintain a web page. Willi is a physician and mathematician working in the fields of cancer and fractals in Poznan, Poland. In an email dated April 2, 2002, Willi asked me for permission to translate two of my articles into Polish and to post the translations on the web page of Bracia Polscy; in English Polish Brethren Unity. These articles are The Book of Leviticus and the Fractal Geometry of Torah, published in Conservative Judaism, and Torah Talk: Terumah, published in the Jewish Weekly News. In May 2003 my son and I visited Willi in Poznan, where I gave a talk at a Holocaust museum and two talks on the Torah.
Polish Brethren Unity, a Protestant Unitarian congregation, believes that the Jews are a chosen people to be a light to the nations; that to understand Jesuss teachings, one must understand first the messianic tradition of ancient Israel including Judaism in its beauty and depth; that only those who can approach the secret of Torah and its internal beauty have a chance to find the Presence of G-d, . . . to identify Jews as brothers and friends, and to appreciate their influence upon . . . Polish culture. Willi felt that my articles would help facilitate a Polish-Jewish dialogue and would help reveal, at least in small measure, something of the beauty of Hebrew theology and philosophy. Concerning the contributions of Jews to Polish culture, he wrote that we consider . . . Jews as our brothers in messianic hope and friends . . . [and] all Polish Jews as our fellows. . . . Polish culture flourished when you dwelled with us . . . [and] lost much you disappeared suddenly from our public life.
When I asked Willi how he discovered my writings on the internet, he wrote the following.
From time to time, I search Internet for scientific articles. As you may know, I am interested in fractal analysis. All of a sudden, I found your name associated with your article on fractals and Thora. That was very intriguing. I printed it out, read, and came to conclusion that the text is very spiritual, delicate, and expresses something more than just simple explanation of some biblical terms and ideas. I decided to write to you and ask for permission to translate it into Polish because there are very [few] biblical pages in Polish. And I thought that some people might enjoy reading about Thora in that way. Then I found the other articles of yours, visited your www page, found that our scientific interests have much in common.
While the effects of this exodus of 14 senior faculty members are potentially devastating, the Department will use every resource at its disposal to transform what could be a crisis into an opportunity for self-examination, restructuring, and growth. As sages from many spiritual traditions have pointed out, ones expectations create a reality in which ones expectations are validated. Our goal is to foster positive expectations that will create a reality in which the Department . . . continues to flourish.
In psychological terms, both [Western psychotherapeutics and Buddhism] emphasize that what passes for normality (samsara in Buddhism) is a low-grade of psychopathology, unnoticed only because so common; that the supposedly autonomous ego-self is conditioned in ways we are normally not aware of (karma, samskaras); and that greater awareness of our mental processes can free us (samadha, prajna).As Kalu Rinpoche explains on page 25 of his book, Luminous Mind: The Way of the Buddha, the reward for understanding the open, empty nature of the mind is infinite.
This ability to recognize the open, empty nature of mind and all its productions, projections, thoughts, and emotions is the panacea, the universal remedy that in and of itself cures all delusion, all negative emotion, and all suffering.The happy message is that we can become free. Arthur Koestler is much more pessimistic (quoted in Loy 1).
Our mind can be compared to a hand that is bound or tied up, as much by the representation of our me, of the ego or self, as by the conceptions and fixations belonging to this idea. Little by little, Dharma practice eliminates these self-cherishing fixations and conceptions, and, just as an unbound hand can open, the mind opens and gains all kinds of possibilities for activity. It then discovers many qualities and skills, like the hand freed from its ties. The qualities that are slowly revealed are those of enlightenment, of pure mind.
If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of his history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been affected by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction.In contrast to Buddhism and contemporary psychology, Koestler does not identify the problem as one that arises from failing to understand the nature of the mind and does not offer a solution.
Both Western and Buddhist psychology offer profound insight into the mind. It is helpful to understand where the two paradigms overlap, where they complement each other, and where they diverge. We can see the relationship of the two approaches clearly in the arena of afflictive emotions. This term is one translation of the Pali word kilesa, which also translates as defilement or torment of mind. I prefer afflictive emotions because it points directly to those mind states that cause suffering, such as depression, fear, hatred, anger, jealousy and so on — its a long list!
For example, if theres envy or jealousy arising in the mind, the first step in both Buddhist practice and Western psychology is to recognize what is arising. The second step is cultivating an acceptance of the emotion. We explore what the emotion is and practice being with it without self judgment, without condemning the state itself. So, there is recognition and acceptance — key elements common to both traditions.
Now we come to an important difference. Buddhist teachings point to the experience and realization of anatta, or selflessness. All experience is empty of self. Within the Western psychological framework, this may be an unusual concept, with greater emphasis usually given to building-up and reinforcing the sense of self.
The third step in working with afflictive emotions, where the Dharma can offer a unique contribution, is practicing non-identification — not taking the emotion to be I or mine. This radical view needs careful guidance and instruction. Its not a dissociative state of denial, nor is it an unconsciousness of deep feelings. Rather, its the full experience of the particular mind state, but without building a superstructure of self on top of it. Each emotion arises out of conditions and is simply expressing its own nature. The I and mine are extra.
No teacher has credited the mind with more influence over life than the Buddha. The best loved of texts, the . . . Dhammapada, opens with the words: All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows unwholesome thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Joy follows wholesome thought like a shadow that never leaves. And with respect to the future there is the saying: Do you want to predict your future lives? Examine the condition of your present mind.
The Buddha counsels such continuous self-examination that it appears daunting, but he thought it necessary because he believed that liberation from unconscious, robotlike existence is achieved only by refined awareness. To this end he insisted that we seek to understand ourselves in depth, seeing everything in our mental and physical states as it really is. If we maintain a steady attention to our moods and thoughts, our actions and our body sensations, we perceive that they incessantly arise and disappear and are in no way permanent parts of us. Right mindfulness aims at witnessing all mental and physical events, including our emotions, without reacting to them, neither condemning some nor holding on to others.
Through right-mindfulness practice, then, we arrive at a number of insights. We begin to see that:
(1) every mental and physical state is in flux; none is solid or enduring;
(2) habitual clinging to these impermanent states is at the root of much of lifes dukkha [unsatisfactoriness] and this very insight weakens the habit; and
(3) we have little control over our mental states and our physical sensations, and normally little awareness of our reactions.
Most important, we begin to realize that there is nobody behind the mental or physical events, orchestrating them. When the capacity for mindful attention is refined, it becomes apparent that consciousness itself is not continuous. Like the light from a lightbulb, the on/off is so rapid that consciousness seems to be steady, whereas in fact it is not. With these insights, the belief in a separate self-existent self begins to dissolve and freedom to dawn.
Not only did it [Buddhism] make the quality of lived experience its final test, it directed its attention to discovering natural cause-and-effect relationships that affected that experience. There is no effect without its cause, and no supernatural beings who interrupt the basic causal processes of the world. The Buddha himself considered his greatest contribution to be the discovery of a causal law — dependent arising — whose short version runs, That being present, this becomes; that not being present, this does not become.On page 201 of their book, Smith and Novak present the longer version of dependent arising in its traditional formulation, followed by additional commentary.
The longer version of dependent arising is expressed as a set of twelve interlocking conditions (nidana): (1) Ignorance (of anatta [no-self] and the Four Noble Truths) occasions (2) dispositional tendencies, which occasion (3) consciousness, which occasions (4) name and form, which occasion (5) the six sense fields, which occasion (6) contact between our senses and external reality, which occasions (7) sensations in the body and mind, which occasion (8) the entire habit structure of want ing and not wanting, which occasion (9) clinging, which occasions (10) becoming, which occasions (11) rebirth, upon which necessarily follow (12) illness, decay, death, and all their related suffering. Eradicate ignorance, says the Buddha, and the conditions of our bondage begin to fall like dominoes.A profound statement of dependent arising appears in the following material, which appears on pages 46–48 of Anne Michaels novel, The Winter Vault. The St. Lawrence Seaway is being built, submerging numerous towns, dislocating families, destroying homes, and severing the ties between the living and the dead. The body of Georgiana Foyles husband lies in a grave about to be submerged beneath the waters of the seaway.
Using these twelve conditions to explain dependent arising, however, has been likened to using the collision of a few bowling balls to explain the interactions of subatomic particles. The matter is far subtler. The all-encompassing range of dependent arising is best caught in the shorter, though deceptively simple formulation just alluded to: When this is, that is; this arising, that arises. When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases. This latter formulation helps us to see that dependent arising pertains not only to the human personality, but to the whole of reality. All things and events depend for their existence on other things and/or events — which resembles field theory in physics and entails as its corollary that all things and events are empty-of-own-being (anatta).
Georgiana Foyle, who until that very moment had prided herself on a lifetime of good manners, banged on the side of Averys Falcon with the flat of her hand. She began talking before he lowered his window.
– But they can move your husbands body, said Avery. The company will pay the expenses.
She looked at him with astonishment. The thought seemed to silence her. Then she said:
– If you move his body then youll have to move the hill. Youll have to move the fields around him. Youll have to move the view from the top of the hill and the trees he planted, one for each of our six children. Youll have to move the sun because it sets among those trees. And move his mother and his father and his younger sister – she was the most admired girl in the county but all the men died in the first war, so she never married and was laid to rest next to her mother. Theyre all company for one another and those graves are old, so youll have to move the earth with them to make sure nothing of anyone is left behind. Can you promise me that? Do you know what it means to miss a man for twenty years? You think about death the way a young man thinks about death. Youd have to move my promise to him that Id keep coming to his grave to describe that very place as I used to when we were first married and he hurt his back and had to stay in bed for three months – every night I described the view from the hill above the farm and it was a bit of sweetness – for forty years – between us. Can you move that promise? Can you move what was consecrated? Can you move that exact empty place in the earth I was to lie next to him for eternity? Its the loneliness of eternity Im talking about! Can you move all those things?
Georgiana Foyle looked at Avery with disgust and despair. Her skin, like paper that had been crumpled and smoothed out again, was awash with tears in the mesh of lines, her whole face shone wet. She was so sinewy and light, her heavy cotton dress seemed to hover without touching her skin.
Avery longed to reach out his hand, but he was afraid; he had no right to comfort her.
The old woman leaned against the car and wept unashamedly into her arms, her long, thin bones now standing out against her sleeves.
The crux of the Buddhas awakening was the discovery of dependent arising: every thing and every process arises in dependence upon countless other things and processes. This is the physicists field theory incarnate. Nothing exists on its own. Buddhists often convey this insight with the image of Indras Net, a cosmic web laced with jewels at every intersection. Each jewel reflects the others, together with all the reflections in the others. In the deepest analysis, each jewel is but the reflection of the other reflections. Likewise, every thing and every person in the world, like every jewel in Indras Net, because dependently arisen, is empty-of-own-being (lacking in self-existence). Empty-of-own-being is the wider meaning of anatta, applicable to the animate and inanimate world alike and less confusing than saying that things lack selves.The traditional description of Indras Net is given in the Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) Sutra. The following translation is by Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p.2.
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each eye of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.According to Francis H. Cook, Indras Net symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. Because the totality is a vast body of members each sustaining and defining all the others, the cosmos is, in short, a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism. It is also non-teleological: There is no theory of a beginning time, no concept of a creator, no question of the purpose of it all. The universe is taken as a given. Such a universe has no hierarchy: There is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere.
I have spent some time reading and viewing your website which shows the relatedness of mathematics, science, creativity, and both Eastern and Western philosophies.   . . . I believe that it is from the conversation among them that our greater understanding of reality will come.
Death being the first form of Life which we have had the power to Contemplate, our entrance here being an Exclusion from comprehension, it is amazing that the fascination of our predicament does not entice us more. With such sentences as these over our Heads we are as exempt from Exultation as the Stones —Here is the entire quotation by David Loy, taken from pages 26–27 of his book, The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory.
Buddhist theory forms part of its own object domain, not only because it is a self-reflexive belief about beliefs, but because it is itself an expression of the ungraspable ground that it theorizes about. The ultimate reason why there can be no ultimate theory that represents the whole is because we can never stand outside the world to re-present it objectively. The part can never grasp or contain the whole; nor does it need to. Our concepts are not only part of the world, they are manifestations of it. Buddhist awakening does not grasp or otherwise resolve the essential mysteriousness of our being in the world. It opens us up to that mystery, a mystery that is an essential aspect of the meaning of sacred. In practice, this means that the broadest context for all our intel1ectual efforts is a wonder in the face of a world that always exceeds our ideas about it. That excess does not signify any defect in our understanding. Rather, it is the source of our understanding, allowing for a perpetual bubbling-up of insights and images — when we do not cling to the ones that we have already become comfortable with.His comment that the broadest context for all our intel1ectual efforts is a wonder in the face of a world that always exceeds our ideas about it resonates deeply with me.
[T]he Kadampa school of Buddhist philosophy claims that all things are totally empty of any defining essence. Consequently all things have no fixed identity (inherent existence) and are in a state of impermanence — change and flux — constantly becoming and decaying. Not only are all things constantly changing, but if we analyse any phenomenon in enough detail we come to the conclusion that it is ultimately unfindable, and exists purely by definitions in terms of other things — and one of those other things is always the mind which generates those definitions.David Loy points out that the English word emptiness has a more nihilistic connotation than the original Sanskrit sunyata. The Sanskrit root su conveys the concept of being swollen with possibility [LOY 1996]. This observation is made in the context of a discussion of the empty set, the origins of mathematics, and the Buddhist concept of sunyata or emptiness. Additional material on Buddhism and scientific rationalism and on modern Buddhism, philosophy, mathematics, and science is available.
If we examine the notion of impermanence closely and honestly, we see that it is all-pervading, [that] everything is marked by impermanence. We might posit an eternal consciousness principle, or higher self, but if we examine our consciousness closely we see that it is made up of temporary mental processes and events. We see that our higher self is speculative at best and imaginary to begin with. We have invented the idea to secure ourselves, to cement our relationship, once again. Because of this we feel uneasy and anxious, even at the best of times. It is only when we completely abandon clinging that we feel any relief from our queasiness.Our bodies are impermanent. Our lives are impermanent. We will all die. Through the awareness of death, we grow in wisdom. But as Reginald A. Ray asks on page 246 of his book, Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism, how can we know this not just intellectually — which has very little impact — but in our bones? Tulku Urgyen suggests that we contemplate the following analogy from Padmasambhavas Karling Shitro.
Imagine that you are standing on a half-inch-wide ledge on a sheer cliff overlooking an almost bottomless abyss, with a roaring river raging below. You cannot bear to look down. Only your toes rest on the ledge, while your hands grasp two handfuls of grass the size of a goats beard. You are hanging onto these two handfuls of scrub-grass that represents your life span and life force. At the same time, impermanence, in the form of two rats . . . gnaws away at the grass you are clinging to, piece by piece. Once the grass is consumed, there will be nothing left to hold onto. There is only one way to go: to plunge into the nearly bottomless abyss and the raging river.   . . .   So you hang on while the rats eat up the grass, blade by blade. You have no chance of survival whatsoever. This is our current situation.As Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes on page 137 of his book, The Way of Solomon: Finding Joy and Contentment in the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the aim of meditation is to observe the fundamental impermanence of self.
We live in illusionOn page 8 of his book, A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, David Loy provides a commentary on Kalu Rinpoches poem.
And the appearance of things.
There is a reality.
We are that reality.
When you understand this,
You see that you are nothing.
And being nothing,
You are everything.
That is all.
This process [of liberating awareness through meditation] implies that what we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of a sense-of-self anxious about losing its grip on itself. According to Buddhism, letting go of myself into that no-thing-ness leads to something else: when consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am everything — or, more precisely, that I can be anything. With that conflation, the no-thing at my core is transformed from a sense of lack into a serenity that is imperturbable because there is nothing to be perturbed.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
If our sense of self as something autonomous and self-grounded is a fiction, if the ego is in fact mentally constructed and socially internalized, then perhaps our primal repression is not sexual wishes (as Freud thought) nor the fear of death (as many existential psychologists think) but the quite valid suspicion that I am not real.As David Loy explains on pages 7–8 of his book, A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, meditation is a path for transcending the sense of self. The second paragraph is also quoted in item 9.
Forgetting ourselves is how we lose our sense of separation and realize that we are not other than the world. Meditation is learning how to become nothing by learning to forget the sense-of-self, which happens when I become absorbed into my meditation exercise. If the sense-of self is an effect of self-reflection — of consciousness attempting to grasp itself — such meditation practice makes sense as an exercise in de-reflection. Consciousness unlearns trying to grasp itself, real-ize itself, objectify itself. Liberating awareness occurs when the usually automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting go and falling into the void. Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real dharma (Huang-po 41). Then, when I no longer strive to make myself real through things, I find myself actualized by them, says Dogen.
This process implies that what we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of a sense-of-self anxious about losing its grip on itself. According to Buddhism, letting go of myself into that no-thing-ness leads to something else: when consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am everything — or, more precisely, that I can be anything. With that conflation, the no-thing at my core is transformed from a sense-of-lack into a serenity that is imperturbable because there is nothing to be perturbed.
But Gotama was alone; he had no human being or god on his side who could act as his witness to his long preparation for enlightenment. He therefore did something that no cakkavatti [World Ruler such as Mara] would ever do: he asked for help. Reaching out with his right hand to touch the ground, he begged the earth to testify to his past acts of compassion. With a shattering roar, the earth replied: I bear you witness! In terror, Maras elephant fell to its knees and his soldiers deserted, running in fear in all directions. The earth-witnessing posture, which shows the Buddha sitting in the cross-legged asana position, touching the ground with his right hand, is a favorite icon in Buddhist art. It not only symbolizes Gotamas rejection of Maras sterile machismo, but makes the profound point that a Buddha does indeed belong to the world. The Dhamma is exacting, but it is not against nature. There is a deep affinity between the earth and the selfless human being, something that Gotama had sensed when he recalled his trance under the rose-apple tree. The man or woman who seeks enlightenment is in tune with the fundamental structure of the universe. Even though the world seems to be ruled by the violence of Mara and his army, it is the compassionate Buddha who is most truly in tune with the basic laws of existence.
The text emphasizes the fantastic shuddering of the earth as Gotama circled the bodhi tree to remind us not to read this story literally. This is not a physical location: world-tree, standing at the axis of the cosmos, is a common feature of salvation mythology. It is the place where the divine energies pour into the world, where humanity encounters the Absolute and becomes more fully itself. We need only recall the cross of Jesus, which, according to Christian legend, stood on the same spot as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. But in Buddhist myth, Gotama the man sits in this pivotal place, not a man-God, because human beings must save themselves without supernatural aid. The texts make it clear that Gotama had come to this axis of the universe, the mythological center that holds the whole of the cosmos together. The immovable spot is that psychological state which enables us to see the world and ourselves in perfect balance. Without this psychological stability and this correct orientation, enlightenment is impossible: that is why all the Buddhas had to sit in this place — or achieve this state of mind — before they were able to attain Nibbana. It is the Axis Mundi, the still point of calm where human beings, in many world myths, encounter the Real and the Unconditioned: it is the place where things that seem diametrically opposed in the profane world come together in that coincidentia oppositorum that constitutes an experience of the Sacred. Life and death, emptiness and plenitude, physical and spiritual merge and conjoin, like the spokes of a wheel at its hub, in a way that is unimaginable to normal consciousness. When Gotama had reached the state of perfect equilibrium that he had glimpsed as a child under the rose-apple tree, when his faculties were concentrated and his egotism under control, he was, he believed, ready to sit in the immovable spot. He was at last in a position to receive the supreme insight.
The Dhammapada consists of 423 verses in Pali uttered by the Buddha on some 305 occasions for the benefit of a wide range of human beings. These sayings were selected and compiled into one book as being worthy of special note on account of their beauty and relevance for moulding the lives of future generations of Buddhists. They are divided into 26 chapters and the stanzas are arranged according to subject matter.According to Eknath Easwaran, if all of the Buddhist sutras had been lost except the Dhammapada, it alone would be enough for readers to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the Buddha. Here are the opening six verses of the Dhammapada as translated by Eknath Easwaran.
Meditation, MEDIZIN für die Seele. Nur das begrenzte Ich, das Ego, leidet. Das unbegrenzte Ich, das in der Stille der Meditation erfahren wird, is voll Gelassenheit, Freude, und Liebe.
Meditation, MEDICINE for the soul. Only the constricted I, the ego, suffers. The unconstricted I, which is experienced in the stillness of meditation, is full of composure, joy, and love.
If every aspect of our existence is an opportunity to experience God, how shall we live when we discover that God permeates all, from the galactic to the microscopic? How shall we respond — personally, as a society, as a species — when we begin to understand not only our lives but all existence as a sacred gift?Rabbi Pragers book is an answer to these questions. The following is quoted from pages 12 and 13.
The Hebrew word for blessing is . . . brakha . . . . The Jewish practice of blessing derives from our traditions desire to promote joy and appreciation, wonder and thankfulness, amazement and praise. A brakha is, we might say, a kind of gratitude yoga we can employ not only day to day but moment to moment. It is in itself not at all strenuous. . . . [I]t doesn't require that we have any accoutrements or a special mantra or that we become a yogi, an adept, a tzaddik, or a buddha. It merely asks us to engage in a moment of delayed gratification, using the respite as an opportunity for something else to occur.As Rabbi Prager explains on pages 31 and 32, one approaches the act of prayer as one approaches the act of meditation, in silence and mindfully, hoping to be released from all blemishes of ego restricting our awareness.
. . . [I]n making a brakha we separate out time before we consume, use, or enjoy something of the world in order to create a space where something other than thoughtless appropriation can unfold. As we grow in the path of blessing, we open to a more expansive way of being. Through blessing, we uncover the infinitely abundant Presence of God in even the smallest action.
Jewish tradition teaches that the simple action of a brakha has a cosmic effect, for a brakha causes shefa, the abundant flow of Gods love and goodness, to pour into the world.
We begin in the silence that precedes any sound or movement. Jewish tradition asks that we not say a brakha until we have quieted the mind and focused our attention on the blessings purpose. One should not toss a brakha from ones mouth, instructs the Talmud. The eleventh-century commentator Rashi adds: A brakha should be said slowly and deliberately. Dont rush through as if you are carrying a heavy burden and cannot wait to be free of it! In quiet attentiveness we focus attention and allow an opening for mindfulness.
. . . When we quiet the mind and prepare to offer our brakha with kavvanah [focused intention], we experience an inner shift redirecting our soul toward God. We are able to gently release anxieties, feeling gratitude for the gift of this moment and the holy sparks it contains. We may wish to ask for an easing of all blemishes of ego restricting our awareness in order to deepen our praise and allow any lingering alienation and separateness to disappear.
Emptiness! Emptiness upon emptiness!In the original Hebrew the fecund, pregnant-with-possibilities phrase that yields this orchard of interpretations is havel havalim hakol havel; literally, breath of breaths, everything is breath. Through the lens of Rabbi Shapiros reading, we begin to understand the deep message of this verse. There is nothing to hold onto. All that we have is the breath. Like the breath everything is impermanent, everything is empty, everything exhibits non-self. Breath is a verb is the holy name of God is YHWH. The breath comes. The breath goes. I am being breathed. The translation by Everett Fox of Genesis 2:7:
The world is fleeting of form,
empty of permanence,
void of surety,
Like a breath breathed once and gone,
all things rise and fall.
Undertand emptiness, and tranquillity replaces anxiety.
Understand emptiness, and compassion replaces jealousy.
Understand emptiness, and you will ceast to excuse suffering,
and begin to alleviate it.
And YHWH, God, formed the human, of dust from the soil,
he blew into his nostrils the breath of life
and the human became a living being.
Later in his book Rabbi Green asks whether language can . . . transcend itself and serve as a vehicle for articulating states of consciousness and levels of reality that seem beyond its ken. As the word Y–H–W–H shows, the answer is yes (p. 135).
GOD AS Y–H–W–H:
IS–WAS–WILL BE IS ONE!
I further betray my faith by the use of the English word God, rooted as it is in old Germanic paganism. I struggle with ways to replace this term in English but come up empty-handed. By God, of course, I mean Y–H–W–H, the One of all being. This name of God is the starting point of all Jewish theology. It is to be read as an impossible construction of the verb to be. HaYaH — that which was — HoWeH — that which is — and YiHYeH — that which will be — are here all forced together in a grammatically impossible conflation. Y–H–W–H is a verb that has been artificially arrested in motion and made to function as a noun. As soon as you try to grab hold of such a noun, it runs away from you and becomes a verb again. Thought does not grasp you at all, as the wise have always known. Y–H–W–H as noun can be the bearer of predicates, but those too become elusive as soon as the verbal quality of the divine name reasserts itself. Try to say anything definitional about Y–H–W–H and it dashes off and becomes a verb again. This elusiveness is underscored by the fact that all the letters that make up this name served in ancient Hebrew interchangeably as consonants and as vowels. Really they are mere vowels, mere breath. There is nothing hard or defined in their sound. The name of that which is most eternal and unchanging in the universe is also that which is wiped away as readily as a passing breath.
Here we see how inadequate a translation God is for Y–H–W–H. If I look for another English rendition of it, I would probably come up with is–was–will be. Since that is awkward to use (as in Blessed are You, Is–Was–Will Be), I am attracted to its abstraction in the term Being. That is probably as close as English or other Western languages will allow us to get. But the identification of God and Being, with which I am partially sympathetic, has to be handled with some caution. Being is itself an abstraction, a concept; it does not represent the same flow of energy as is-was-will be. Being is static; it includes no movement. Y–H–W–H is movement and stasis at once. If Y–H–W–H includes all that is, was, or will be, bearing within it past and future existence as well as present, it includes that which by definition does not currently exist. For Y–H–W–H to translate as Being, that term would have to embrace at once all the was and will be along with the is, which is to say a dynamic transcendence of time.
To express it differently, God is both being and becoming, noun and verb, stasis and process. All of being is One in a single simultaneity in God, and yet God is at the same time process without end. Here we are back to our starting point: Y–H–W–H as Shma Yisrael is stasis, the great transcendent oneness; Y–H–W–H as Barukh Shem is process, the one within the everchanging many. God evolves as life in the universe and on the planet evolves. The divine force that resides in the molecular structure of beings, or in DNA as well as in the stars and sky continues to grow and change along each step of the evolutionary ladder. But that same Y–H–W–H is also the eternal and unchanging One. We may depict divinity on the one hand as a configuration of spiritual molecules involved in a process of constant change, ever rearranging themselves like a cosmic kaleidoscope. But that same deity is also the great ocean in which these ripples of change mean nothing at all, and which one day will be still again.
The claim that divinity can enter human language, or that the indescribable One of Being, utterly beyond words and language, can enter into human speech through the agency of the word Y–H–W–H, is both to elevate human language itself to a new level of respect and to make tremendous demands upon it. It grants that language can, after all, transcend itself and serve as a vehicle for articulating states of consciousness and levels of reality that seem beyond its ken. The word Y–H–W–H is here seen as a token of the promise that language can be reborn in symbolic form, ready to embody heights and depths unknown to its prior ordinary discursive state.
We are the waves of the Divine, of the Infinite, of God. We are God in temporary extension. The extent to which we insist on being other, being permanent and separate from each other and God, is the extent to which we are sad, depressed, anxious, lost, and joyless. The extent to which we see the fundamental emptiness of this illusion and awake to the essential unity of all things in, with, and as God is the extent to which we are alive, vibrant, energized, purposeful, and filled with holy joy.Prayer is a bridge between ourselves and the infinite.
Breath is the prerequisite of life and speech, of existence and communication, and it is a gift requiring no conscious attention except in cases of illness. If each inhalation required a direct order, each exhalation a conscious command, how should we find energy or attention for anything else? How should we sleep? In truth, we do not breathe; we are breathed. At this moment of my writing, at this moment of your reading, at succeeding moments of our praying, breath enters and leaves our lungs without our conscious intervention. Truly we are breathed.The prayer Nishmat kol chai reaches a crescendo in the following line, lavish metaphor stacked on lavish metaphor exploding in the realization of the 1020 tovot or favors or goodnesses that God performed for our ancestors and for us (The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, pp. 401–402).
Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently, HASHEM our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors that You performed for our ancestors and for us.Simple arithmetic explains the 1020. The word myriad is a translation of the Hebrew revavah, meaning ten thousand. Hence according to this verse, the number of favors that God performed for our ancestors and for us equals 103 × 103 × 103 × 103 × 104 × 104 = 1020. This, by far the largest number in the Jewish liturgy, corresponds to more than 300 tovot or favors or goodnesses for each of the approximately 3 × 1017 seconds since the universe began. So vast is the quantity of miracles upon miracles upon miracles of our blessed human existence.
The results are stunning – and a bit frightening: Mr. Ellis, a mathematics major and a junior, chose to take the general examinations, required of a German major and honor student, in May 1968; he scored just about a straight 100 and was given the only summa cum laude degree in evaluation. Next to sheer brilliancy of knowledge and evaluation, Mr. Ellis excelled in his proficiency in the German language . . .
I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected to receive the 2001-2002 College Outstanding Faculty Award for Research. . . .   It is evident that your colleagues all across the College as well as at other educational institutions around the world hold your abilities as a researcher and scholar in the highest regard. This award was established in 2000 for the purpose of recognizing outstanding research by faculty in the College and to honor individual faculty members for their research accomplishments. . . .   Congratulations on receiving this well-deserved award.The award was made at the Convocation of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics held on September 3, 2002. Here is the citation that accompanied the award.
Richard Ellis is an acknowledged world leader in the study of large deviations, an important field having numerous applications including the analysis and design of high-speed communication networks. His most recent innovative work on statistical theories of turbulence is an outgrowth of his previous research on statistical mechanics and large deviations.
Professor Ellis has produced a considerable body of published work, including two major research monographs on probability theory and applications, a well known theorem carrying the name Gärtner-Ellis Theorem, and many frequently cited papers on probability theory and statistical mechanics. In 1999 he was elected to be a Fellow in the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in honor of his outstanding research contributions.
As important and impressive as Richards scientific accomplishments are, his intellectual activities extend beyond science. UMass Magazine recently highlighted his numerous contributions to the field of Judaic studies. As the article points out, Ellis performs a remarkable and rare intellectual juggling act, straddling what the British writer C. P. Snow called the two cultures of science and the humanities. We are indeed fortunate that Professor Ellis has chosen to spend his highly creative research career here at UMass.
I found your web page in such a serendipitous way that its almost embarrassing. I found that one of the most effective ways to locate mathematicians with hobby x was to do a Google search on mathematics professor x. One of the variables x that I tried was gliding, in the expectation of finding some hang-gliders or glider pilots. And in fact there were a few of them, but believe it or not, your page was Googles #2 hit for mathematics professor gliding. And it's all because you have a painting called Gliding on your web page!When he informed me a week later that I would not be included in the article, I wrote the following Buddhist reply.
Incidentally, if I had searched for mathematics professor Judaism, you would have been hit #20, so I would have had to scroll down to the bottom of the second page to find you. So much for rational web searching!
Thank you for your email. I completely understand. In fact, the Buddhist in me enjoys being given this opportunity to practice letting go. I also enjoyed talking with you very much and hope that we will reconnect in the future.
Thank you for your interest and good luck with this and all future creative endeavors.
My son Michael Ellis has established The Lithuania Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the Jewish history of Lithuania through education and philanthropy. The photographs that form the centerpiece of The Lithuania Projects educational mission were taken by Michael during two visits to Vilnius: the first in August 2001, when he studied Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and the second in May 2003, when I accompanied him there in order to experience the city where part of my novel, Blessings from the Dead, is set. The complicated history of Vilnius is apparent in the many names by which the city has been called: Vilnius in Lithuanian, Wilno in Polish, Vilna in Russian and English, and Vilne in Yiddish.
During his visit in August 2001 Michael took the following
masterful and highly evocative photograph
of a pre-war confectionary in downtown Vilne. The
name of the company is legible in Yiddish on the wall:
Konfektsie Fabrik Minyon – Confectionary
Factory Minyon. Poems by Yiddish children are
still visible on the wall. The photograph shows construction
workers pausing as they transform the building into
apartments and cafés. The artistry of this
photograph indicates the quality of the photographs
that are part of The Lithuania Project.
The Lithuanian Jewish community was incomparably rich in both the religious and secular realms. By 1939, Vilne was home to more than 60,000 Jews, over 100 synagogues, a scientific institute for the study of Yiddish, writers circles — the list is endless. And in just three years between June 1941 and July 1944, it vanished.
But while many know of the communitys destruction during the Holocaust, fewer know of its former glory. Indeed, under Soviet control until the early 1990s, its history has been largely inaccessible, while its physical legacy — stone cemeteries, wooden synagogues — have fallen into disrepair, many sites plundered by locals or the government.
The goal of The Lithuania Project is thus twofold: to educate about the Jewish history in Lithuania and to help preserve the lands Jewish cultural heritage.
The centerpiece of the projects educational mission is a traveling photography exhibit consisting of 35 photographs. The exhibit narrates Jewish history in Lithuania, from the Jews’ arrival as merchants and pogrom refugees to their flourishing in the 19th and 20th centuries. Images of the 17th century cemetery at the shtetl of Vabolink, the 19th century wooden synagogue at Zitomir, and the modern Yiddish theater in Vilne tell this story.
The exhibit then portrays the utter devastation of the Holocaust, focusing on eerily serene forest massacre sites and ghettos in both large cities and tiny vilages — including the ghetto anchored by Zitomirs wooden synagogue. The photographs then examine the post-war period in Lithuania, including the erasure of Jewish memory through the plundering of cemeteries and recreational use of massacre sites.
Though there is a growing fragment of a community in Lithuania today, the exhibit posits that Jewish life in Lithuania has ended. The image of one remaining letter — a taf or sof (meaning “end” in Hebrew) on the exterior of a synagogue — symbolizes this termination.
Nevertheless, the exhibit ends hopefully by returning to the serenity of the ancient cemetery at Vabolink. In the end, the exhibit suggests that the true accomplishment of the Jews of Lithuania could never be destroyed: the transformation of a remote corner of the world into a Holy Land.
In each atom of the realms of the universe,
There exist vast oceans of world systems.
[W]ith the proper methods of interpretation, one can unlock the mysteries of all being. Every crownlet of every letter is filled with significance, and even the forms of letters are hints to profound meaning. To understand creation, one looks not to nature but to the Torah; the world can be read out of the Torah, and the Torah read from the world.Through the act of interpretation, we again confront the fractal nature of reality. The Torah is part of the world, which in turn can be read out of the Torah. The first word of the Torah is Bereishit, which is usually translated as In the beginning. Mystical thought venerates that potent cluster of six Hebrew letters as the Big Bang of creation, into which the infinite energy of the Torah is compacted.
Susan B. Handleman, Slayers of Moses: The Emergence of Rabbinic Interpretation in Modern Literary Theory, page 38.
One begins with Genesis, the moment of firstness in which all is coded. Torah sources make clear that the entire Torah can be derived from the first word Bereishit — In the beginning... its manifold permutations indicate all that is to come.
Akiva Tatz and David Gottlieb, Letters to a Buddhist Jew, pages 75–76.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
In the evenings after dinner he watched the flame of the lamp. When the wind howled with great strength, it moved as if the abyss were trying to pull it away. Wind and darkness seemed to say that if only the flame would surrender and be extinguished, leaving behind a trace of white smoke, it would be taken at unimaginable speeds and in unimaginable cold, whistling like a million flutes, high over the mountains of ice, rocketing into the darkness of space in distances that had no limit and for a time without end — but the flame kept burning, wavering perilously behind a thin shell of brittle glass, and it lit the room, turning everything to gold.