How Far From Us Is Knowledge? Yom Kippur 5755

based on Baba Metzia 59B

At a recent meeting of the EPA the regulators discussed the latest model of a new sonic wave oven. They disagreed about whether the new design was acceptable or not because of a certain technical feature.

One of the regulators, a fellow named L. A. Zar maintained that the design was fine, while the majority insisted that it was not.

The discussion went around a few times and no-one could convince Zar to change his interpretation. At the same time Zar was unable to alter the understanding of any of the others. Convinced that he was right, in desperation, Zar said: "If my interpretation is correct, let the elevators in the building all stop right now."

Everyone around the table chuckled and someone suggested that they get on with the next item on the agenda. A few minutes later, one of the secretaries came in with a report that a witness who was to give testimony on a new earphone was delayed because all the elevators in the building had shut down.

The group seated around the table thanked him for the information and continued on with their discussion. Zar then said, quietly, "If my interpretation is correct, let all the telephones in the building ring right now."

Suddenly, a cacophony of phones began to ring. Pagers beeped and buzzed and this time all eyes in the room turned to Zar.

The chairman of the committee, a Joe Shaw, said that coincidences do not a ruling make, and asked that the group get on with its business.

Finally, Zar said in a full voice: "If my interpretation is correct, let a voice come from the heavens and state so." Suddenly everyone heard a voice (like that of George Burns) and it did not come from the intercom, they all heard it, as though inside their own heads, yet it filled the entire room: "The decision is as L. A. Zar said it is."

Chairman Shaw pounded his fist on the table and shouted at Zar: "It is not in heaven."

To which, Jerrie Mia, one of Shaw's clerks explained to the stenographer sitting beside her that the initial rulings may have been created in the hoary past, but even in them it states that the majority must rule.

So, the agency set the regulation according to the interpretation of the majority. Nonetheless, for months ahead a series of unusual, untoward events occurred many of which affected Joe Shaw and his colleagues. The designer of the oven that Zar supported made a minor alteration in her product that only masked the difference rejected by the agency and she got the gismo approved on a second go round.


Karen received a beautiful gem as a present from her parents. The exquisite little object had many facets and she could see in its interior as if for great distances. She would spend many hours examining the gem, turning it this way and that, looking at it in direct sunlight, in the shadows, back lit and even in moonlight. Over the years, as she spent more time with the gem, she began to see the patterns in the lives around her as though they had been projected from the glow within the gem.

Karen always kept the gem in a treasured place in her room, yet one day she and her family moved. The family flew overseas to a new home in a new land.

When they reached their destination and the family began to unpack, disoriented from all the traveling, she couldn't remember where she had packed her gem.

Karen turned to her parents, convinced that she had left it in its special place in her old home and asked them: "Who will go up into the air and over the sea to get it for me?"

Karen's mother and father knew that the gem had been packed in a safe place and was at that very moment quite close to where Karen stood. They told her that it was not far from her. It is not in heaven that someone needs to go and get it, but that she had the ability to find it with her own skills.

©Mark Hurvitz

Updated 31 May, 2001