Sunday, April 06, 2008

Harnessing the Energy


by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

There is more good news on the renewable energy front. With fossil fuels becoming more expensive, not to mention their effects on the environment, the search is on for a reliable source of clean energy that will not be used up. One of the best sources of renewable energy is solar power, especially in hot desert areas. The intense sunlight in those areas is a potent form of energy that in most cases, merely bakes the earth but is not harnessed towards productive ends.

That may soon change, thanks to a burgeoning development of a new type solar power plant, which involves placing rows of bright mirrors along acres of desert floor. The mirrors focus the intense light from the sun onto a fluid, heating it into steam. The steam turns a turbine to generate energy. So far, two such plants have been opened in the United States, with ten more in the planning stages. Each plant produces enough energy to power several large hotels. Plans are also underway to develop ways of storing the energy to produce electricity after the sun has gone down.

No form of energy is of any use unless a way can be found to channel and harness it. Otherwise, the energy simply dissipates as heat. We find a similar concept in Jewish thought. There are certain times of the year when special spiritual energy is generated—such as Shabbat, holidays or the new moon. We must make ourselves into a vessel to channel the energy and use it to drive our continuing development as human beings, to energize us in the fulfillment of Mitzvot.

We find an example of poorly channeled energy in the Chumash, when Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron, entered the Tabernacle and brought a “strange fire” to G-d. They were so enthusiastic at the building of the Mishkan and the prospect of becoming close to G-d, that they brought a fire at a time that was not appropriate for them. As a result, they died. Had they not been so over-eager, they could have drawn down this intense spiritual power to bring about real change and elevation to the world. However, their spiritual zeal was focused only on rising to G-d but not on channeling the energy here on earth, and therefore they perished.

Over the course of exile, we have been engaged in the task of building “mirrors in the desert,” to harness the intense Divine radiation that is beaming down upon us. The mirrors are our Mitzvos and the sunlight is the Divine light being drawn down to the world through our actions. When Moshiach comes, the “construction project” will be complete, and we will be able to derive the full benefit of the work we have done over so many generations. Then, G-d will “take the sun out of its shield” and the night will shine like the day.

Adopted from

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.