Earthquakes? No, they do not occur because the gods are angry. They are caused by stressed tectonic plates suddenly shifting. One great gift of science is cause and effect, which means that things don’t just happen. For every effect, there is a cause. There is no need to ascribe natural events to vengeful deities.
But science itself was one of the great gifts of Biblical faith. It can hardly be a coincidence that over 90% of the scientific, medical, and technical discoveries uncovered in the one thousand years between 900 and 1900 came about in the Judeo-Christian cultures of Europe and North America though they contained only a small proportion of the world’s population.
In these cultures, the well-known sentence, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth,” helped propel western scientific discovery. Firstly, it linked God and nature, encouraging men and women to seek deeper insight into the Creator’s design by studying heaven and earth. Secondly, it suggested that nothing is random. God banished chaos and replaced it with fundamental cause. Not surprisingly, advances in the natural
sciences exploded among those people possessing this enormous cultural
But Biblical culture helps us understand everyday life too. Knowing that causes are connected to effects points us towards wise decisions and helps us respond prudently to life’s circumstances. Reading about political and labor problems in Southern Africa tells us that the price of chromium will rise, resulting in higher prices for stainless steel and everything made of it. Recognizing that how a child is treated will affect what type of adult he becomes, encourages us to take care of our marriages and families. Everything we do brings consequences in its wake as does anything we neglect.
We do best by becoming adept at seeking out context and connection for almost everything. This simple but vital message emerges from ancient Jewish wisdom’s observation that more than half the verses in the Five Books of Moses begin with the Hebrew letter ‘vav’. When used as a prefix in the Lord’s language, this sixth letter of the alphabet translates as the word, ‘and’. The vav‘s shape graphically calls to mind a hook or a nail. What is more, with characteristic elegance reflective of timeless truth, the name of this letter, vav, means a hook or a connector, the very function of the word ‘and’.
Through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom, the Tabernacle that Moses built and which the Israelites carried with them through the desert for forty years was not only a House of God but also a spiritual metaphor for understanding the world. It is this aspect of the Tabernacle that imbues even its picayune details with significance.
Scripture describes how much silver was used in the Tabernacle construction:
And the silver collected via the congregational census was 100 kikars plus 1,775 shekels….
A kikar consists of 3,000 shekels. Why didn’t the Torah just list the total amount of silver as 301,775 shekels? It turns out that the 1,775 shekels of silver had a very special role. Three verses later we learn:
And from the 1,775 shekels of silver he made vavim.
Vavim is the plural of vav, meaning he made hooks — fasteners or connectors.
Thus we are told that the entire physical Tabernacle is held together with vavim, connectors. Rather than being an insignificant part of the structure, they are enumerated in a way that highlights them. The spiritual metaphor tells us that the whole world is held together by vavim; ‘ands’.
If we see events and ideas in isolation, we make a great mistake. Most verses in the Torah begin with ‘and’ in order to train us to look forwards and backward—what did we do in the past that led to where we are now and how will our future be affected by what we are doing in the present.