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A Way Out

Dr. Stephen Hawking, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, is one of the world’s most famous scientists, with his opinion eagerly sought on esoteric matters such as black holes and the origin of the universe. He is also one of the world’s most famous disabled people. At the age of 21, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gherig’s disease. It is a devastating illness which slowly destroys motor neurons, leading to an almost complete loss of muscle control. Most patients with ALS die within five years of diagnosis. Hawking, on the other hand, has survived with his condition for close to 50 years.

Some attribute Hawking’s survival to the exceptional care he has received; others speculate that he perhaps has a variant form of the disease, which has a slower course. There is also a theory that because he is such a cerebral person, the loss of his motor faculties did not affect him as much as it would an ordinary person; in fact, the enforced separation from worldly matters enabled him to focus his energy almost completely on intellectual matters and forge ahead with his great scientific discoveries. The truth is probably a combination of all three factors.

Stephen Hawking’s key research is in the field of black holes. A black hole is an extremely compact mass in space with a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. However, Hawking theorized that under certain conditions, some energy does radiate out of a black hole.

In a lecture, Hawking said that one of his key contributions to physics is the discovery that you can get out of a black hole. If you find yourself in a dark place, don’t despair, because there is a way out. Stephen Hawking, who has lived most of his life with profound physical limitations, has learned to overcome them and to forge ahead in life, achieving far more than is imaginable by most human beings. 

This theory of Hawking parallels one of the key teachings of Chassidut, which is that G-d created darkness itself as a means of expressing His infinite powers. Light is concealment, in a sense, since we can only see what the light permits us to see. There will always be angles or layers not visible in that particular form of light. In darkness, however, we take in the entire essence of a being, not distracted by externals. And because of this, Chassidut teaches us never to fear darkness. It’s not a place that hides G-dliness, but a place where G-dliness is expressed more than anywhere else. When Moshiach comes, says the Psalms, “Night shall shine as day.” We will recognize the unique qualities of night, of darkness, as an expression of the Divine.



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