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Giga-Zillions to the Googleplex

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Topic: Giga-Zillions to the Googleplex

From: Name Withheld

Dear Rabbi,
Regarding your recent answer stating that the reason the universe is so vast is in order to inspire awe and humility: There is no question that the universe is immense. Considering that the known universe has a radius of 15 billion light-years (1 light-year = the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1 year, and the speed of light in a vacuum is about 300,000 kilometers per second) and is filled with billions of galaxies, each composed of billions of star systems, it is easy to be overwhelmed. However, it is very difficult to imagine that God created the entire universe solely for the benefit of humanity. The entire Solar system is only a few light-hours across, making it trivial in size compared with the rest of the universe. Most of the universe is superfluous as far as we are concerned. Our ancestors were awe-stricken long before we had any inkling of the size of the universe (less than a century ago with the rise of modern astronomy); we do not need 1.41372 x 10^31 cubic light-years of space (probably more, actually) just to feel humility. More likely, G-d had something else in mind than our benefit...[The "Ask the Rabbi" editor has deleted the following four paragraphs of this message for the sake of brevity.]

(Name Withheld), Graduate student, Department of Biometry and Epidemiology Medical University of (University Name Withheld)

Dear Graduate Student, Department of Biometry and Epidemiology,
Okay, so how big would the universe need to be for you to feel humility?

You know, your question reminds me of a true story: An impudent fellow once remarked to the dean of a prestigious yeshiva (rabbinical seminary): "Your beard is so long that it covers your tie; you can't even see it. So why do you even bother wearing a tie?"

The rabbi replied, "How do you know I'm wearing a tie?"

You say that the ancients perceived a mere fraction of the universe's true vastness, yet they were inspired by it; so what did they need the rest for?

And the answer is, the rest is there to inspire us today.

You see, our ancestors had open hearts full of wisdom and understanding, while we have numb skulls full of data and information. So, we need extra help. To help us out a little, G-d opened our eyes to some mighty impressive numbers — numbers that previous generations may not have known, nor needed to know. With these fancy figures, inspiration and fear of G-d are once again available to a generation that has forgotten how to look at the sky.

So, like a tie peeking through a beard, impressing those who need ties to impress them, the big statistics peek out at our generations, giving us a picture of the universe that inspires awe and humility. In some people, at least.

(By the way, we didn't say that inspiration was the only reason; we gave other reasons as well, and of course there may be reasons that we don't know about.)

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