By: Rabbi Daniel Gropper
As you know, the World Cup Soccer matches are going on right now. We are almost at
the round of 16. Just imagine for a moment that a really small country – say, Senegal – actually
won the World Cup! It would be quite a sensation. But how’s this for a sensation: what if the
soccer ball, in the middle of the match, suddenly decided to hang suspended in mid-air? What if
the ball only started flying again after a player went up and kicked it. This all seems pretty much
impossible for a soccer game, but in 2006 something similar, and very, very improbable,
happened in the world of quantum physics. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of
Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany, “kicked” the electrons in a metal plate in a vacuum
with a laser light in such a way that they populated states above the vacuum level. For some of
the electrons, this means they escaped the metal’s lattice, and just sort of hung suspended over
the surface of the metal – even though the scientists would have expected them to fly into the
vacuum. These electrons ended up in a state that scientists have only imagined but never thought
to be really possible. We might say that these electrons are now freed from their captive state.
(Physical Review Letters, March 3, 2006 https://www.mpg.de/530299/pressRelease200604203)
The blessing we are about to say ends with the words, “Matir Asurim.” It often means, “to free
the captive.” It refers to someone who – like those electrons – is tied up or imprisoned, that is,
shackled and unable to free him- or herself.
When we say that God is “matir asurim” we are coming to see God as the great liberator. More
powerful than chains or a jail cell, God releases those who are imprisoned, whether physically,
emotionally and spiritually.
This is kind of like the story with the electrons. They were freed. In their case by a laser. In our
case, we are freed, either because someone else is working on our behalf – like so many who are
working on behalf of those children separated from their parents – or because we hear a voice
welling up from within ourselves, a voice I call God, to say, “You don’t need to be in this place
anymore. Get up. Move. Free Yourself.”
Each of these morning blessings is accompanied by a physical movement. So please get up and
give a good stretch. Stretch out your arms. Move your head from side to side. Widen your face
and open your mouth. Stick our your tongue. Take a really good stretch. Free yourself.
We praise God who serves either as the prime mover or the one who inspires us to free ourselves
from the shackles of sleep and who allows us to greet our day. And perhaps, like God who frees
us, we might use part of our day to work to free someone else who, like those electrons, still
finds him or herself in a place of captivity.
Please join me in saying this bracha: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, Matir