08 December 2016

Cyberangel Art and Jacob's Internet Ladder

My exploration of the seventh portion of Genesis, Vayetze/Went away, expresses my creative viewpoint as an artist who taught art and Jewish thought at Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities and art and technology at Columbia University and MIT. 

The first part “Computer Angels in Jacob’s Dream” is derived from the “Torah Tweets” blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to relate the weekly Torah reading to our lives through digital images and tweet texts. You can see photos and texts for all the year’s Torah portions at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com. 

It is followed by “Internet Angels” from the chapter “Discovering Kabbalah through a Creative Lens” in my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.      


Vayetze/Went away (Genesis 28:10-32:3)

He [Jacob] had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached up toward heaven; and behold! Divine angels were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)

Miriam and I enjoyed sitting together in the Metropolitan Museum of Art print room holding Rembrandt's drawings and etchings of angels in our hands.

Mel painted on subway posters and screen printed digitized Rembrandt angels and spiritual messages from underground:

Divine angels ascend and descend. (Genesis 28:12) "They start by going up and afterwards go down" (Rashi) "Have you seen angels ascending from the NYC subways? (Alexenberg)

Art is a computer angel.  The biblical term for art (MeLekHeT MakHSheVeT) is feminine.  The masculine form is computer angel (MaLakH MakHSheV).

The biblical words for angel and food are written with the same four letters to tell us that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.

We chose an image of an ascending angel to digitize and send on a circumglobal flight on 4 October 1989, Rembrandt's 320th memorial day.  

We sent it via satellite from the AT&T building in NY to Amsterdam to Jerusalem to Tokyo to Los Angeles, returning to NY the same afternoon.

The cyberangel not only circled our planet, it flew into tomorrow and back into yesterday, arriving in Tokyo on 5 Oct. and LA on 4 Oct.

In Tokyo, the 28 faxed sheets were assembled in Ueno Park and then rearranged as a ribbon ascending the steps of a Shinto chapel.

As we assembled the cyberangel on its return to NY five hours after it had left, TV news networks sent it into ten million American homes.

The AP story of our angel flight appeared in 60 newspapers each with a different headline.  AT&T featured it in its Annual Report.


In his highly original book on kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, Rabbi Adin Steinsalz describes angels as messengers bringing divine plenty down from the worlds of Mind and Emotion into the World of Action.  The role of angels is implicit in their Hebrew name malakh, which means “messenger.”  It is said that an angel can carry out only one mission.  Every angel is one-dimensional, lacking the many-sidedness of human beings.  No two angels are alike. 

In the biblical book Ezekiel, we learn about three classes of angels:  Sepharim inhabiting the World of Mind, Hayot in the World of Emotions, and Ofanim in the World of Action.  Each one of the Sepharim is a distinct unit of mind, each of the Hayot is a distinct unit of an emotion, and each of the Ofanim is a distinct action.  Sepharim and Hayot are like invisible bits and bytes in the cybersphere cloud that transmit their messages to Ofanim that render them visible on your computer monitor, tablet or smartphone.   Like data packets transporting information through cyberspace, the task of angels is to maintain communications between worlds of Mind, Emotions, and Action.  

Angels can be considered discrete data packets in the immaterial Worlds of Mind and Emotions realized in the material World of Action. An angel in the World of Mind is a one-of-a-kind cognitive data packet of a specific thought, word, idea, or concept. An angel in the World of Emotions is an affective data packet of a particular feeling or emotion, a specific inclination or impulse toward love, fear, pity, and so on.  Ofanim are wheel angels bicycling through the World of Action, animating the realm of space and time, coloring every single facet of your daily life.   (In modern Hebrew, ofnayim is a bicycle and ofnoah is a motorcycle.) 

Since every angel is a separate entity, no angels exist in the World of Intention.  It is a world close enough to the divine source to be whole before being broken into separate entities by the creation of the universe. 

The full image of a web site does not fly through the Web all at once. It is sent in parts that come together on the computer screen or smartphone. The Web server sending the digitized image to the requesting browser breaks the image up into data packets. Each packet is assigned an ID number and routed by routers from one geographical location to the next through the available telecommunications pathways.

In celebration of Miami’s centennial, I digitized an angel drawn by Rembrandt and sent it flying between the four corners of USA.   The single angel image was deconstructed and routed through cyberspace between Miami and San Diego along multiple pathways. When the data packets reach San Diego, they are reassembled in the correct sequence based on the ID numbers that were assigned in Miami.

The transmission control protocol (TCP) ensures that all the packets get to the requesting computer with no pieces missing as the whole Rembrandt cyberangel is rematerialized.  One angel packet can fly from Miami to New Orleans to Houston to Albuquerque to Phoenix to San Diego, while another angel packet flies from Miami to Atlanta to Nashville to St. Louis to Tulsa to Denver to Las Vegas to San Diego. Visualize the documentation of hundreds of routing paths plotted between the four corners on a map of the USA.

The erratic pathways drawn from Miami to San Diego, from San Diego to Seattle, from Seattle to Portland, and from Portland back to Miami look like streaks of electric energy. The visual record of the cyberangel flight around the American perimeter appear like flashes of lightning illuminating the multiple pathways between the four corners of USA. It is appropriate that the contemporary Hebrew word for electricity heshmal is taken from Ezekiel’s image of an angel.

The Lubavicher Rebbe teaches that the sweeping technological changes we are experiencing today were predicted some two thousand years ago in the Zohar, the classic text of kabbalah. The Zohar describes how the outburst in scientific knowledge and technological advancement would be paralleled by an increase in sublime wisdom and spirituality. Integrating the wisdom of the mind and the wisdom of the soul can begin to usher true unity into the world.

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