It’s time to talk about mining. Not mining for gold, not mining for silver, not mining for coal, and not even mining for rare earth metals like neodymium, gadolinium, and dysprosium. No, it’s time to talk about bitcoin mining. Bitcoin mining looks very different than other forms of mining, there are no massive bucket machines ripping out millions of cubic feet of soil each day, there are no tunnels reaching miles below the surface to scrape gold from the bowels of the earth. Instead, there are just big rooms filled endless racks of advanced computer machinery whirring loudly and hotly, and consuming a lot of electricity.

Many detractors of bitcoin mining like to talk about its enormous energy consumption, and make statements like “Bitcoin mining uses more energy than Norway” and that alone is enough for them to unleash hatred on the industry, but often they neither understand the consumption nor the comparison, let alone the environmental value of bitcoin mining.

Let’s start with consumption. While bitcoin mining does indeed use an incredible amount of power each year, roughly 120 terawatts (TW), it is still less than half of the 265 TW used by gold mining. And gold mining not only uses an incredible amount of energy, its environmental impact is much worse because it also entails enormous destruction to the earth. For every ounce of gold mined, about 60 tons of mine waste are produced. This means that for the roughly 2,500 tons of gold mined each year, 9.6 trillion pounds of mine waste are produced. Gold mining causes deforestation, killing off the forests needed to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Gold mining leaves behind enormous environmental waste like mercury, arsenic, and cyanide, which often pollute the local groundwater and the atmosphere, with effects that can last decades. But very few people are talking about banning gold mining.

On top of that, what most people don’t understand about bitcoin mining is that it is location agnostic, meaning you can mine bitcoin anywhere in the world as long as there is a connection to the internet. It is not economically viable to mine bitcoin in Detroit, because energy costs are too high locally, and in order to make money as a miner you need to find the absolute cheapest energy sources.  On the other hand, many places  in the world have stranded sources of energy, geothermal hotspots in the far reaches of Iceland, waterfalls in remote areas of Africa, solar hotspots in middle of the desert, or wind rich areas in the middle of Patagonia.

This is a tremendous gift to poor people all over the world. Over 600 million people in Africa don’t have electricity, and this causes their lifespan to be significantly shorter. They can’t store food or medicine without refrigeration, they can’t produce anything at scale because they can’t power machines, they have limited access to education, medicine,  and banking, and life shuts down as soon as it gets dark. No one will invest in electrifying the area because the people are too poor to support the huge financial investment it takes to build a generator for them.

But if there is a waterfall near a village, bitcoin miners will come in and set up a small hydroelectric generator, they will use the electricity to mine bitcoin, but also power the village, and they will employ the locals to work on maintaining the mine. Suddenly, a village begins to have light and electricity, and their lifestyle, economy, and lifespan is greatly improved! On top of that, the hydroelectricity is 100% sustainable energy, so it doesn’t emit any pollutants. It’s a win-win-win.

Bitcoin mining is at times a net reducer of pollution. All over the world there are massive garbage landfills. The scale of these landfills is almost impossible to comprehend, the largest of them is 2,200 acres (more than double the size of the City of Huntington Woods)! The bacterial breakdown of the garbage in the landfills produce copious amounts of methane, a gas that is 80 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. In the US, there are regulations to ensure that the methane is not allowed to leak out, whether by simple flaring (burning it, so that it turns into carbon dioxide), or by burning and turning it into electricity. The largest landfill in the US by amount dumped per day, ironically named Sunshine Canyon, CA, takes in over 9000 tons of garbage every day. It has an onsite power plant, that burns the menthane and turns it into enough energy to power 25,000 homes.

But in many parts of the developing world, where regulation is more lax, and landfill operators don’t have the money to invest in methane flaring or energy production, the methane just leaks out into the atmosphere, 24/7/365. Bitcoin mining companies are building mining operations right next to landfills, where they take the methane that would otherwise massively pollute the environment and turn it into carbon dioxide, electricity, and bitcoin, reducing the harm to the environment by 98.5%.

But wait, there’s more. As crazy as it sounds, Bitcoin mining lowers electricity costs for everyone. Allow me to explain. In order to properly power a city, you need to build powerplants that can furnish about 130% of the city’s needs. This is because on about 10 days a year, in the event of extreme cold or extreme heat, you are going to need 30% more than average, and if you don’t have the capacity, your city starts to suffer from brownouts, and we don’t like brownouts. The problem is that building the powerplants for that 30% of extra energy costs billions of dollars, and you only need it for 10 days a year. So you just pass the price on to the electricity consumers. We pay 20-30% more on our electricity than is necessary because we’re paying for the building and maintenance of powerplants that are only used 10 days a year.

The bitcoin miners come and say, we will buy every single bit of extra energy you can produce. You will give us a great price for it because otherwise those plants would just be wasted, and we will guarantee you a buyer for all your excess capacity, so that you don’t need to charge your customers for electricity they don’t need. And during those 10 days a year when you need it, we will simply shut off our operations, and all the power goes back to the people. That is exactly what happened this year in Texas, which is one of the leading bitcoin mining states in the US. In January of 2024, there was a extended cold snap. All the bitcoin miners in Texas shut down, and the state had no issues whatsoever. It was an amazing proof of the benefit of using bitcoin mining to balance the grid.

Additionally, the bitcoin miners can build their mining rigs right next to the powerplant so that no energy is lost. According to the US Energy Information Administration, about 60% of energy is lost in the wires on the way from the plant to the final consumer. As they state: “In 2019, U.S. utility-scale generation facilities consumed 38 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of energy to provide 14 quads of electricity. Most of the difference between these values was lost as an inherent result of the energy conversion process.” Bitcoin miners are much more efficient because they take the energy right at the source, bringing down costs for themselves but also for the consumers who don’t have to pay as much when a new powerplant is built because the utility company knows it’s covered by the miners.

Despite all the benefits that bitcoin mining can provide to the world, there is an enormous amount of negativity towards it simply because it consumes a lot of power. The New York Times and other progressive news outlets constantly produce articles critical of bitcoin because it uses a lot of power, many of them written with either willful blindness or gross negligence in investigating the basic facts. Anyone who cares about the Jewish people and Israel, knows how easily headlines can make something look terrible and try to sway the masses into disliking something they know little about.

But we have to ask another question, let’s say there was no environmental benefits to bitcoin mining, and let’s say it did use more electricity than the whole country of Argentina, who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Who gets to determine what is an acceptable use of electricity and what is not? Perhaps we should ban TV, movies, and gaming because an incredible amount of energy is used in the production and consumption of TV, movies and gaming? Perhaps we should ban gold mining? Perhaps we should ban the production of smart phones and electric cars because they require enormous amounts of rare earth minerals, and the mining of those minerals causes incredible pollution and devastation? Who gets to decide what is a societal benefit and what is not?

When people buy electricity, they are buying the ability to do things they find meaningful. Some people find it meaningful to hang colorful lights outside their house from mid-November to mid-January. I don’t find it meaningful, but I don’t tell them what to do. Some people find it meaningful to pay for electricity to sit in their basement and play video games with three screens and a custom computer. I don’t find that meaningful either, but I don’t advocate that they should be banned.

Bitcoiners find it meaningful to create a currency that can be devalued by reckless politicians wracking up trillions in debt that they can never pay back. The whole world suffers when governments wrack up debt and just print more money, because the value of money goes down, and the value of the things they want to buy goes up. Inflation is not something that happens on its own, it’s the direct result of governments spending recklessly for years. Some people want to pay for a currency that can’t be debased by governments, a currency that is a benefit to humans all over the world who see the value of their life savings slipping away to the creep of inflation.

People who live in Argentina, who saw 143% inflation last year, desperately need a global currency that they can access anywhere with an internet connection. The same is for people in Venezuela which saw 318% in 2023. And frankly, the same is for people in the US, where people have seen their buying power go down by over 20% since COVID, since the government fired up the printers and created out of thin air more than 30% of the total supply of dollars. Maybe the energy used to create and secure such a global currency is more meaningful than being able to sit in an air-conditioned basement and play video games with three screens.

On top of that, over 1.4 billion people in the world don’t even have access to a bank. For them, they have no way of safely holding the value of their labor. It’s unsafe for them to keep it in their homes, (and many of them live in countries where inflation causes the cash they do keep at home lose 30% of it’s value or more), and the closest bank is miles away. More people in Africa have smart phones than bank accounts. Is there not meaning in providing billions of people with access to a way to safely store the fruits of their labors?

Ultimately, what you spend on something shows how much you value it, and at the current cost of $52,000 per bitcoin, millions of people around the world are screaming out loud: We value a currency that is safe, accessible to anyone in the world, incorruptible by governments or politicians, and a way to opt out of a monetary system that is falling apart all over the world. That seems to be worth the 120 terawatt hours in electricity being used to create it if you ask me. The energy you expend on something shows how much you value it.

Judaism is not cheap either. Kosher food is much more expensive than non-kosher food. One has to work far more hours to feed a kosher family than a non-kosher family. But we opt to expend the energy necessary to buy kosher food, because we believe in the value of eating the Divine Diet. Jewish education is far more expensive than public school, but we expend tremendous amounts of time and resources to send our children to Jewish schools because we believe in the value of giving our children a Divine Education.

Supporting tens of thousands of Torah scholars worldwide costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but Jewish people all over the world expend tremendous energy to make those dollars, and then gladly donate it, because they value a world in which the Divine Word is being studied and disseminated. A lulav and esrog cost a fortune compared to other branches and citrus fruit, matzah is far more expensive than bread, but we expend significant energy procuring those Mitzvah items, because we value the Divine Connection created when doing the mitzvahs. Building synagogues, and paying for their upkeep and the rabbi’s salaries, costs a fortune, but we gladly expend the energy to do it because we want the Divine Influence they have on us and our families.

People complain and grumble about the high costs of Jewish living, but we need to focus on what it buys us; a Divine Diet, Divine Education, the Divine Word, Divine Connection, and Divine Influence, and then suddenly it all starts to make sense. We would never want to live without those precious benefits. Don’t look at how much energy it takes, look at what you’re buying, and then it all makes sense.

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s parsha begins with the call for donations to build the first ever House of G-d. The Torah enumerates all the different items that were needed, a shopping list of fifteen items ranging from gold to purple wool, from acacia wood to red-dyed goat skins. Rabbi Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar (1696-1743, Morocco-Jerusalem) in his classic commentary, the Ohr HaChaim points out what seems like an anomaly in the order that Torah uses to list items that would be donated. Generally the list is ordered from the most expensive to the least expensive. The list begins with gold and then moves on to silver, copper, and moves all the way down to herbs and spices.

The anomaly is that the most expensive of all the items is listed last! The shoham stones were precious stones worn on the shoulders of the high priest, and they had to be big enough that the names of six tribes were engraved on each one of them. They were literally priceless, and should have been the first item on the list instead of the last! The Ohr Hachayim begins his answer with a statement from the Talmud (Yoma 75A), which says that these priceless stones which were impossible to find, were brought miraculously by the clouds (a whole new meaning to “airmail!”). Since no effort was expended in bringing this item to build the Tabernacle, they were the least important to G-d and were listed last.

When someone made a big sacrifice and donated a chunk of gold to the Tabernacle it was more meaningful that when someone made a smaller sacrifice and gave a chunk of silver. But the shoham stones, despite being priceless, did not come through someone’s self sacrifice and dedication, and were thus listed last. G-d doesn’t need gold, diamonds, or platinum. In a flash He could create mountains of gold. What G-d values is the love, dedication, and sacrifice of His people, and the times that required the most dedication were the one’s G-d counted first. Items that required no dedication were left to the end, regardless of their enormous price tag.

Rabbi Avraham Danzig (1748-1820, Poland- Vilna), in his classic work on Jewish Law, Chayei Adam, talks about general principles regarding the fulfillment of mitzvos. He expands the idea above by saying that if someone can afford it, they should pay for items that will be used for a mitzvah even if they can get it for free. For example, although someone can borrow a lulav and esrog to shake on Succos, they should buy one anyway, because when we invest in a mitzvah, it has more meaning to us (which is why it is more meaningful to G-d).

He supports this from King David’s acquisition of the Temple Mount, which would later house the First and Second Temples. The owner of the land, Aravnah the Jebusite, offered the whole thing to King David for free, but King David declined. “And the king said to Aravnah, “No; for I will only buy it from you at a price; so that I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt-offerings [which I had received] for nothing. (Samuel II 24:24)” King David didn’t want to give up the opportunity to invest himself personally in the great mitzvah of building the Temple. By derivation, the Chayei Adam says that we too should try to invest ourselves personally in any mitzvah we can.

For the past five years I have had the opportunity to lecture for Heritage Retreats, an organization that brings college students and young professional from all over the country together for a week of “learn hard, play hard.” As part of the program, we learn about many of the basic mitzvos, including tzitzis and tefillin. Often the guys are even given the opportunity to make their own tzitzis. It is not easy, and often takes two hours to complete a single pair of tzitzis. But reliably, when people invest in making their own tzitzis, they end up wearing them much more. The more we invest in a mitzvah, the greater the return we reap.  As the mishnah in Ethics of Our Fathers proclaims, (Avot 5:26) “26. Ben Heh-Heh used to say: According to the effort is the reward.”

Parsha Summary

In this week’s portion G-d asks the Jewish people to build a physical dwelling place for the Divine Presence. The Sages tell us that the real goal is that we each build a Tabernacle inside ourselves, but that the building is the physical expression of that idea, and one we can relate to much more easily. The Jews were asked to donate the many different materials with which the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), its vessels, and the holy vestments for the Kohanim would be made.

The items the Jews were asked to bring were: gold, silver and copper, turquoise, purple, and crimson wool, fine linen, goat’s hair, red-dyed ram’s skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, and precious stones. G-d tells Moshe that He will show him a model of the Tabernacle and that the real one should be built exactly like the prototype.

After that, the Torah begins to detail the design of many of the vessels. The ark was made of three boxes, the outside and inside ones of gold, and the middle one of wood. On top of the box was a special lid that had two childlike forms with wings engraved onto it. There were four rings in which poles to carry the aron were placed and, specifically regarding the ark, the Torah stipulates that the poles were never to be removed.

The Table was a vessel used to hold twelve loaves of showbread that were placed there for a week at a time, from Shabbos to Shabbos. The table was made of gold-plated wood and had a small crown-like ornament rimming it. It had a special system of poles and supports so that the showbreads could be held up properly.

The Menorah had to be carved out of one block of gold. It was about 70 inches tall and had one central mast with three branches leading off to each side. It was heavily adorned with sculpted flowers, knobs, and decorative cups.

The building itself was made of dozens of wood planks covered in gold and held in place by silver sockets. There were also gold plated wooden bars that held them together. There were two heavy tapestries covering these planks. The inner one was made of twisted linen woven with turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool and was held together with golden hooks. The outer one was made of a more simple material, woven goat’s hair, and was held together with copper hooks. The Sages tell us that this teaches us that a person’s home should always be more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. (Please note: There are so many lessons taught from everything in the Tabernacle, but space doesn’t permit me to list all of them. However, please discover these gems for yourselves!)

The altar was a hollow rectangular cuboid (the width and length were the same, the height was not) made of wood and covered with copper. It was filled with dirt. It had protrusions at each of the top corners that were exact cubes, netting surrounding it like a belt, and a protrusion in the middle that was large enough to walk on. Leading up to it was a long ramp, as no steps were allowed on the altar (see the end of Parshas Yisro).

Finally, the courtyard was swathed in a white linen sheet which was held in place by wooden pillars with copper sockets. The pillars had bands of silver going around them, and they held up the material with silver hooks. If it sounds like a beautiful place, that’s because it was one. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple, and may we once again have a place on earth where G-d’s Presence can reside in all of its Glory!!!

Quote of the Week: The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post. ~ L. Thomas Holdcroft

Random Fact of the Week: Pumice is the only rock that floats in water.

Funny Line of the Week: I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

Have an Electrifying Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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