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2 - In the Beginning

2 - In the Beginning

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A SCIENTIST’S JOURNEY THROUGH TORAH
 
Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.
 
Chapter 2 - In the Beginning
 
Gen. 1:1. In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth.
 
B”H. For a scientist to deal with Gen. 1:1-26 in a Chabad environment can be a journey onto dangerously thin ice. However, with trust in God and strengthened by the wisdom of the Jewish sages, I shall now embark on that journey. The reason for the journey is to ask the question: What is the purpose of these twenty-six verses in the context of what has been said in chapter 1?
 
My approach in this article, and throughout the series, will be based on the following principles.
 
1.     The Torah speaks in the language of man. (Talmud - Arachin 3a
2.     The language of Torah is figurative. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part I, Chapters I – XLIX)
3.     The Torah is allegorical. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Prefatory Remarks)
4.    God is unknowable, but it is possible to acquire knowledge of God through the study of God’s creation. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed Part I, LXXI)
5.     “… those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise.” -- (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part II, XXV)
 
As regards allegory, it is interesting to note what the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught concerning this subject.
“Let us consider the example of a teacher who wishes to convey an idea to his pupil, and thereby create a new mental vista within the mind of the pupil. Our teacher has two possible approaches open to him. He can take the direct approach and simply declaim the idea as he, the teacher, understands it. Or, he can coarsen the idea by means of a parable or metaphor, bringing it down to his pupil's level by dressing it in terms and concepts from the pupil's world.
“In certain cases, bringing it down just one level would not be enough--even the parable might be too subtle for the pupil's unrefined mind. In such a case, the patient teacher will dress the parable in yet another layer--or even numerous additional layers--of allegory, until his most abstract idea has been made sufficiently tangible for consumption by the pupil's mind.
“Once this has been achieved and the concept has been successfully "smuggled" into the pupil's mind within its allegorical packagings, the pupil can then proceed to ponder the parable and seek its deeper significance. Eventually, the pupil may succeed in his efforts to strip the concept of its outermost layer of tangibilization and reveal the next layer. Knowing that this, too, is but an allegory, the pupil will repeat the process. Ultimately, perhaps only after many years of mental toil and intellectual maturation, the pupil will uncover the innermost kernel of wisdom concealed within.
“But why bother? Why not take the direct approach and simply articulate the concept in all its depth and profundity? Because were the teacher to do so, his words would be absolutely meaningless to the pupil. The pupil may record his master's words; he may review them and learn to repeat them verbatim; he may even, if keeps at it long enough, convince himself that he understands them; but, in truth, he has not gained an iota of insight into their significance.” …
“Let us return to our teacher and pupil. If you recall, the teacher is in the midst of expounding a parable (the last and most "external" of a string of parables) which will embody the concept, but will also obscure it and convey only the much constrained and coarsened version of it which the pupil is capable of comprehending. But the teacher also wants to somehow allow his pupil a glimpse of the "real thing," to accord him a true, if fleeting, vision of the concept in all its sublime purity. He wants the pupil to know that this is not where it's at; he wants him to appreciate the extent of that which lies buried within. Because although the "multi-parable" approach presents the pupil with the tools with which he can ultimately attain a full and comprehensive understanding of the concept, it is not free of its own pitfalls. There is a danger involved as well--the danger that the pupil will get bogged down in the parable itself (or in its second, third or fourth abstraction) and fail to carry it through to its ultimate significance; that he will come to mistake a shallow and external version of his master's teaching for the end of his intellectual quest.
“So in the course of his delivery, the teacher will allow a word, a gesture, an inflection to escape the parable's rigid constraints. He will allow a glimmer of unconstrained wisdom to seep through the many layers of allegory which enclose the pure concept within. This "glimmer" will, of course, be utterly incomprehensible to the pupil; but it will impress upon him an appreciation of the depth of the concept within the parable--an appreciation of how far removed he still is from a true comprehension of his master's teachings.” (From The Speed of Light)
In just six brief paragraphs Rabbi Schneerson has presented a profound guide to the study of Torah. After all, isn’t God The Teacher?
The history of rabbinic discourse is filled with a variety of interpretations concerning the Creation. The literal approach asserts that the age from the Creation is 5770 years, and the process of Creation strictly follows that of Genesis.  However, the thirteenth century Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac of Akko calculated the age of the universe to be 15.3 billion years which is close to the current cosmological estimate. Furthermore, when asked about   evolution, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook - first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel – purportedly answered, “If God wanted evolution, there would be evolution.” If such diversity of thought can exist peacefully within the rabbinic community, there is no need for conflict between the rabbinic and scientific communities.
Now we can return to the essential question; what is the purpose of these twenty-six verses in the context of what has been said in chapter 1? For the answer we need only to turn back to Rashi’s comment cited in chapter 1. The verses allegorically establish the fact that there is one, and only one, God, and that God is the source of everything. Indeed, God is the CEO of the “Cosmic Conglomerate”. It is God who establishes the boundaries and limitation of all of creation. We do not define God, God defines us. The Torah is, indeed, the policies and procedures manual for our role in God’s Creation.
 
This concept is very similar to the approach of science. The scientist assumes the existence of an independent reality. We seek to understand and describe that reality, and then apply our knowledge to our circumstances. Reality defines science, science does not define reality. Science must always operate within the boundaries and limitations of reality.
 
With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “In the Image of God”
 
Emet vechaim.
 
 
Rabbi Klatzkin notes: The Lubavitcher Rebbe also emphasized that one is not forced to read the Genesis texts as allegorical in all respects. Most importantly, he states that the Torah is teaching us something important about how things come to be. As Maimonides taught in the Guide, one cannot validly extrapolate from the conditions of the already- established workings of our natural world backwards to the conditions before the laws of nature were created.
 
To put it in simpler terms: How much time did it take to create time?
 
For a fascinating modern take on this problem through the lens of relativity physics, see an article in B’Or Hatorah, Volume XV, by Prof. Moshe Carmeli (a colleague of Dr. Fickler) entitled, “The First Six Days of the Universe.”

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