Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dialogue – The Expression of Fundamental Beliefs Part 2

In his post entitled Denying the Dinosaur Eras, Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows.

Forget abstract talk about events taking place on a molecular level. Think about something tangible and familiar, such as animal life. The fossil evidence clearly shows that there were dinosaurs and all kinds of other creatures which lived before people (since no fossils of contemporary creatures are found in the same strata). These animals lived and died and fought and ate and bred - we even find dinosaur nesting sites. Did all that happen in the space of twelve hours? Did it happen in a universe in which the laws of gravity, the speed of light, and everything else - the very fabric of natural law - was drastically different from what we see today?

In future posts, we intend on analyzing this paragraph from the perspective of science. But for now I would like to treat Rabbi Slifkin’s final statement in the above-noted paragraph. It is the opinion of this blog that "the very fabric of natural law" during ma’aseh bereishis is identical to the current fabric of nature. In both cases, the essential fabric is the Ratzon Hashem, the Will of the Creator. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (1:69) writes that Hashem is referred to as "Chai Olamim" because He is the Source for the ongoing existence of the universe. If so, what distinguishes the period of ma’aseh bereishis from the post ma’aseh bereishis period?

Maharal writes as follows: (my translation)

Know that He, may His name be blessed, caused all of reality to materialize into existence during the six days of Creation Himself, in His own Glory, and not through the agency of nature, as opposed to the period which ensues after the six days of Creation in which Hashem, may His name be blessed, governs his creation via the intermediary of nature. (Maharal – Be’er haGola 4, London Edition, pg. 83)

What is Maharal saying? Does he mean to imply that the "intermediary of nature" is an independent entity and Hashem merely "uses" it to govern his world? What about the Rambam’s assertion that even the current laws of nature are infused with "existence" directly by Hashem Himself? Surely the Maharal does not argue with this.

The answer can be found in the following ma’amar Chazal (my translation).

Rav Yehuda stated in the name of Rav, at the time that Hakadosh Baruch Hu created the world, it continued to expand like two clues of warp until Hakadosh Baruch Hu rebuked it and brought it to a standstill as it states "the pillars of heaven were trembling, but they became astonished at his rebuke" (Iyov 26:11) This accords with Raish Lakish’s statement; the verse states "ani E-l Shakai" (Bereishis 35:11), "ani hu she’amarti laolam dai" which means "I am the one who has instructed my world, enough. (Chagiga 12a)

Before the culmination of the six days of creation there was no limit to the expansion of the universe, ergo, the laws of nature were still fluid, still in a state of flux. With the advent of Shabbos the boundaries of nature finally became fixed. Hashem "told" the universe "enough" and firmly established the limitations of physical law.

What Maharal means to say is that after ma’aseh bereishis Hashem decreed that the laws of nature would remain static. So although the very fabric of nature is still dependant on the Will of the Creator for its ongoing existence, Hashem never alters the physical parameters of his Creation. Everything He does in the world is done in accordance with the boundaries He set for the world at the end of ma’aseh bereishis. When Maharal refers to the "agency/intermediary" of nature, he means that Hashem does not violate His Own restrictions; He works within them. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, such as the episode of the Mabul and the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. But even these incidents in the Torah do not necessarily violate the "Law of the Fixity of Nature" as Rambam notes in Avos 5:5 (although there are Rishonim who explain the phenomena of miracles in terms of a temporary suspension of the laws of nature).

So, were the "the laws of gravity, the speed of light, and everything else - the very fabric of natural law… drastically different from what we see today"? Not necessarily. What was different was the idea that they were not yet fixed and therefore were subject to change at any time during the period of ma’aseh bereishis.

Note to our readers: The hashkafic ideas articulated in this post are subtle. They are also of paramount importance to the proper understanding of the mitzvah of Shabbos. I am not entirely confident that I have expressed them properly. Comments are welcome, indeed, encouraged. If considered discussion results in the apparent need for refinement, it will be noted in a future post dedicated specifically to the clarification of the ideas found herein.

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