By Rabbi Zvi Lampel
I am happy to present a newly formatted version of the essay, “How The Days of Creation Were Understood by Our Sages. ” It takes into consideration comments made by others, adds more material, and is newly arranged. The original version is still available at http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2010/11/how-days-of-creation-were-understood-by.html#comment-form, and the comments are as relevant as before. This new version is also available as a pdf document at http://toriah.org/Torah/RZL/RZLdaysOfCreation.pdf
Current academia depicts the world as having existed for eons, rather than merely six millennia, and to man as a creature evolved from others. Although many Torah scholars object that these claims are in contradiction to the teachings of the Mesorah, others have claimed that one can find support among the earlier Torah authorities for accommodating the Torah to academia’s depiction. This essay takes issue with this claim.
It is not implausible that despite someone’s endeavors to make a point clear and simple─despite his striving to expunge any ambiguities and to prevent any misconstruing of what he means─there still will be some who will construe from [his very words] the very opposite of the point he wished to convey. This has happened even with the words of Hashem Yisborach: He stated that He is One and that there is no other; and, in order to remove from our souls the corrupt ideas believed by the Dualists, He clearly stated in this regard, “Hear O Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One.” Yet the Christians use this very verse as a “proof” that the Alm-ghty is a trinity, and they say, “It says, ‘Hashem,’ and then, ‘our G-d,’ and then, ‘Hashem.’ Behold: these are three Names; and it then says ‘is One’─a proof that they are three and the three are One”! --Rambam, introduction to his Ma’amar T’chiyyas HaMeisim
The Rambam wrote the above lines in response to accusations that in his Mishneh Torah he denied the principle of techias ha-meisim, the future resurrection of the dead. Despite his teaching this very concept as a fundamental of Judaism, some took his statements in other contexts to be “hinting” that he “really” did not believe in it. Some attacked him for this phantom position, while others gleefully cited him as an authoritative source for their kefira, their denial of a fundamental doctrine of Judaism. The Rambam reacted by pointing out that even the Torah’s clear words cannot escape distortion by those whose agendas contradict the Torah’s intended message. His response comes to mind when one is confronted by the strange interpretations people suggest to avoid the clear premise Hashem sets up for us in the Torah─the premise that the world was created in six days.1 Hashem details this in Breishis. He repeats it in Sh’mos 20:11 (“For, six days G-d made the Heavens and the Earth”), and again in Sh’mos 31:17 (“Between Me and B’nei Yisrael this will be a sign forever, that in2 six days Hashem made the Heavens and the Earth...”),3 and Chazal have instituted our referring to this fact every Shabbos and Yom Tov. What could Hashem or Chazal say to make this intent clearer? Yet despite all this, some suggest that we ignore these clear words in deference to an ever-morphing alternative to Creation.4
I. CREATION WAS NOT A NATURAL PROCESS
As we will detail below, our mesorah insists that the six days of Creation were six literal days.5 One cannot insert the allegedly natural evolutionary process into the p’sukim by claiming that the days were actually billions of years, and legitimately claim allegiance to the mesorah. The very idea that Creation was anything less than a totally miraculous process, not conducted through natural processes at all─accelerated” or otherwise─is rejected by the Maharal (Ba’er HaGolah, p. 83, Ba’er Four):
Know that He, May He be blessed, brought out these creations, all of them, to physical reality during the six days of Breishis by Himself, in His Own Glory─not by means of an agent, i.e. Nature. Creation was contrary to the way things are after the conclusion of the six days of Breishis, wherein Hashem Yisborach conducts His world by means of the agent, i.e. Nature.”As the Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim,
We, the community following in the footsteps of Moses and Abraham, believe that the world came into being in such-and-such a form, and became such-and-such from such-and-such (haya kach mi-kach ), and such was created after such. Aristotle comes to uproot our words, bringing proofs against us based upon nature in its stabilized, perfected and active state. We ourselves admit to him [Pines translates: As for us, we declare against him] that this is legitimate after nature’s having settled down in its fully developed stage; but in no way does this correspond to something’s characteristics at its being brought into existence, and produced out of absolute non-existence (MN 2:17).And:
None of the things mentioned above [the creation of Eve from Adam, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge, the history of the serpent and the events connected therewith] is impossible, because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed (Ibid. 2:30).
The Maharal remarks that if anything bothers Chazal, it is the mesorah attributing the extra steps Hashem took (and time involved) in creating the world through His “ten ma’a’maros (declarations”), instead of creating everything instantly and simultaneously in one “ma’a’mar” (and in one fraction of a second).6a
II. A DAY IS A DAY
Even before the Rishonim and Geonim, the Talmud (Chagiga 12a) set the record straight about Hashem’s intent with the word “day” in the Creation narrative,
Said Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: Ten things were created on the first day: Heaven and Earth, tohu va-vohu (Emptiness and Formlessness), Light and Darkness, Ruach and Mayyim, middass yom and middas layla (the characteristics of day and night).6b
This talmudic passage clarifies two things regarding our subject: 1. Even if the sun, moon and stars were not yet operating as they do at present, whatever conditions necessary for time passage to occur were already functioning normally the first day (—or certainly for the days following the first), which saw the creation of Heaven and Earth, Earth’s condition of tohu va-vohu, and Light and Darkness. 2. The characteristic length of day and night was determined and put in effect that first day. Without the Talmud itself expressing any further qualifications, it is obvious that the characteristics of the day and night (beyond the already listed characteristics of Light and Darkness) it refers to include the length of day and night to which we are accustomed (—certainly for the days following the first). Indeed, Rashi explains, “the characteristic of day and the characteristic of night”: 24 hours combined.” (Ramban on Chumash Breishis 1:5 says that when it says Hashem called the Light, “Day,” it means He created Time and the characteristics of night and day.) We will see that not only Rashi, but all the classic mefarshim understand the Creation days to be 24-hour type days. Whereas in some other instances the word “yom” may refer to longer periods of time, the meforshim treat such instances as exceptions, and point out when they occur.7 They do not do so regarding the days of Creation.8 Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon makes clear what the mesorah teaches about the length of the Creation process. He states (Emunos V’Dei’os 3:8) that if someone professing to be a prophet suggests that Hashem took a year to create the world, he is a false prophet!9
Sefer Tseyda Laderech, cited in the KPCH edition of Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon’s Chumash commentary, paraphrasing or quoting (it isn’t clear exactly) Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon, writes:
…Breishis teaches…that although you see the heavens possessing vast dimensions, as proven by the masters of mathematics, do not think that it took a long time to create them. “I called to them and they stood up together” (Yeshaia 48:13). This means that [they were created] in the Beginning, in the smallest amount of time, without any effort. Likewise, it says, “He will not tire nor toil; there is no end to His Understanding” (ibid., 40:28). And as it says, “ ‘b’hi-b’am,’—b’hay bar’am—at the beginning of the creation of Time, and in a short period, the mind being unable to grasp this amount…To the scientists of the past, the fact of the vastness of the Heavens conclusively "proved" that it took a long time for them to be created. Breishis told us not to be deceived by such alleged evidence; and it tells us not to be deceived by any other alleged evidence indicating that Hashem took longer than six plain days to create the universe
Rabbeynu Yehudah HaLevy, in HaKuzari (Book One) as well, states clearly that Judaism has always known that the length of time involved in the production of the world’s features and inhabitants was relatively short. In opposition to claims that there are places and buildings millions of years old (see Book One, par. 62, cited later in this essay), he states:
(43) The Rabbi: ... Our prophet ... revealed the hidden things, and told how the world was created... (44) The Khazar King: It is astounding, too, if you have a clear counting from the creation of the world! (45) The Rabbi: With it we count, and no Jews exist from Hodu to Cush who contest this. (46) The Khazar King: And what is your count today? (47) The Rabbi: 4,500 years....Again, in Parshas B’Har (Vayikra 25:1), the Ramban says he joins the Ibn Ezra (ibid.) in maintaining that the awesome severity of the punishment for not letting the land rest every seven years is to teach the fundamental fact that the earth’s entire lifetime is 7,000 years. This could not be possible if the earth’s first days are to be interpreted as periods lasting billions, or even thousands, of years. Even those commentators who do not directly explain the length of the Creation days in their comments on the verses mentioning those days do reveal their assumption (no doubt based on p’shat and Chazal) that they were 24-hour type days when they deal with another issue. The question arises: If, as a simple reading of the verses indicates, Hashem first created the sun on the fourth day, how could there have been three days beforehand? Without a sun, what determined the first three days, and how could they be measured? Defending the mesorah that the first three days of Creation, just as the last four, were regular days as we know them, the mefarshim offer solutions: Several mefarshim explain that G-d actually created everything, ex nihilo, all on the first day, including whatever was necessary to enact and measure the passage of time. The other days consisted of further miraculous extracting, forming and positioning of those things, or allowing them to become perceivable from earth. (This is following one view in the Talmud. The competing opinion in the Talmud is that G-d created things ex nihilo each of the six regular days.)
Ibn Ezra: “Yom echad” is a reference to the turning of the sphere ... Even the Ramban, renowned kabbalist that he was, indicates impatience toward any tampering with the meaning of the word “day” in the Creation account (Breishis 1:3): Know that the days mentioned in Ma’aseh Breishis were, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, literal days, composed [not of years and millennia, but] of hours and minutes, and they were six, just as are the six days of the work-week.
Rambam, (Moreh Nevuchim, 2:30) posits this as follows: If [as appears from the p’shat] there were [as yet, before the fourth day] no [celestial] sphere and no sun, how was the period of the first day measured as such? ... The foundation of the entire Torah is that Hashem brought the world into being from out of nothingness. [This was] not “at the beginning of Time,” because Time [itself] is a created thing. For, time depends upon the movement of the [celestial] sphere, and the sphere itself is one of the things that were created … [Now, although the Torah speaks, for example, of the sky emerging on the second day and the sun emerging on the fourth day], our Sages have explained that … all things [including the celestial sphere actually] were created together [with heaven and earth on the first day], but were [merely] separated from each other successively…. According to this undoubtedly correct interpretation, the difficulty …is removed, which…consisted in the question as how the periods of the first day, the second, and the third were determined. [ZL: I.e. the 24-hour revolution of the celestial sphere or, in our parlance, the 24-hour rotation of the earth, was in effect from the moment of Creation.] [Indeed,] in Breishis Rabbah, our Sages, speaking of the light created on the first day according to the Scriptural account, say as follows: these lights [of the luminaries mentioned in the Creation of the fourth day] are the same that were created on the first day, but were only fixed in their places on the fourth day. And so this approach has already been used as the explanation.
Rashi—whom we already cited regarding the Talmud’s declaration that the 24-hour length of day was established on the very first day of Creation— in his Chumash commentary on 1:14 (see also on 1:6, and Sifsei Chachamim ad loc) and 2:4, follows the Rambam’s approach. He too explains that although Hashem brought out, fashioned, positioned and/or perfected each created thing on the day He designated for such, He had actually created everything in incomplete or potential form or placement on the first day.10
Rabbeynu B’chaya gives the same answer:
Abarbanel offers another explanation, which still illustrates the presumption that the days spoken of are 24-hour type days:
“Evening” is the declining of light, and “morning” is the shining of light. Yet the Torah speaks of the first three days experiencing evening and morning, even though “Let there be light-bearers in the Firmament” was not stated yet. This is because regarding the first three days, “evening” and “morning” were not spoken of in the aspect of light, but in the aspect of the rotation of the sphere. But from the fourth day and on, when the light-bearers (the sun, moon and stars) were created, it speaks of “evening” and “morning” with the [effects of] light in mind. Ralbag’s answer [Breishis 1] is the same: How was the period of the first day, second day, and third day measured, since the light-bearers [sun moon and stars] were not in existence until the fourth day? The answer is … The diurnal sphere was in existence the first day, and each revolution it made lasted about one day’s time.
How were the first days’ periods timed, if there was still no revolving celestial sphere? [The answer is that] that first Light was an entity spread through space through the will of the Creator, for an allocated time, in which was the day; and it disappeared an allocated amount of time, which was night; and that Light came in gradations of morning and evening and noon. Through this, then, were the days timed in hours and minutes [not years and decades and millennia--ZL] just as the latter, natural days were [later] timed by the revolution of the celestial sphere. (Malbim gives the same explanation.) Seforno combines the two ideas: Even though He separated the Light and the Darkness, so that that they would serve at different times without means of the sphere’s revolution, He still separated them in such a way so that between them there would be a time of evening [gradually] developing into night, and a time of morning [gradually] developing into [full] daylight. Rabbeynu Ovadiah MiBartenuro answers in a way that, contra the Rambam, presumes time as a reality independent of the movement of objects: “And there was morning and there was Evening--One Day.”—The causes of day and night is the movement [or, as we would say, the apparent movement—ZL] of the sphere. But since the sphere was not created [until the fourth day], how could the Torah state [already on the first day], that there was a morning and an evening? Answer: Hashem told Moses that the amount of time over which this took place was the same amount of time that [the passage of] morning and evening takes nowadays.
Certainly, by now, one perceives the spirit in which our mesorah approaches the Torah’s description of Creation. All the commentators, while they certainly agreed that there are deep secrets and humanly incomprehensible aspects to Maaseh Breishis, still understood that the Torah does reveal that the creation of heaven and earth and its flora, fauna and first human beings was a meta-natural phenomenon that took place in the period of one week. (Again, in the words of the Kuzari: “Our prophet ... revealed the hidden things, and told how the world was created.” See also Ramban’s words in the final paragraph of this essay.)
Yes, “not all of the Creation Account can be taken literally.” But one must not be naive and overextend this principle. All the commentators agree that we must of course properly understand anthropomorphisms expressed throughout the Torah. (“The sound of Hashem going through the Garden” refers to the traveling of the sound Hashem created, not to the sound of Hashem walking.) There is debate over precisely to what part of the heavens the words “shamayim” and “rakiah” refer. Some attribute, to the terms Earth, Heaven, Wind and Darkness, the four elements. As we have seen, many meforshim adopt the talmudic view that creation ex nihilo of all the universe took place the first day, and that the next days of the week did not witness additional creations. First-glance impressions are sometimes modified (as when treating the subject of whether the creation of “the heavens and the earth” means that the heavens were created before the earth, rather than after; or the meaning most meforshim prefer, simultaneously). But, as we have seen, no talmudic statements or biblical commentators reinterpreted “days” in the Creation account as periods lasting longer than ordinary days, and they accept the basic chronology of events as presented.11 We can therefore anticipate how the mesorah understands the Torah’s meaning of the state of things between Breishis 1:1, which reports that Hashem created the earth, and the following verses that speak of the earth’s state of tohu va-vohu (emptiness and void), the creation of Light and everything else.
The Ramban (ibid.1:4) rejects the suggestion of “some commentators” that the declaration of “Let there be Light,” took place before the first day, and that this original Light initially shined bright for one moment, immediately waned to produce a twelve hour night, and then shined for twelve hours (to explain the sequence of “Let there be Light,” and then, “And there was evening, and there was morning…”). This was Rabbeynu Yehuda HaLevy’s explanation in HaKuzari. The Ramban rejects it “because they would be adding an additional, albeit short, day, onto the specifically six days of Creation.” The appearance of light and then its absence would constitute an additional, although short, morning-and-evening day, contradicting the Torah’s report of the creation lasting just one week. All the less would he tolerate the suggestion that there were billions of years of days of evening and morning before the first 24-hour evening and morning period of Day One. (We have already noted that he explains that the creation of the Light marked the creation of Time itself.) Certainly, he would object to the proposal of millennia of days and nights witnessing physical landscapes and creatures preceding the six 24-hour type days of Creation.
III. DURING TOHU VA-VOHU
So much for the issue of the length of the Creation week and its events. Some have suggested that our meforshim allow us to understand the eons of time and its events described by current academia to have taken place before the six 24-hour days, during the period of tohu va-vohu. However, this is not tenable. First, all meforshim agree that the tohu va-vohu period existed after, not before, our earth’s creation. Second, the meforshim agree that Tohu va-vohu was an activity-less state of the earth upon its creation ex nihilo. And the origins of our vegetable, animal and human life did not appear until after the tohu-va-vohu period, those forms thereafter reaching full development, and permanent area of placement, within the proceeding six regular days. Their explanations void the suggestion that the period of earth’s state of tohu va-vohu experienced the creation of landscapes and creatures and prehistorical histories in millennia untold, preceding the rest of creation over the six 24-hour type days.
Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon (Emunos v’Dei’os, 3:6) dealt with strained readings of the tohu va-vohu verse used by some in the past to conform to a form of the Platonic idea of an eternal matter, from which G-d formed the universe. (The strained reading was: “And the earth had been [something else, originally, namely:] tohu va-vohu.”). They used that reading to defend the view of academia of their day that was confident of the eternity of an elemental air and water in existence from which G-d formed the Earth. (Today, some would use it to defend the idea that before this world’s inhabitants’ creation, there was an eons-long period of “simpler forms of life” of swamplands and dinosaurs.) He attacked this interpretation:
They think water and air always existed, because they imagine “and the earth was tohu va-vohu” is describing what the earth was before it was created [the word “created” being used in the sense of being formed int its present state —ZL]. But one who interprets so is talking utter foolishness. For the Torah’s statement, “And the earth was…” comes after it already stated “In the beginning He created […the Earth],” which means that the Earth, composed of earth, water and air was [already] created [ex nihilo, before the state of tohu va-vohu, not after and from tohu va-vohu].In a later generation, Hizkuni dealt with a similar misinterpretation:
This is not to be explained as meaning that before its [earth’s] creation, it [the universe consisted of matter that] had been [in a state of] tohu va-vohu.(Hizkuni instead explains the verses as follows: “In the beginning, G-d created”—before all created things, the Creator created the heavens and the Earth…. “And the Earth was tohu va-vohu”—the earth that is now in full form had been tohu. When it was first created, it “was tohu va-vohu”—meaning, desolate and empty, [meaning] that there was no grass, man, beast and animal, bird and fish, crawling creature, darkness, light and ruach…for water covered the entire face of the earth….Or, he adds, it may be explained this way: Before the earth’s creation, the place that the earth was to occupy in the future had been totally empty.) In both explanations, the Hizkuni is rejecting the Platonic idea of eternal matter.)
The Rashbam explains the point of the verses as follows: Do you think that this world has always been endowed as you see it now—full of all goodness? No, it was not [always] so. [Rather, the Torah teaches,] B’raishis bara Elokim, etc.”—at the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, i.e. at the time the heavens above and the earth [that you see now--ZL] had already been created—then, whether for a long or short time, the world was tohu va-vohu, meaning that there was absolutely nothing on it…it was desolate, with no inhabitants….
Whatever the “long or short time” was between the beginning of “tohu va-vohu” and “Yehi Ohr,” the Rashbam negates the idea that this period witnessed millennia of evolutionary processes, leaving physical evidence of plant and animal development which evolutionists have discovered. For the Rashbam, along with all the others, defines “tohu va-vohu” as a phenomenon that experienced no developments: Tohu Va-vohu means that there was absolutely nothing on earth…it was desolate, with no inhabitants…..”)
The Abarbanel makes the same point:
After Scripture clarified the fact of the creation of the heavens and the earth, it comes to clarify how their situation was now, in their being created ... and regarding this it says that the earth was tohu...─as does Rabbeynu B’chaya:
And all these great ikkarim (fundamental principles) are clarified from this parashah: It tells us first, that the world is created m’chudash, ex nihilo. After its first being tohu va-vohu, He created all the existing things in six days, and on the sixth day He created Adam....—and Seforno on Breishis (1:2) “and the earth was tohu va-vohu”:
And that earth created then was a thing composed of [tohu va-vohu]. (I.e., tohu va-vohu was the first state of the universe upon the universe’s creation. It is not a description of a situation existing prior to the earth’s creation. No time passed between “Breishis bara” and “V’ha’aretz hayssa so-hu va-vohu.”)—and Ibn Ezra:
The meaning is that at the beginning of the creation of the sky and the land, the earth was uninhabited.
Three strands intertwine among the commentators: the Torah teaches that the physical world was created less than 6,000 years ago; the first steps of earth’s development of vegetable and other life immediately followed a tohu va-vohu period of earth’s emptiness and unproductivity; and the “days” of Creation are regular 24-hour type days. Each of the meforshim explicitly states one or more of these ideas, and implicitly vouches for all of them. Thus, all the commentators speak plainly, if not pointedly, of the absence of any vegetation or animal life before the first of the six days, and of six days in a natural sense. There is no basis to suggest that they would accept the p’sukim’s words mean anything other than a normal day. There is no basis to suggest they would accept that the tohu va-vohu state consisted of millennia filled with evidence-leaving, aging, physical entities, wherein existed swamps and evolving dinosaurs and other forms of life. And all agree that and that the origin of the life-forms we have today are with life-forms that were immediately created fully-formed. Contortions of the biblical text to make them consistent with current evolutionary descriptions of the earth’s past do violence against both its letter and spirit, and contradict the conventional sense presumed and accepted by our meforshim.
IV. PRIOR WORLDS? HOW LONG AGO DID THE WORLD COME INTO BEING?
There is yet another approach used to explain evidence of existence of things on earth longer than 6,000 years that does enjoy some support from Torah sources. There are talmudic and midrashic passages that, on their face, refer to other physical worlds preceding ours. Some have therefore proposed that even if G-d formed this world and its inhabitants within six regular days, He only did this following His original creation ex nihilo of prior worlds, remnants of which still remain—thereby explaining the alleged evidence of billions of years of past activity on earth.
The Rambam sees such statements as predicated on the view of the world being eternal, and consequently rejects them on the grounds that they contradict a fundamental principle of Judaism, despite their authorship. We shall see that most rishonim, if not rejecting the statement altogether, at least reject, shy away from, or are hesitant about, taking these statement to be referring literally to physical worlds.
Ibn Ezra, in the introduction to his Chumash commentary, likewise rejects the face value of the statement about anything physically existing before our world's creation.
Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi bar Eliyahu, an early contemporary of the Beis Yosef, is an exception. He suggests that these statements mean Hashem created a previous world ex nihilo, and thereby brought time into existence, then destroyed it, and then created our world (Sefer Maasei Hashem, Cheilek Ma’asei Breishis, chaps. 3 and 13). However, although his goal is to defend these statements against the Rambam’s rejection, he does not address the Rambam’s principle that time is dependent upon the concurrent motion of an existing thing, nor Rabbi Avahu’s referring to more than one previous world.
Another rishon, Rabbeynu Chasdei Crescas, hesitantly offers these statements as one way to explain why an eternal G-d would have aberrationally created one world at an arbitrary point in eternity. He speculates, using these statements as a basis, that G-d has actually been creating and destroying worlds for all eternity. He speculates that G-d has been either literally destroying each one before the creation of the next, or—and this is what may be used to explain alleged remnants of existence of things over 6000 years ago—that He has been forming each world, including ours, as a more advanced “outgrowth” of the previous one. He then adds that whether this world will also be replaced by a more advanced one, or will last forever, is indeterminable, and concludes, “כי בזה דלתי החקירה נעולות, והדברים עתיקים למקבלי האמת.”
[Reason, which compels us to accept the tradition that G-d is not a physical entity, is a prerequisite to understanding Torah. Indeed, G-d created man with reason even millennia before He gave man the Torah.] The Torah was given to Israel twenty-four hundred years after the creation of the world12. And if anyone mumbles to you, “Haven't the Chachamim darshonned that the Torah was created a thousand years before the world?” ─you should answer him: That drash needs many payrushim to answer it (l'taretz osso), and it is impossible that it should be understood literally. And even if it were meant literally, the subject under discussion is when it [the Torah] was given [and not when it was created].
Behold, their [the philosophers'] belief is that that world is old (yashan),13 and that it has no beginning. And we disagree with them, through the emunah of the Torah, and we can present teshuvos and establish many proofs to make the Torah emunah clear, that the world is new (chadash), and created; and nothing exists that is rishon and acharon except for HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Rabbaynu Saadia Gaon (Sefer Emunah V'Dei’os, end of first chapter) is very clear about his understanding of how long the universe has existed:
And the third opinion [is] the opinion of the fools... [who] say, 'How can the intellect accept that the world has existed for only 4,693 years?' And we will answer [in defense of that] that once we establish that the world was created, it is impossible for it not to have had a beginning...[be it 200 years ago or 4,693 years ago]."
Rabbeynu Yehudah HaLevy, in HaKuzari (Book One) as well, states clearly that Judaism has always considered the world to have existed merely thousands of years. We will repeat the short quote from the Kuzari we cited before, and continue with his further statements:
(43) The Rabbi: ... Our prophet ... revealed the hidden things, and told how the world was created...and the years of the world from Adam until now. (44) The Khazar King: It is astounding, too, if you have a clear counting from the creation of the world! (45) The Rabbi: With it we count, and no Jews exist from Hodu to Cush who contest this. (46) The Khazar King: And what is your count today? (47) The Rabbi: 4,500 years.... (60-62) The Khazar King: Does it not weaken your belief if you are told that the Indians have places and buildings which they consider to be millions of years old?....And what will you say of the philosophers (read: scientists--ZL) who, as a result of their careful researches, agree that the world is without beginning? This is not a matter of tens of thousands of years, nor even millions of years, but of something that has no beginning or end at all! (63) The Rabbi: The philosophers─we can’t blame them. Being Grecians, they inherited neither wisdom nor Torah.... (64) The Khazar King: Does this obligate us not to rely on Aristotle’s philosophy? (65-67) The Rabbi: Yes. Since he did not possess a kabbala through the reporting of a person he could trust, he exerted his mind, deliberated about the beginning and end of the world, and found it difficult to envision it [both as] having a beginning as well as it being infinite. However, through his unaided thought processes, he concluded by accepting his logical structures that inclined towards the theory of a world with an infinite past. He did not see fit to ask about the correct count of years from anyone who came before him, nor about the chronology of the human race. Had the philosopher lived among a people possessing widely known traditions, which he would be unable to dismiss, he would have applied himself with his logic to strengthen the viewpoint that the world came about through Creation.
...Heaven forbid that the Torah would contain anything that actual proof or demonstration would be able to contradict! But the Torah does record, in its account of Creation, the occurrence of miracles and different behaviors in nature, and the changing of one thing to another, to demonstrate that the Creator of the world is able to accomplish what He wants, when He wills it. The question of eternity and creation is deep; the [philosophical] arguments for both claims are of equal weight; but the prophetic tradition of Adam, Noah and Moses—which is undoubtedly more reliable than logical arguments—settles the issue in favor of Creation [vs. the eternal existence of the universe].
And if a Torah-person would find himself compelled to believe and concede that matter is eternal, and [to believe in] the existence of many worlds prior to this one, this would not be an impairment to his belief. For he would [still] believe that this world was created from a certain time, and that Adam and Eve were the first human beings.
ורחוק הוא שיזדקק הדתי להניח ולהודות בהיולי קדום ועולמות רבים לפני העולם הזה. ואין בכך פקפוק באמונתו שהעולם הזה מחודש מאז זמן מוגדר.ר
And it is far-fetched [to say] that a religious person would be forced to accept and concede to [the belief in] a past-eternal prime matter and many worlds [existing] prior to this world. And [anyway] there is nothing in this that should shake his belief that this world was created in the past at a certain, definite time.
1 The literature of Jewish Torah thought, including Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon’s Emunos V’dei’os and Rav Yosef Albo’s Sefer HaIkarrim, teaches us that a word’s primary conventional meaning is the proper way to initially understand a given word in the Torah. Only if contradicted by sensory perception, logic, or other verses—data available to the reader since the time of the Torah’s revelation—are we to understand the Torah’s intent by the word in a less conventional usage. Thus, as will be demonstrated in this article, Chazal and the commentaries all understood the word “yom” in our context to be a 24-hour type day.
Rabbi Yaakov Winselberg of Miami (translator of Rabbeynu Avraham ben HaRambam’s Arabic ספר המספיק לעובדי ה') quoted by Rabbi Shapiro (JewsWithQuestions.com, (posted 24 November 2011 - 08:59 AM), writes:.
There are two phrases here: פי סנה and בלא תאויל. I will start with the second one, because it is a fairly common term. The word תאויל refers to an allegorical way of explaining a text, as opposed to the literal sense. Since it is בלא תאויל, that is the same thing as saying דברים כפשוטן. I don't read this as בלי מחשבה or "thoughtlessly," because that would refer to Hashem's thought. The word תאויל, though, is not used for thought in general, but about interpreting a text or a nevu'ah. So I think this can only be explained according to the first version you brought, which is "כפשוטן," or even better, the way he [Rabbi Kapach] writes it in footnote 58. The first phrase is not as simple. The word פי means "in." The word סנה is usually "a year," but it could also be "sleep." The Arabic is close to the Hebrew here, with both meanings שנה andשינה possible. I prefer "year," though, for two reasons: If it was "while He was sleeping," it should say something like “in His sleep," not "in sleep." In other words, it wouldn't say סנה alone, but סנתה, or something like that. Also, Rav Saadiah Gaon in Chumash for שינה doesn't use the word סנה but the word נום, related to the Hebrew תנומה. So here too, I prefer the first reading, במשך שנה, but I see why the one might write wrote [sic.—ZL] "while asleep" and the like.
I would add that the context of Rav Saadia’s statement is regarding claims that differ from points that biblical verses explicitly make. The other examples given are the claim to permit adultery or theft, and the claim there will be another [global] flood. Therefore, it is obvious that the “shana” refers to a "year-duration of Creation," a contrast to the explicitly stated six days, not to any notion of G-d sleeping during Creation as opposed to being awake—a weird issue not entertained in the verses at all. He means that a prophet who claims Hashem took a literal year to create the universe is as false as one who claims that Hashem will once again bring a global flood. Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon has a very entertaining passage where he ridicules allegorizing the mitzvos and narratives of the Torah by showing the absurd conclusions that one could reach by such methodology.
One should also note that the allegorizing RSG entertains regarding the professed prophet’s claim of a year-long duration of Creation is on the prophet's part. I.e., the alleged prophet would be safe if he makes it clear that his reference to a "year" is only an allegory, or a poetic flourish, in reference to what were actually six days. (Needless to say, if RSG thought six creation days can mean six epochs or six pairs of months, why would he accuse this poor man of being a false prophet?)
Also noteworthy is the comment in Sefer Tseyda LaDerech, cited above in our text.
10 Some have made much ado about Rashi’s comment on verse 1:1, where he states that we must say that the mikreh is not describing the chronological order of events. They translate “mikreh” as “Scripture [in general]” and take Rashi to mean that throughout the entire account of Creation, Scripture does not intend to describe the chronology. This posits the absurd idea that when Scripture says one thing happened on day two, and another on day one, it does not mean to tell us the order of occurrence, and it may really have happened in a different order. The Rashi on 1:14 shows this is wrong. “The light-bearers [sun, moon and stars] were created from the first day, but on the fourth He commanded them to be hung in the sky. Likewise, all the tolodos of the heavens and earth were created back on the first day, and each one was set in its permanent state on the day decreed for it. This is why [when describing their creation on the first day,] “ess” is written before the word shamayim and before the word “ha-aretz”— to include their “offsprings.”
12 Rabbeynu Avraham ben HaRambam is talking about time since the beginning of Creation, not just from its climax with Adam HaRishon. Had R. Avraham ben HaRambam found it acceptable to think that thousands of years had passed between the initial creation of the world and the appearance of Adam, what would have been his problem with the idea that the Torah was created 2,400 years before Adam? Obviously, by "Creation," Rabbeynu Avraham is talking about the initial creation, and he understands that the Torah was given 2,400 years after that.