A Question of Time1

©Copyright Rabbi Moshe Meiselman

One of the outstanding areas of contention between the Torah’s teachings and current mainstream scientific thinking is the subject of dating. The perceived conflicts associated with this multifaceted topic seem to be, prima facie, irresolvable. 1. Creation versus a world with no beginning The issue is not a new one. It was first discussed in our sources in medieval times. Ever since Aristotle science had claimed that the world had no beginning. His attitude was that the world has always existed just as we see it today. In more recent times Newton’s laws together with Laplace’s work seemed to have proven this conclusively. Neither the philosophic/scientific proofs of Aristotle, however, nor the scientific proofs of Newton and Laplace moved our Mesorah. None of the chachmei haMesorah who confronted the issue ever suggested that the received position be reevaluated. Creation ex nihilo has always remained a fundamental belief. The scientific approach has always been simply rejected, even in the face of so called proofs. 2. The scientific view changes


This is a shortened version of a chapter in my forthcoming book. The technical bases for much of what is written here are expanded on there in great detail. However, there are two issues that the context of a journal article does not allow to be expounded on in detail. The first is that I show in great detail that the Rambam, Ramban, Rashba and Rabbeinu Bachye, among other rishonim, adopt a dual concept of time. Time as we know it came into existence with Creation; however, there is an extra-cosmic concept of time which is operative independently of scientific time. This operates at times when scientific time is not applicable. When the world operates according to regular scientific norms, the two concepts overlap. However, at times when Divine Providence suspends natural law, we measure time by the extra-cosmic clock. A detailed analysis of the above mentioned rishonim is a necessary part of the ideas in this chapter. The second is the fact that we show in great detail that just as there is such a thing as an halachic ruling (psak halacha) in practical areas of daily life, so too there is psak halacha in issues of Torah ideology (Hashkafah). Adopting singular opinions is as wrong in hashkafa as it is in halacha. The technical detail that supports this position is expounded on in my book as well.

The scientific view changed radically in the middle of the twentieth century so that today the overwhelming scientific opinion is that the universe did indeed have a beginning. It is believed, however, that this occurred some fifteen billion years ago, which is still completely incompatible with Biblical chronology. 3. The age of the universe is not a scientific question It is the opinion of this author, however, that there are serious methodological problems both with the scientific approach to this subject and with the critique of the Torah based upon it, as I hope to demonstrate in the present chapter. Therefore just as there was no reason to change our outlook on account of the “proofs” to the earlier view of the world’s eternity, so is there no reason to modify our understanding of the Torah in light of the “proofs” to the current view. The age of the universe is an issue to be determined by the internal dynamics of the Torah itself. From our perspective it is not a scientific question at all. 4. The problems of chronology Another source of conflict is the discrepancy between the implied chronology of the Biblical narratives and the dates established through archeology and the dating of artifacts. This lack of compatibility has prompted some to opt for non-literal interpretations of various Biblical episodes. However, the same methodological problems alluded to above with regard to the age of the universe apply in this area as well, very often rendering the supposed conflicts spurious. There are, in addition, many other methodological problems connected with the discipline of archeology that are beyond the purview of this work. Therefore once again there is no reason to change our reading of the Torah in response to mistaken science.

(a) The Meaning of Time

1. Sequence and duration2 Before we begin, an important observation must be made. Time can be viewed in a number of ways. It can be thought of, for instance, in terms of sequence – i.e. event A happened before event B – for example, the Torah was created before the world. But it can also be viewed in terms of duration and passage – i.e. event C lasted for twenty minutes or alternatively, event D occurred two hours ago. For example, the Jewish People wandered in the desert for forty years; the Torah was created two thousand years before the world. It is this second way of looking at time that we have in mind when we treat it as an object of measurement, but we will have cause to refer to the first aspect as well in the course of the following discussion. Therefore it is important to take note of which aspect we are speaking of at each juncture. 2. Measurement requires stability One of the main points of this chapter will be that all current tools for measuring the passage of time presume stability in the relationships between natural processes, similar to what we observe today. In fact, our entire outlook on time reflects this presumption. Later on in this chapter we will cite the views of a number of Rishonim, as well as those of certain non-Torah personalities, regarding the measuring of time during periods when these stable relationships did not exist. Clearly in such periods the means by which time is measured must be very different from those in use today. Nevertheless, we see that Torah sources continue applying the same terms as they move seamlessly from one period to another, making no mention of any disjuncture. 3. Dual conceptions of measurement It is evident from this situation that these sources are employing two distinct conceptions of time measurement – one paralleling our own for use when current relationships are operative and another completely different conception to be used when they are not – both expressed in the same terms. In order for them to work complementarily, however, the existence of a unifying conception applicable in all epochs must be posited. It is this that serves as the true measure of time.

I would like to thank Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottleib for pointing this out to me.

Whenever the world is operating in accordance with ordinary natural law the true measure coincides with human convention, making it possible for us to employ the latter and ignore the former. But during those epochs when natural law is not in effect, the true measure ceases to bear any resemblance to our own and it alone has meaning. 4. Time is coeval with the physical universe The Rambam writes that time presupposes motion, which in turn presupposes a physical world. Without motion, there is no time. Time, he concludes, came into existence at Creation.3 Time could not precede the physical cosmos because it is in fact a necessary feature of it. The contemporary scientific view is similar. Time came into existence with the emergence of our current physical universe, i.e. with the big bang. For this reason the question, “What was the prior circumstance that precipitated the big bang?” has no scientific meaning. Similarly, to speak of a quantity of time before the big bang has no meaning. Time, both as a sequence of events and as an object of measurement, simply did not exist before the emergence of the physical universe.4
‫מורה נבוכי חלק ב פרק יג: ואחר כ המציא כל אלה הנמצאות כפי מה שה , ברצונו וחפצו לא מדבר, ושהזמ עצמו ג"כ מכלל‬ '‫הנבראי , כי הזמ נמש אחר התנועה, והתנועה מקרה במתנועע, והמתנועע ההוא בעצמו אשר הזמ נמש אחר תנועתו מחודש והי‬ ‫אחר שלא הי', ושזה אשר יאמר הי' הבורא קוד שיברא העול , אשר תורה מלת הי' על זמ , וכ כל מה שיעלה בשכל מהמש‬ .‫מציאותו קוד בריאת העול המש אי תכלית לו, כל זה שער זמ או דמות זמ לא אמתת זמ , כי הזמ מקרה בלא ספק‬ 4 In an address on this topic theoretical physicist Paul Davies said the following: “If the big bang was the beginning of time itself, then any discussion about what happened before the big bang, or what caused it – in the usual sense of physical causation – is simply meaningless. Unfortunately, many children, and adults, too, regard this answer as disingenuous. There must be more to it than that, they object. Indeed there is. After all, why should time suddenly ‘switch on’? What explanation can be given for such a singular event? Until recently, it seemed that any explanation of the initial ‘singularity’ that marked the origin of time would have to lie beyond the scope of science. However, it all depends on what is meant by ‘explanation’…. “The essence of the Hartle-Hawking idea is that the big bang was not the abrupt switching on of time at some singular first moment, but the emergence of time from space in an ultra-rapid but nevertheless continuous manner. On a human time scale, the big bang was very much a sudden, explosive origin of space, time, and matter. But look very, very closely at that first tiny fraction of a second and you find that there was no precise and sudden beginning at all. So here we have a theory of the origin of the universe that seems to say two contradictory things: First, time did not always exist; and second, there was no first moment of time. Such are the oddities of quantum physics. “Even with these further details thrown in, many people feel cheated. They want to ask why these weird things happened, why there is a universe, and why this universe. Perhaps science cannot answer such questions. Science is good at telling us how, but not so good on the why. Maybe there isn’t a why. To wonder why is very human, but perhaps there is no answer in human terms to such deep questions of existence. Or perhaps there is, but we are looking at the problem in the wrong way. Well, I didn’t promise to provide the answers to life, the universe, and everything, but I have at least given a plausible answer to the question I started out with: What happened before the big bang? The answer is: Nothing. (See http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/big-bang.html.)

Questions such as, “What caused the big bang?” valid as they may seem to the layman, are relegated by modern science to philosophy – or worse, to theology – because scientifically speaking, they are meaningless. Not every question that can be formulated is meaningful, note the scientists, and a meaningless question cannot be given a meaningful answer. In a different context Stephen Hawking illustrated this by asking, “What is five miles north of the North Pole?” Since the question is nonsensical, it has no answer. 5. The atomic clock Time is a way of relating the changes associated with distinct physical processes to one another. Historically, it was measured by astronomical phenomena. The verse in Bereishis tells us that the day, the month and the year are all based upon astronomical movements.5 Currently, as a matter of convention, for all scientific and legal purposes time is measured by the behavior of the cesium atom. Since 1967 the International System of Units (SI) has defined the second as the period equal to 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two energy levels of the ground state of the Cesium-133 atom. This definition makes the cesium oscillator (sometimes referred to generically as the atomic clock) the primary standard instrument for all time and frequency measurements. The measurements thus derived are referred to as “atomic time.” There are formulae to relate this to our astronomical time. To keep the two types of time synchronized, leap seconds must be added from time to time. 6. Extrapolation presumes a stable framework This entire system presumes the absolute coordinated regularity of nature. A change in any one phenomenon vis-à-vis any other would totally upset the way we measure time. Hence, the day that Yehoshua caused the sun to stand still may have been a single astronomical day, but it was surely a longer period as measured by the cesium atom. The presumption of stability in the oscillations of the cesium atom underlies all notions of time measurement today, as well as their projection into other epochs.

. ‫5 בראשית פרק א פסוק יד: ויאמר א', יהי מארת ברקיע השמי להבדיל בי היו ובי הלילה והיו לאתת ולמועדי ולימי ושני‬

When we extrapolate backwards in time we are tacitly assuming that throughout the period of the extrapolation all natural processes maintained the same relationships. If, for example, they were all to speed up by a factor of ten we would have no way of measuring or perhaps even detecting the phenomenon. On the other hand, if one process remained constant we would then have to decide whether the others sped up or that one slowed down. 7. Coordinating astronomical and atomic time To give a practical example, suppose that the rotation of the earth on its axis were to double in speed while all other natural processes remained constant. We would then be forced to decide whether there were now more days in the year or whether the period of a day had become two revolutions instead of one. If the latter option were chosen, the day would receive a new astronomical definition, but it would correspond to the same number of cycles of the cesium atom. Contemporary convention would choose the second alternative, but this preference is based upon a totally arbitrary formality. It should not be inferred from this discussion that the world could in fact remain stable if all natural processes were to speed up – or that such a thing has ever happened. The universe is a delicate mechanism and any change in one variable would demand coordinated changes in countless others. This example was only meant to illustrate the kinds of factors that must be taken into consideration when evaluating issues of time. 8. Nature’s constancy is not a given The assumption of the constancy of natural processes throughout the ages has been disputed by some of the greatest names in science. In 1939 the English physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Paul Dirac wrote, “At the beginning of time the laws of Nature were probably very different from what they are now. Thus, we should consider the laws of nature as continually changing within the epoch, instead of holding uniformly throughout space-time.”6 9. Science dismisses what it cannot evaluate

Dirac, Paul “The relationship between mathematics and physics,” Proceedings of the Royal Society (Edinburgh), v. 59, pp. 122-129.

According to our Mesorah there were at least two epochs in which the processes of nature were indeed very different from what they are today. The first was during the course of Creation while the second was throughout the period of the Mabul. Although it is certain that the differences were very great, their exact extent and nature are completely unknown to us. Whenever an event is said to have taken place outside of ordinary natural law there is no way for science to evaluate its factuality. For this reason the report is simply assumed to be false or at the very least, distorted beyond all recognition. This is how science deals not only with Creation and the Mabul, but with all irregular events. This is a classic example of the application of Occam’s razor.7 Rather than positing unverifiable alternatives, science takes the familiar current situation and extrapolates it backwards and forwards in time. It has no other way of relating to the past and future. In general this methodology has proven to be a very effective. It is also a highly reasonable one to adopt in the absence of a Mesorah.8 The Torah tells us, however, that there were at least two periods of history – during the week of Creation and again in the time of the Mabul – when the current natural order was not functional. During these periods, therefore, extrapolation is inappropriate and leads to mistaken conclusions. 10. During Creation and the Mabul different laws applied During the six days of Creation the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different from the one operative today.9 Hence it is a mistake to project our current way of measuring time backwards into that period. Similarly, the period of the Mabul was one of cosmic chaos, involving the disruption of many natural processes.10 For this reason we can discuss the timing of events that have transpired since the Mabul and of those preceding
Occam’s razor will be explained in detail later. Briefly, it is the principle that when faced with different ways of explaining a set of data or a phenomenon one should adopt the simplest until forced to change. ‫8 ראה ספר הכוזרי מאמר ה אות יד ואי הסכמה בי פילוסו לחברו. על כל פני אי להאשימ על כ . אדרבה, יש לשבח על‬ ‫ההשגי שהשיגו בכח ההפשטה שבהקשיה , ועל שכוונו אל הטוב, ויסדו את החקות השכליות, ומאסו בתענוגי העול הזה. לה‬ ‫אפוא היתרו על כל פני , כי הרי לא נתחייבו לקבל את דעותינו אנו. אול אנחנו מחויבי להאמי בכל אשר ראו עינינו ובמסרת‬ .'‫הדומה לעדות הראי‬ ‫9 מורה נבוכי חלק שני פרק ל. וכל החכמי ז"ל מסכימי שכל פרשה זו היתה ביו הששי, ושלא ישתנה דבר כלל לאחר ששת‬ .‫ימי בראשית, ולפיכ לא יהא רחוק שו דבר מאות הדברי כפי שאמרנו שעד עתה לא גובש טבע יציב‬ ‫מורה הנבוכי חלק א פרק סז. ואמר כי בכל יו מ הששה היו מתחדשי חדושי יוצאי מזה הטבע המונח הנמצא עתה במציאות‬ .‫בכללו, וביו השביעי נמש העני והונח כפי מה שהוא עתה‬ ‫01 בראשית רבה כה ב אמר ר' יוחנ לא שמשו המזלות כל אות י"ב חדש. אמר לו ר' יונת שמשו, אלא שלא הי' רישומ ניכר. לא‬ .‫ישבותו, רבי אליעזר ורבי יהושע. רבי אליעזר אמר לא ישבותו, מכא שלא שבתו. ורבי יהושע אומר לא ישבותו, מכא ששבתו‬

it (subsequent to Creation), but we cannot make any projections backward from what we currently observe into or beyond the year of the Mabul.11 Take, for instance, the assertion that a certain tree has been shown scientifically to be 5000 years old. There are two reasons why this statement is nonsensical from the Torah perspective: • First, we do not understand how the chaos of the Mabul altered the natural processes operative at the time, hence we cannot know how these, in turn, affected the tree. • Second, since the world was governed by different laws during the Mabul, the means by which time is measured today cannot be applied to this period. In other words, our standard approach to time does not provide us with the continuum of measurement necessary for evaluating the age of the tree.12 11. More difficulties in evaluating ancient events The difficulties in evaluating antediluvian events are actually much greater than may appear from the foregoing discussion. When we examine remains from the postdiluvian world we can make certain presumptions about what took place with relative confidence. We can then assign approximate dates to these events using the tools of measurement with which the continuity of natural law provides us. This approach fails, however, when we attempt to apply it to the period of the Mabul and before. There are three reasons for this: • First, as already noted, there is no continuum of natural law that includes the contemporary world, the period of the Mabul and the antediluvian world. Hence there are no common tools of measurement with which to construct a comprehensive table. • Second, although it is possible that prior to the Mabul the world was subject to the same system of natural laws as afterwards, the details of the world may have been very different. We view a world reconstructed from chaos. The laws of physics and chemistry may be
This may be the intention of the Midrash stating that the period of the Mabul does not figure in the reckoning of Noach’s years. 12 It also follows that the days and months spoken of within the year of the Mabul are reckoned in accordance with an entirely different sort of clock. Similarly, when we say that the world is 5770 years old we are again employing a different sort of clock than the one we use ordinarily, even though the units we refer to are identical.

the same, but features such as weather patterns and the natural characteristics of the flora and fauna may be radically different from what they once were.13 • Third, we are incapable of evaluating the impact that the Mabul itself had upon the world. In short, there is no sound basis for interpreting remains from epochs whose rules we do not understand. Interpreting the results of the process of Creation or the chaos of the Mabul is beyond our ability. 12. An apparent conflict due to circular reasoning During the period of Creation God was still engaged in putting our current system together. At the time of the Mabul He tore the world apart and put it back together again in an orderly but changed fashion. Consequently, we have no way of knowing what rules were operative during either episode. For this reason contemporary methods of interpretation and measurement break down when confronted by these two periods. Once one accepts the Torah's version of history – that during certain epochs current natural law was not operative – there is no contradiction at all between the Torah’s chronology and science. It is only when one denies the Torah's version of events that the contradictions arise. The issue is completely circular. 13. Different assumptions, different conclusions To sum up, there are two reasons why no definitive conclusions can ever be drawn from remains found in early geological contexts: First, during the periods of Creation and the Mabul the world was subject to different laws than those operative today. Second, during those epochs time itself had a different meaning than it has today. By contrast, when contemporary science sets about analyzing ancient remnants it implicitly assumes the reverse of these two points – namely, a) that natural law has never changed, and b) that time has always had the same meaning.


Note for example the diminution in human life spans after Noach, at least of the great leaders. Note also the change in animal behavior indicated by Bereishis 9:5; cf. the Ramban’s discussion thereon.

The real dispute, then, is about the kinds of assumptions it is legitimate to make, while the differences in conclusions are merely derivative of that. The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture. Our Mesorah has always rejected them and there is no justification for changing that stance now.

(b) Rav Yitzchak of Acco14
1. The concept of Sabbatical cycles In a final note, the popular literature often cites the view propounded by Rav Yitzchak of Acco (1250-1340),15 a medieval Kabbalist and talmid of the Ramban, which indeed seems to place the age of the universe at around fifteen billion years.16 Rav Yitzchak is elaborating upon a position found in the early Kabbalistic work Sefer HaTemunah,17 according to which the years of this world comprise one out of seven Shemita or “Sabbatical” cycles of 7000 years each. The general understanding is that according to Sefer HaTemunah we are currently in the second cycle.18 Assuming, however, as some commentaries do,19 that we are currently in the seventh Sabbatical cycle,20 our calendar would then begin when the entire system was 42,000 years old.
This section has been greatly expanded since its submission to the journal DIALOGUE and is subject to further revision as more research is completed. 15 In Otzar HaChaim, as of yet unpublished. The best manuscript is said to be Guenzburg (Moscow), no. 775. I thank Rabbi Mordechai Frankel for this and other information pertaining to this subject. 16 The first person to popularize this opinion was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in an address to the AOJS on February 18, 1979. This address is still available online at a number of Websites. He also discusses the subject in Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View, Ktav, 1992. 17 Although this work has been attributed to the Tanna Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKanah, the Ramak rejects this out of hand. He writes: ‫שיעור קומה פ ע"א: ולא ידענו מי מחבר הס', זולתי שנמסר לנו שה דברי ר' יצחק בעל ס' א"ז ובעל ס' מראות הצובאות ובעל‬ . ‫ספר הגבול ובעל ס' סודי רזי'. הרי ביארתי ל ספריו, וצא ובדוק בה ותמצא אס יש כדאי לסמו על חידושיו. והוא היה אחרו‬ The Ari also refers to the author of the sefer merely as one of the mekubalim (Sha’ar Ma’amarei Rashbi, p. 212). 18 For example, the Ramak in Shiur Komah, p. 80a. In fact, the Ari, who disagrees with Sefer HaTemunah, writes that what misled him was the statement found in earlier works that we are in the Shmitah HaSheniyah, which according to the Ari means something else entirely. In any event, the Ari obviously understood that according to Sefer HaTemunah we are in the second cycle. 19 Kaplan cites the 14th century work Livnas HaSapir, by R. David b. R. Yehuda HaChassid (Jerusalem, 1913), which he calls, “the most authoritative interpretation of the Sefer HaTemunah. In fact, Livnas

Rav Yitzchak’s innovation was that the “days” of these years are “Divine days,” of a thousand years each, so that a “year” is equivalent to 365,250 of our years.21 365,250 times 42,000 equals 15.3405 billion years. It is claimed that this figure corresponds roughly to the age of the universe mentioned in the context of contemporary cosmological theory. 2. What clock was Rav Yitzchak using? There are many flaws in this approach to the issues of chronology. Let us begin by examining whether it actually resolves the problems it is meant to address. In the schema of Rav Yitzchak, based upon that of Sefer HaTemunah, the totality of time is comprised of a number of separate segments or Sabbatical cycles, each one constituting a world unto itself. The contemporary authors who cite this view presume that all these segments can be figured into the reckoning of years elapsed since the Big Bang. In order for this assumption to be valid, however, there must be some sort of clock running continuously from one world to the next. But if each succeeding universe is created yesh mi’ayin, as seems to be the case,22 it is difficult to see how any single clock, based on physical phenomena, can run continuously from one to the next, or how their durations could be combined in any meaningful way. This suggests that Rav Yitzchak himself was using a conception of time that was very different from our own. Perhaps he is following in the footsteps of his mentor the Ramban, who posited the existence of an extra-cosmic clock. Thus the various segments of time are tied together only in the metaphysical realm. If this is the case, his opinion is of very little use in reconciling the Torah with theories that measure time according to physical criteria in the billion of years. 3. Rav Yitzchak’s schema encompasses many worlds
HaSapir does not mention Sefer HaTemunah by name at all. Nevertheless, he does discuss the idea of Sabbatical cycles (p. 1a), apparently from an independent source. According to him we are currently in the seventh cycle. 20 Kaplan says sixth in his lecture, but this is clearly a mistake. For our calendar to begin at 42,000 years six cycles must have already been completed, which is in fact what Livnas HaSapir says. 21 Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 36) uses the principle of “Divine days” to arrive at the figure of seven thousand years per “week” in the first place, thus Rav Yitzchak’s position apparently involves invoking it twice. 22 The Ramak writes: ‫שיעור קומה עט ע"ב: ועתה ראה שאי אתה יכול לקלע אל הקדמותיו באומר שהרי העול קדמו , שהוא )ספר התמונה( דעתו‬ .‫אינו אלא שיתחדש יש מאי בכל שמטה ושמטה, ואי השמטה החולפת מחייבת קדמות‬

Even if the issue of the “clock” could somehow be circumvented, the difficulties would still not be resolved. The continued existence of physical phenomena from the distant past would remain problematic. For example, if the bones of the dinosaurs are from a previous Sabbatical cycle, why do we find them in our world? Similarly, if each succeeding world was created yesh mi’ayin, why is the light given off by distant stars millions or billions of years ago still in transit? And why is the background microwave radiation, used as evidence for the Big Bang, still detectable? Why did it not vanish when the first Sabbatical world came to an end? 4. Is this what the sources had in mind? One must also ask, is this a faithful reading of the sources in question? Let us suppose that we are in deed in the seventh Sabbatical cycle. Here are some of the things that Sefer HaTemunah writes about the second cycle, which supposedly ended more than ten billion years ago:23 “And from this comes the power to the second Sabbatical cycle, for there to be redemptions on high and down below, after exiles, and for there to be complete healing for the penitent and for there to be from there the power of forgiveness and atonement, etc.”24 “And from the power of the form of the second Sabbatical cycle – at seasons and times known for exiles, and times prepared and the secret of their service in their exiles – together a nation and its God in their exile, etc.”25 “And from this power comes unity and wholeness to the second Sabbatical cycle and endurance to its Torah and a remainder to its people. And even with this, when they are in the land of their enemies I have not reviled them nor have I rejected them, etc.”26 “And from the power of this form and the second Sabbatical cycle for there to be vengeance against idols and their owners and violators of the covenant
Assuming that we are now in the seventh cycle, four complete cycles of 7000 Divine years would have passed since the end of the second cycle. Multiplied by 365,250 human years per Divine year that comes to 10.227 billion. ‫42 ספר התמונה )לעמברג תרנב( נג ע"ב: ומזה הכח לשמטה שנית להיות גאולות עליונות ותחתונות, אחר הגליות, ולהיות רפואה‬ . ‫שלימה לבעלי תשובה, ולהיות מש כח סליחה וכפרה לנצח, שהוא יו כפרה וטהרה כלולה ברחמי‬ ‫52 ש נט ע"א: ואז הכל נסתלק והאד שב למקומו אשר לוקח מש . כי הול האד אל בית עולמו, העפר למקומו, הרוח תשוב אל‬ ‫מקומה אשר ניתנה, כי הכל נתעלה. ומכח הצורה לשמטה שנית בעתי וזמני ידועי לגליות ולזמני מתוקני . וסוד עבודת‬ .‫בגליות יחד גוי ואלקיו בגלות , מדובקי , מיוחדי בצורת האות, סגורי בגלות עד עת זמ אשר יפדה גוי ואלקיו‬ ‫62 ש סב ע"ב: ומזה הכח יחוד ושלימות לשמטה שנית וקיו בתורתה ושארית בעמה, וא ג זאת בהיות באר אויביה לא‬ .'‫מאסתי ולא געלתי וכו‬

and desecrators of Shabbos and undoers of this covenant of unification, etc.”27 I am not a Kabbalist and do not pretend to understand the depths of these matters, yet I cannot help but ask – do these quotes sound even remotely like a description of the evolution of the galaxies in the distant past? But even if we set aside the question of which Sabbatical cycle we are in, is that what the discussions in this book are about? 28 Surely the discussions here are about spiritual matters and worlds not even remotely related to those described by the cosmologists!29 5. Relying upon minority opinions The theory we have been discussing grafts together the position of the sefer Livnas HaSapir – that we are in the seventh Sabbatical cycle – with that of Rav Yitzchak of Acco that the years of these cycles are “Divine years.” Since there is no reason to suppose either that Livnas HaSapir agrees with Rav Yitzchak regarding the length of the years, or that Rav Yitzchak agrees with Livnas HaSapir regarding which cycle we are in, the theory essentially involves synthesizing a new position not mentioned in any source. What is more, it involves building a major hashkafic position upon an opinion that was rejected by the Ramak (1522-1570),30 the Ari (1534-

.‫72 ש סה ע"א: ומכח זו הצורה ושמטה שנית להיות נקמה בע"ז ובבעליה , ובעוברי ברית ומחללי שבת והמיפר ברית היחוד זה‬ The discussion in Livnas Sapir is no more compatible with modern cosmological theory. The author of that work spreads the “thousand generations” of humanity mentioned in Tehillim 105:8 over all seven Sabbatical cycles: ‫לבנת הספיר א ע"א: עוד ראי' דהאי שמטה בתריתא פועלת מדכתי', דבר צוה לאל דור. וה חמשי אל שנה. ולפי סדר השמטות‬ .‫הוו להו תת' דורות לששה שמטות, נשארו לשמטה שביעית ק' דורות‬ 29 In his lecture Rabbi Kaplan also harnesses to his cause a number of Midrashim, including one stating that, “there was an order of time before this.” When the Steipler Gaon (1899-1985) was told of his theory, or one like it, he responded in a letter: ,‫קריינא דאגרתא ח"א מכתב מו: וע"ד שנמצאו מאחז"ל שמשמעות לכאורה כמו שעולה ע"ד הריקי , באמת ח"ו חלילה וחלילה‬ .'‫אי מש שו זכר לזה כלל וכלל וכו‬ ‫וכ מה שאחז"ל במדרש רבה )בראשית ג ז( יהי לא נאמר אלא ויהי, מכא שהיה סדר זמני קוד לכ . א"ר אבוה מלמד שהיה‬ ‫הקב"ה בונה עולמות ומחריב עד שברא את אלו. ע"כ לשו המדרש. ולא נתבאר כלל שהעול הזה הלז היתה מלפני ששת ימי‬ .‫בראשית ח"ו, חלילה וחלילה. אלא שהיה סדר זמני ובריאת עולמות אחרי , א באופ רוחני כעני שדי וכיו"ב, או באופ גשמי‬ ?‫ובכל אופ אינו קאי על עול הזה. היעלה על הדעת שח"ו חז"ל יכחישו חלילה פרשת מעשה בראשית‬ ,‫03 שיעור קומה עט ע"א-פ ע"א: ואול מצאתי בדרוש הזה להקת מקובלי שהרחיבוהו, ראשו לכל הוא בעל ס' התמונה‬ .'‫בתמונה השלישית, ז"ל, ראשונה אמ' שה ז' שמטות הקפת העול ז' אלפי שני , שית וחד חרוב וכו‬ After giving several pages of proofs against the view of Sefer HaTemunah the Ramak concludes: ‫ואחר שטיהרתי רעיוני מכל הסברות הזרות האלו, רצוני להעמיד על תוכ הדברי כל , עד סו אימות הדבר בלי ספק כלל‬ ‫ועיקר. ובכלל דברי אעביר דעות זרות ג מהדרוש הזה, בע"ה. וראשונה תקבע בלב כי תחלת מציאות הנאצלי ע"ס הנקודה‬ .‫האחרונה היא היא המציאות הזה ואי זולתו‬

1572)31 and Rav Chaim Vital (1543-1620), the three giants of Kabbalah of the sixteenth century.32 It is true that important later Kabbalists, including the Vilna Gaon and the Leshem, revived the doctrine of Sabbatical cycles, on the basis of a passage in Tikkunei Zohar, and resolved it with the teachings of the Ari.33 Nevertheless, when this doctrine was first invoked to solve modern cosmological difficulties these sources were not mentioned. Instead it was claimed that in matters of hashkafah there is never a pesak and one is therefore free to accept whatever position one chooses, even if the view was rejected by the major authorities.34 The position of Livnas HaSapir, that we are in the seventh Sabbatical cycle, remains a minority opinion among those affirming the doctrine of Sabbatical cycles, while the innovation of Rav Yitzchak that each day of each year is a thousand years long seems to be an entirely unique view. In Chapter Eight we will discuss at length the validity of basing one’s hashkafah upon minority views and rejected positions from the past. We will also have something to say about the claim that there is never a pesak in matters of
Rav Chaim Vital quotes the Ari to this effect in a number of places. Here are two: ‫שער מאמרי רשב"י )ירושלי , תשמ"ח( מד: ואמר, ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את השבת, הרי כי בכל פסוק תמצא‬ ‫מוזכרי שתי שבתות ביחד. ובכלל הדבר הוא להודיע עני טעות אחד, נפל בפי קצת המקובלי כמו ספר קנה וספר בעל‬ ‫התמונה, האומרי כי שבע שמיטות יהיו בעול , וכל שבעה אל שנה ה שמיטה אחת. וכבר עברה שמיטה ראשונה, ואנחנו עתה‬ ,‫בשמיטה הב׳, הרומזת אל ספירת הגבורה, וכיוצא בזה האריכו בדברי אשר לא כ . ועתה אודיע , כי אי להאמי בדברי האלו‬ .‫וסיבת מי שהביא לידי טעות הזה, יתבאר בדברינו אלה‬ ‫ספר הליקוטי )מודפס ע שער הפסוקי , ירושלי , תשמ"ח( קצא-קצב: הנה תמיד תמצא עני שני שבתות. ג בזה תבי היטב‬ .'‫מהיכ טעו אות שאמרו זו שמטה שניה. והעני , וכו‬ ‫הרי אי שני שבתות ה , א' ביו שבת שנאצל הדר העליו , וביו שבת שני שנאצלה המלכות. ואלו ה סוד שני שבתות הנז' בכל‬ ‫מקו . ובזה תבי סוד מה שאנו קוראי לז' אלפי שני שמטה שניה, כי ה שניי בער המלכי דאר אדו . אמנ מזה טעו‬ .‫ואמרו דא"כ שזו היא שמטה שניה, א"כ ודאי צרי שיושלמו עד הז' שמטות‬ 32 As Rabbi Kaplan himself acknowledged. In the lecture referred to earlier he says: “Before going any further, I must mention that most recent Kabbalah texts do not mention the shitah of Sefer HaTemunah. The reason is that two of the greatest mekubalim disputed it. The first was the Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, at the end of his sefer Shiur Komah, who says that we do not follow the shitah of Sefer HaTemunah. Also the Ari in his Likutey Torah on BeHar says that the Sefer HaTemunah is incorrect. In fact, in the hakdamah of Sefer VaYak’hel Moshe, the author says, ‘Look at the greatness of the Ari. There was a shitah that was upheld by all the early generations of mekubalim, but the Ari said that he was wrong.’” ‫33 לש שבו לאחלמה, דרושי עול התוהו, חלק ב דרוש ג ענ ז: ודע, כי כל מה שאמרנו כא מעני סו כל התיקוני , שהוא עד‬ ‫אל העשירי, כי מש ולמעלה הוא בעולמות דא"ס כנז', הנה אי זה סתירה כלל לעני השמיטות הנמצא בדברי הראשוני , ספר‬ ‫התמונה והקנה והרמב" והמערכת והרקאנטי והציוני ורבינו בחיי והרדב"ז. וכ הרמ"ק ז"ל בפרדס בשער הנתיבות פ"ב ובשער‬ ‫פרטי השמות פ"ג האמי ג"כ בזה. אמנ בספר שיעור קומה מיא בזה הרבה, וכ בדברי הרח"ו ז"ל בלק"ת פ' קדושי . א הגר"א‬ ‫ז"ל לא דחה דברי הראשוני כלל, ועשה סמוכות לדבריה ואמר בתיקוני תיקו ל"ו, זה לשונו, מכא משמע כדברי הראשוני‬ .‫דשבע שמיטות, ואנ בשניה עכ"ל‬ This does not have any bearing, however, on any of the other criticisms above. Note also that the Gaon states explicitly that we are in the second Sabbatical cycle, not the seventh. 34 After noting that the Ramak and the Ari rejected the theory Kaplan asserts: “But still, as I have said, this involves a question of hashkafah, and no pesak is possible. Therefore, one has every right to make use of this shitah.”

hashkafah. For the time being let it suffice to say that this approach exemplifies the kind of shoddy thinking that characterizes much of the literature of the day. 6. Whatever they have, we had it first! Theories of this sort hold great appeal to those who believe that whatever the non-Torah world embraces, we must show that we had it first! Especially in recent times this kind of thinking has come to replace serious analysis far too often.35


I will add as an epilogue to this discussion that in the same lecture Kaplan makes specific reference to the words of Mori veRebbi, ztz”l, in his address of October 20th, 1971, to the Rabbinic Alumni of Yeshiva University. Mori veRebbi observed on that occasion that those who are convinced of the Torah’s veracity are at loggerheads with modern science and that there can be no resolution of the conflict: “We are still at loggerheads with modern science. There is no way to somehow, to try to eliminate that conflict or to try to reconcile it. There is no reconciliation and I will tell you quite frankly that I’m not worried and not concerned that there is no reconciliation. We were confronted many times with those who try to deny briyah yesh me’ayin...Science has no right to say anything because it is not a scientific problem; it is a metaphysical problem…But again we are still at loggerheads…We have something which the goyishe world has not understood.” In his own talk Kaplan barbed, “This approach is very different than that of many frum Jews who see Torah and science at loggerheads with each other.”

©Copyright Rabbi Moshe Meiselman

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