Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bereishit and Free Choice

I gave a shiur last night (and a big 'Thank You' to Yonit Schiller for arranging and hosting the shiur).

It was kind of last minute, so I didn't have as much time to prepare as I would have liked - you'll hear that the shiur is a bit choppy.

I spoke about Parshat Bereishit (because when else is there ever time to speak about Bereishit) and how the Rishonim (mainly Rambam) dealt with the apparent contradictions between reality as we perceive it, and what is written in the Torah (young earth, talking snakes etc.)

I conclude that it is certainly a legitimate approach to view these stories as metaphorical, rather than literal. The next question is 'what is the meaning of the metaphor'. I believe that Rambam answers that in Hilchot Teshuva, when he begins speaking about free choice.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Bereishit/Free Choice

(Right click and then 'download as')

Bereishit/Free Choice

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. I would love to continue giving a shiur to this group of women on a weekly basis, but to do that I would need some kind of sponsorship. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.

1 comment:

  1. 1- You mention the year number needing to be more a convention than an assertion about history. I would suggest that when a kesuvah says "5772 leminyan she'ano monim kan -- according to the count we count here", we aren't just providing glue words between the year and the location. It's far too wordy. Rather, I believe we are explicitly acknowledging that it's only a conventionally accepted number.

    2- Is there any rishonim we can say for sure did take Bereishis 1 literally?

    I used to think Rashi did, but his comments on 1:1 and 2:1 and 2:4 make it clear that he didn't believe we were speaking in our conventional units of time. "They were all created in the beginning" and in 1:1 he refers to the chumash's (2:4) words "on the day Hashem created heaven and earth". The loneliness of Adam and the formation of Chavah was on that "day". Something any commentator should address, but Rashi actually points us to it.

    And of course, in general with Rashi we have a problem knowing what he believed happened, since his goal is to give peshat. If he thought there were two layers of meaning, Rashi wouldn't discuss the 2nd layer.

    So now I'm thinking that not only doesn't any rishon require taking it literally, I am not sure we can identify a rishon who in fact did.

    Which is ironic, since the whole discussion goes on as though it were the literalists who were sticking to tradition.

    3- Which brings me to my next issue... Where does one draw the line. (A problem I have with RNSlifkin's work is that he often points out scientific issues with Chazal and doesn't address this question. The tenor, perhaps due to his youth when he did the writing that made him famous, is one that doesn't enhance emunas chakhamim.)

    IOW, Bereshis 1 and perhaps 2 have a long tradition of being taken non-literally that actually predates facing the philosophical or scientific dilemma. But what about (in increasingly problematic order) the Flood or the Tower of Bavel, the forefathers, or the notions that there were over 2 million who left Egypt and entered Canaan?

    According to current archeological thinking, 2mm immigrants would overrun the country. This notion of not being able to take over, requiring the entire books of Yehoshua and Shofetim is unscientific. And even after Shofetim, the Yevusi held Y-m into
    David's day, Dan and Shim'on never deplace the Pelishtim, etc... And according to current theory, this is a population so much larger than most tribes, there would have to be far more evidence.

    We need to explain why the difference in approach when dealing with the Exodus than when dealing with Creation. And it can't just be that the Exodus is more central to the faith, since that doesn't explain our faith is better founded, just why it is more essential.

    4- There is no free will from Hashem's "perspective" even if you're not Izhbitz. For free will to make sense, you have to be within a perspective that has a present and a future. And then you can talk about whether the present causally compels a given future. Hashem doesn't work within the arrow of time, nor within time altogether, so the whole topic doesn't work.

    I take this to be the Or Sameiach's essential point in his essay on omniscience and free will in his commentary to Hilkhos Teshuvah. Hashem's knowledge of the future has as little impact on free will as his knowledge of the past -- because in both cases, it's not really Hashem knowing now what was or will be -- He has no "now".