Cherubs' Secret: How to Read the Biblical Creation Story, Part 1
The Cherubs' Secret: How to Read the Biblical Creation Story
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
This lecture, given on October 17, 2015, is the first of a series at the Young Israel of Woodmere about how to read the beginning of the story of creation and the first several chapters of Genesis.
Note: the first few minutes of this lecture were not recorded. This video begins a few minutes in, and you should be able to follow perfectly. Enjoy!
This recording had some audio issues in the first ten minutes of the recording. The following transcript begins ten minutes in, but you shouldn't have a problem following along. Enjoy![12:25]…questions I want to put out there, which I'm not going to get back to you tonight, but we will get back to next week and the following week. But these, I would say, are kind of baselines questions.
Question number 1, just when you read the text, would you say that the Torah is describing creation ex nihilo or not? In other words, is the Torah describing - we're fond of normally saying that the Bible describes the creation of something from nothing; that first there was nothing and then all of a sudden there was something. Now the problem is does the Torah, as we know it, actually describe the creation of something from nothing?
The answer to that is decidedly, I think, sort of fuzzy. It certainly depends on which of the Rishonim you adopt in reading the very first sentence or two. But the problem just on the most simplest of Pshat levels is if you read these words; Bereishis barah Elokim et ha'shamayim v'et ha'aretz - now if I stop there, you might say that's the creation of something from nothing; In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. Maybe that means that in the beginning there was nothing and all of a sudden G-d created the heavens and the earth.
But then the problem is how you read the next verse - especially say, according to someone like Rashi. See, the way Rashi reads the next verse is that Rashi is going to interpret the next letter which is a Vav, as instead of meaning 'and', meaning 'when'. So the way Rashi is going to actually read this verse, it's; Bereishis barah Elokim et ha'shamayim v'et ha'aretz, he's going to read it not as; In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth, but rather as Artscroll Stone translation will, to have you know; In the beginning of G-d's creating in the heavens and the earth; V' - now is going to mean 'when' - Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu v'choshech al pnei tehom v'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei ha'mayim - when…
When the earth was; Tohu vavohu - formless and void, when there was darkness on the face of the deep, when the wind of G-d hovered over the waters, when all of that was happening in the very beginning of creation, so; Vayomer Elokim yehi or - so then G-d said let there be light. Now according to that interpretation the very first thing that G-d creates is? Light. Let there be light. That's really the first creation.
So the great question really according to a Rishon like Rashi is if that's how you're going to read the verse - well it's not really a question it's just an observation - it sounds like we're not really describing a creation of something from nothing, because it sounds like before Or - before light, what was there? A very mixed up world, but a world there was - Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu v'choshech al pnei tehom v'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei ha'mayim. And yet, you wouldn't expect Rashi to believe that that's really true. That would seem like a startling thing to say, that - I mean, nobody believes that; the Rambam doesn't believe this is true, none of the Rishonim will go on record as saying that G-d is not the author of everything in creation. So how does Rashi understand this then?
The real question if you really want to get prickly about it, or nitty-gritty about it, is what is there that seems to precede light? Listen carefully to the verse. Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu v'choshech al pnei tehom v'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei ha'mayim. What's the only thing you can really point to that's there? Everything is chaotic; Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu, whatever the Aretz is it's Tohu Vavohu. Choshech al pnei tehom - darkness on the face of the deep. Ruach Elokim - the spirit of G-d is hovering over the waters. What's the only thing you really know is there?
[Response from audience member: Water.]
Water. Leading to the question, where did all this water come from? So that would be like question number 1, what's the deal with all this water?
And really, no matter what Rishon you are, you sort of have to deal with that, what's the deal with all the water. The reason why it's an internal question is because as you go through the six days of creation you will find almost without exception that whenever anything gets created the text says it gets created. So in other words, G-d makes birds, so it says, G-d made bird. G-d makes animals, so it says G-d makes animals. Normally, when G-d makes things it says G-d makes them, so the question is how come the water never gets made? You never find G-d making water; it's just, there was water. Don't you think it would be good to say, one day that G-d thought it would be good for there to be water, let there be water? So how is it that we understand all of this pre-existing water?
By the way, that brings us, in a way, to this week's Parsha - to Parshat Noach. Because if I actually asked you to conceptualize these first - this first verse of Bereishit or the second verse of Bereishit, if I ask you where else in the Torah do we meet scene like this? A scene where the only element that exists is water, a scene where it's dark and a scene where it's very, very chaotic - Tohu Vavohu. So if you imagine a world that's just water, that's very dark, that's very chaotic, would have waves crashing all over the place in the darkness, sure sounds like a lot like a flood to me. So it sounds like the Torah is pictorially - is giving you this vision of pre-creation, as it were, but it's using the idea of a flood. So you'd say, well that's weird, the flood was after creation, so how come pre-creation is being described as a flood-like world? That seems really odd.
Okay, so this would be sort of my first set of questions I would have, which is that you don't have to know any science for this, it's just a basic question, just trying to understand the text, where did all the water come from before - or how come it never got created? And, more broadly, how come the Torah seems to be setting up a kind of flood picture to describe this sort of pre-creation world, before G-d created light? Okay, that's question number 1.
Question number 2 in our list of non-scientific questions about Bereishit, questions that you do not need to be a [Groysa 19:28] scientist Chacham to ask. Question number 2 is going to revolve around Day 3 and Day 4 - at least, these are my questions, maybe you have other questions, but this is my sort of shortlist of questions.
Day 3, last thing that happens on Day 3 you will find if you consult Perek Aleph, Pasuk Yud Aleph and things like that, is that G-d makes plant life. All sorts of wonderful plant life; Tadshei ha'aretz desheh eisev mazriah zerah eitz pri oseh pri lemino asher zaro bo al ha'aretz vayehi kein - all sorts of great plant life, grasses. Vatotzei ha'aretz desheh eisev mazriah zerah lemineihu v'eitz oseh pri - not just grasses; trees, all sorts of trees; fruit bearing trees. Vayar Elokim ki tov. Vayehi erev vayehi boker yom shelishi. Okay that's very good for Day 3.
Day 4, what happens on Day 4? Yehi me'orot bi'rekiyat ha'shamayim lehavdil bein hayom u'bein ha'lailah vehayu l'otot ul'mo'adim ul'yamim v'shanim. Vehayu li'me'orot birkiyah ha'shamayim le'ha'ir al ha'aretz vayehi kein. Vaya'as Elokim et shnei ha'me'orot ha'gedolim et ha'me'or ha'gadol l'memshelet hayom v'et ha'me'or ha'katan l'memshelet ha'lailah. The creation of the sun and the moon.
Okay, now how exactly does that work? You don't need to be much of a scientist to realize that vegetation doesn't seem like it has much of a fighting chance before the sun gets made. So if you would imagine a world in which there's blooming trees doing just fine, producing fruit, without literally the sun. We're not talking about without - without much sunlight, we're talking about no sun, like, how exactly does that work? How could the Torah with a straight face want us to believe that there was this day of creation in which there's this vegetation that precedes the advent of the sun itself? It just seems mindboggling that that would be true.
Again, you would assume that people at any stage of scientific development would have understood this, it's not - that's why I'm calling it an internal question, not an external question. It's not like you have to have seen the data from the Mars Rover to get a question like this. Anybody would know - you don't even have to know about the words photosynthesis but you know from basic observation that sunlight is crucial to the development of vegetation, so how could the Torah have said such a thing. Question 2.
Question 3 is going to be another [unclear 22:14] like before, which is if I would ask you, leaving the Torah behind for a moment, about your top 10 reasons that you were happy to live in a solar system with a sun, as opposed to a solar system without a sun? Or even your top three reasons why you were happy that there is a sun in the universe or a sun in our solar system, what would you say? Reasons why you're happy that the sun exists? Anyone want to take a stab at that?
[Response from audience member: Light and warmth.]
Right, wouldn't you say that?
I would say in order of - in no particular order of importance - my top three reasons would be, as you said: warmth, light and gravitational force that keeps everything together. I mean, without that everything is just off - off to the races. And if you think about this, this is really important stuff, without the sun how cold would it be?
[Response from audience member: Too cold.]
Pretty cold. Like zero Kelvin. I mean, that's really cold, like minus 235 - like the cold of deep space. That's very cold. I mean, we're talking about much colder than - you know the dry ice that you pack things with, like much colder than that. That's really, really cold. Just so you understand how cold that is, dry ice burns you when you touch it, do you know what I mean? We're getting to much colder than that. So it would really be bad to live in a world where it's that cold or that dark for that matter. There would be - no conceivable light means no conceivable life. So you're talking about a world which is utterly impossible to live upon without the sun.
Okay, listen how the Torah describes why it's so great to live in a world with the sun. Vayomer Elokim yehi me'orot bi'rekiyat ha'shamayim lehavdil bein hayom u'bein ha'lailah vehayu l'otot ul'mo'adim ul'yamim v'shanim. Here's why it's really great to live in a world with a sun, because the sun is going to help us distinguish between day and night and is going to be a sign for festivals and for days and for years. Because you're going to be able to keep a calendar once you have a sun because - and if you think about it, if you actually read a book like The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin, you'll see that historically this is true. In early history one of the ways that the sun was useful was that it was the first device that allowed for a calendar and even for sundials.
Just think about all the ways in which the sun helps you mark time. So for example, a day is going to be one day and night cycle on the earth, so we're going to call that a day. That's a function of the sun. A month, what about a month? What's that going to be a function of? One day and night cycle that's visible in the moon. So that's going to be a month, more or less. Then a year, what's a year going to be? A year is going to be another day and night cycle, when the days get shorter and the nights get longer and then the days - and then it reverses, and then you get back to the same part of the year when the days are just as long as they used to be, then that is a year.
So day and night cycles with regards to the sun and the moon are the bases of almost all calendrical cycles that we have - with the exception of weeks. But months, years, and days, are all functions of those. So it's really great because one of the first things that man had to master was time actually. Clocks weren't around for a long time so to have any sense of where you were with time you took note of these cycles and that's really important. But, nowhere near as important as not freezing to death. Nowhere near as important as having life because there's a little bit of light in the world.
So the question is why does the Torah cast the creation of the sun with, like, the fifteenth most important aspect of the sun? Why not tell - why doesn't it say G-d made the sun so that there would be light, G-d made the sun so that it would be really warm, G-d made the sun so that people could survive? Instead we get calendar as THE significance of the sun, which seems strange. So that's going to be kind of question number 3.
[Question from audience member: (Unclear 23:17)]
What was that? You were saying how do we get V…
[Response from audience member: Vayehi erev vayehi boker - (unclear) of the sun according to the Torah is to have the day and night, (unclear)…]
Right, okay, good and that's maybe another question you can ask, which is what do the words Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker even mean as they're used before the creation of the sun? We seem to be having days that don't seem to have much of a connection to days as we know it. So it seems like the Torah at the very least is - I don't know if the word is anthropomorphizing, it's probably not the word, but is borrowing from the language of post-creation to describe things within creation itself. Okay, good.
So we'll keep that idea in there, but let's throw that into the mix in our questions, what does Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker mean when there's no sun? Because remember the sun just shows up on Day 4, so you've got a lot of Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker before the sun, so how is it that we're going to understand that too?
[Response from audience member: On Day 1 you had light. So there was light (unclear 28:09)…]
Yes, so you had - so therefore what? So you're saying the sun really wasn't so important for light, because you had that original light? I mean, it could be, if that light provided just the right amount of warmth that could approximate sunlight, then maybe we'd be in good shape. It's not clear that it does, but perhaps. Okay.
All right, so these are some of the questions I want to get back to with you. Again, just a brief review; where did all the water come from? How could there have been vegetation without the sun? How do we understand the sun's importance in terms of calendar? And what does Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker mean before that?
Let me back up now and provide the beginnings or sort of a path towards developing a theory with you which I'm going to follow the implications of over the next weeks. In a way, everything that I'm going to do over the next couple of weeks is going to be an exercise in what I call - what I'm going to call - perspective shifting. Really that's all this is going to be about. So it's shifting perspectives, and the importance of shifting perspectives. Let me explain what I mean. Pulling back the zoom lens a little bit one can imagine three great questions about the beginning of the Torah, three sort of modern-ish, kind of questions about the beginning of the Torah. And I'm going to talk to you about these questions in terms of the lifecycle of the average child. You're sending your kid to day school and let's talk about three possible crises of faith that your kid may go through in his average, or her average, experience of a day school kid, graduating day school and going on into high school and to college.
Crisis of faith number 1 takes place somewhere around say, Fifth Grade or so, on the kid's first visit to the American Museum of Natural History. You go to the Museum of Natural History and you're greeted in the foyer with a very impressive set of bones from the Paleolithic era. There is a - what seems like - some relative of a Tyrannosaurus rex battling a Stegosaurus, and these are fossils, and you think well that's a very creative thing they put together. But then you go to other rooms in the American Museum of Natural History and you see there's many, many of these fossils, they've been found all over the place, and there are these fossilized bones and there are these dinosaurs.
So your little Fifth Grader kid comes to you and says, but my Rebbe didn't teach me anything about dinosaurs, I'm reading Bereishis, there's no dinosaurs, what happened to all the dinosaurs? There's a lot of dinosaurs here, how come the Torah doesn't talk about dinosaurs? That's possible crisis of faith number 1 in little Jimmy.
Let's talk about crisis of faith - now these are very important, by the way, because we spend a lot of money on tuition, do you know what I mean, and it's like you add it up over the ages it's a good 500,000 - I mean I don't know how much money it is, but it's a few hundred thousand dollars at least. It's just a shame to get that all thrown away on a couple of crises of faith and have Jimmy out the door. So that's crisis of faith number 1.
Crisis of faith number 2 happens at a later stage, at about Eighth Grade, little Jimmy is learning biology. He's learning about Darwin and the Beagle and the Galapagos Islands and this whole process of evolution by which everything seems to have evolved, the survival of the fittest, natural selection, all those good things. He's stuck because again I'm looking at the Torah and I just don't see any of this, how come evolution isn't in my textbook? What exactly is this?
Again, I had a story with a kid - I may have related this story to you once before, I don't know - but when I was in Baltimore there was this lady by the name of [Sylvia 33:02] who was a non-Frum lady who was a tutor, who was in one of my classes. But she described a situation where a boy that she was tutoring had this very question; was studying evolution in school, was very pained by it. He said - she said - like why can't my science teacher come to my Rebbe's class and why can't my Rebbe explain to him why he's wrong? Or something like that. So she didn't know what to answer him so she said, well why don't you talk to your father about this - his father was an important, Frum doctor in the community. So why don't you talk to your father about this and see what he says? She didn't want to break any eggshells herself.
The boy went to talk to the father about it, the next day she says, so what did your father say? So the boy said, well my father said that what I learn in the morning with my Rebbe I put in one box and what I learn in the afternoon with my science teacher I put in another box and those are two different boxes and you just keep the boxes separate. So she said, okay, so what do you think? He says, well my father was talking about two boxes but I only have one life. That was his issue. You can talk about two boxes but you only have one life.
So that's crisis of faith number 2. Kid is learning biology, struggling with evolution, what do you do with that?
But then there's crisis of faith number 3. Crisis of faith number 3 comes when little Jimmy has now graduated Yeshiva High School, somehow weathered his first two crises of faith and is now off in Penn - or for that matter he could just as easily be in Yeshiva University. But crisis of faith number 3 happens when little Jimmy is in Western Civilization 101 and they're doing a unit on the Bible, and the professor who is talking about the Bible is talking about the authorship of the Bible. He says, it's all very well known and everybody agrees that the Bible is compiled by a number of authors and you can actually trace it through, you can see that there's a J author and there's an E author. Little Jimmy says, what are you talking about a J author, and an E author?
The professor [gently 35:25] explains that if you look in Chapter 1 of Genesis so you'll see that G-d is called by one name and you see in Genesis Chapter 2 G-d is called by another name. And if you look carefully at Genesis Chapter 2 and Genesis Chapter 1; Genesis Chapter 2 seems to repeat all the information in Genesis Chapter 1, just differently. It seems to be a whole different story, it's like the Torah has two creation stories, why would you need two different creation stories?
Then the professor gently explains to little Jimmy about a fellow by the name of Julius Wellhausen who is the father of the Documentary Hypothesis - going back in Germany - who looked first at that, at this kind of major discrepancy in the Torah and then some others. But basically on the basis of - almost on the basis of that - came to the conclusion that there must be two authors to the Torah, or at least more than one author to the Torah, and that's why you have these contradictory events, and these two different stories that don't seem to mesh with each other. Then a redactor came and kind of threw it all together, but didn't really realize that there were a whole bunch of contradictions in it. But there are contradictions and brilliant people, such as Wellhausen, can come and sort of forensically deconstruct the different strands in the Torah and arrive at this author said this, and this author said that. So the J author was author of Chapter 1, and an E author was the author of Chapter 2.
Poor, little Jimmy says, but my Rebbe said that the Torah was given to Moses at Sinai and there was one author. By this time Jimmy has had it with - this is his third crisis of faith - and at this point it's like all of your tuition dollars are down the drain with little Jimmy. It's not a happy situation.
So if you're a parent and you get to interact with little Jimmy around these three questions, what should you say? What should you say when Jimmy asks you about the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History? What should you say when Jimmy asks you about evolution? And, if you're lucky enough for Jimmy to ask you about the Documentary Hypothesis, if you don't talk to him about it first, what should you say if Jimmy talks to you about that?
Let's start with that and - as a kind of introduction - before we even get to the Keruvim and their mysteries, which is a little bit more of a sophisticated take on things. But let me use my final minutes to begin with you tonight - to begin an approach to answering these three - or dealing with these three problems of faith.
The key to dealing with all of the problems, again, is really just going to be two words; perspective shifting. That's going to be the key, I think, and what I mean by that is the following. Mortimer Adler, who I've quoted to you before, I think - or may have quoted to you before - is a philosopher that died not too long ago, wrote a book. One of the books that he wrote was called How to Read a Book. This book, one of the things he says in it is that most books are not worth reading but there are about 100 or so books that are. And when you read a book that's really worth reading, a book that's hard to understand, a book that you have to struggle to understand, a book that you're going to come back to at any stage in life and see differently, depending on who you are and where you're at in life. When you read one of those books you need some sort of manual as to how to do it. To that end, he wrote this book called How to Read a Book. An attempt to give you the tools to read really difficult books.
He calls the Torah one of those books, and he says that one of the first things you need to do is you have to decide what genre of book that you are reading. You must understand the genre of the book that you are reading before you understand the book. Because if you are mistaken about the genre of the book, you will not ask the right questions as a reader about it. The example he gives, I think, is if you think that you're reading a chemistry book but you're really reading a book of poetry, or vice versa, you are not going to be able to properly ask the right questions about the book.
If you're reading a poetry book, and you're reading Carl Sandburg's poem; fog crept in on its little cat feet, and you say, I don't understand, the fog doesn't have feet, the fog can't creep, the fog isn't a cat. Those are questions that you can't ask about Carl Sandburg's poem; the fog crept in on its little cat feet. It comes from a misunderstanding of the genre; you don't understand you're reading poetry, you think you're reading something else. So you have to understand what genre you're reading before you read a book, otherwise you're going to be hopelessly lost.
Now the problem is, if you try to apply this question to the Torah, that - it's not going to be an easy question to answer. How are you going to answer that question, what genre is it? Now the Yeshivish - pardon the expression - but the answers which you'll sort of think you have from Yeshiva won't do you very well here. Because you might say, well the Torah is everything. Well is it really every - what does that mean? Are you saying the Torah has no genre? Every book has a genre. G-d decided to use literature as the way that He was going to communicate, He communicated by writing a book, books have genres, there's places for things, it's got to be some kind of book. So if you press somebody what would they say?
So you then say well - if you're a Yeshiva guy and you're used to looking at the Torah as a law book - so you might say the Torah is a book of laws. As proof you might say it has 613 laws in it, that's a lot of laws, and basically the Torah is a book of Halacha, or it's a book of laws. Is that true? Well you would say, I don't know. If you actually look through the Torah, so it sure takes a long time to get to those laws, doesn't it?
I mean, you have to read - if you read the Sefer HaChinuch which is reading through those laws, the Sefer HaChinuch comes up with exactly two laws in Sefer Bereishis. You could zoom through all of Bereishis and half of Shemos without getting to most of the laws. It seems like the Torah is spending a lot of time on stories for a law book. And even once we get to the laws there's like these commercial interruptions all the time for more stories. It's like, enough with the commercials, just give me the laws already! Just give me the Sefer HaChinuch. Why can't I have that? So no, instead I have the Torah with all of these commercial interruptions for stories.
So you say okay, well maybe I was wrong, maybe it is a storybook after all; it's a history book, it's a storybook. But then the problem is there's many - much too much laws in it for it to be a good storybook, it doesn't seem like it is a storybook, there's a lot of laws in it. Why would you be punctuating all of your stories with laws?
So you'd say, all right, well forget the stories and the laws, maybe it's a philosophy book. There's some philosophy in the book, it's a spiritual book. So you say yes, there are some passages that deal with spirituality and soaring prose and things like that, but there's too many laws and there's too many stories for it to be a good philosophy book.
What kind of book is it then if it's not a storybook, if it's not a history book, if it's not a philosophy book, what kind of book is it?
I'd like to suggest that the kind of book it is - a good way to think about it, just very practical, is to think about the Torah as a guidebook. The genre is guidebook. It's a guidebook, a practical book, for a nation and for members of that nation, Israel, to be able to deal with important beings of the universe, including G-d, and those around them, both on an individual and communal level. That's the genre of the book. Now in order to achieve that the Bible will make use of a number of different forms. The Bible is going to have some laws in it, it's going to have some stories in it, it's going to have some philosophy in it. What that means is, is that no one of these single genres is itself going to be enough to guide you. Just despite everything you may have learned in Yeshiva, as great as Halacha is, Halacha alone is not going to be a law alone, is not a broad enough discipline to be able to offer human beings all of the guidance that they actually need.
Leading to the Ramban's discussion, for example, of the idea of Menuval b'reshut haTorah. How could you have a Menuval b'reshut haTorah - someone who is an unethical person while following all of the commands in the Torah? The answer is, it's because law itself is not enough to guide you - it's part of the picture in guiding you but it's not the whole picture. If it was, that would be the only thing in the guidebook. You have stories too, what do the stories do? So the stories provide you with some kind of ethical guidance just on the basis of stories, they teach you in a way that laws never can about some of the less tangible but intuitively graspable ethical truths that underlie who we are from our history. And there is some philosophy too. When you put it all together all of this sort of guides you.
But here's the key, if it's true that the Torah is a guidebook, that shifts perspective. In other words, that means that the Torah now is going to tell you everything that it's going to tell you, from the perspective of a guidebook. Every work of literature, no matter what it is, operates from a certain perspective. The perspective that the Torah is going to operate from is the perspective of guidebook; which means whether the Torah is talking to you about laws or whether it's talking to you about philosophy, or whether it's talking to you about stories, it's going to adopt the perspective of a guidebook. That means, when it talks to you about laws it's not going to be adopting the perspective of a legal treatise, when it talks to you about stories it's not going to adopt the perspective of a history book, and when it talks to about philosophy it's not going to adopt the perspective of a philosophy book. When it talks to you about all of these things it's going to adopt the perspective of a guidebook.
This is very, very crucial. In other words, if you're reading a philosophy book, so you can read Heidegger and existential stuff and all of the abstract stuff - the Torah is not going to couch philosophy in those terms. It's not going to couch stories in historical terms, nor even, law in legal terms - which explains by the way, why we have something called the Torah Sheba'al Peh. Do you ever wonder why you need a Torah Sheba'al Peh? Why can't the Torah Shebichtav just say what it means already? How come the Torah Sheba'al Peh has to explain all the laws and how come the explanations look so different from the laws?
So now is not the time to get into this in detail, but just by way of a very, very broad brushstroke, let me just say that the Torah Sheba'al Peh is devoted to actually elucidating to you in real life what it looks like to live by these laws. Which means, it's a legal book, it's giving you the legal details of how to abide by the laws. That's not the concern of Torah Shebichtav. The concern of Torah Shebichtav is something more basic, it's how to guide you, it's going to even talk to you about the laws, not in terms of their legal details of how - but in terms of even more ethical truths that it gives you.
I can give you some videos to watch on this. But let me give you maybe a bit of an easier example to understand what I'm talking about here. Let's talk about stories. Do you ever get flummoxed - as it were - by that Chazal, that famous statement that the Sages make; Ein mukdam u'me'uchar ba'Torah - there's no such thing as chronological order in the Torah? Do you say to yourself, come on guys, there's no such thing as chronological order in the Torah, really? Like, why would somebody write a book and pay no attention to chronological order? What's the deal with that? Plus, there is chronological order in the Torah; it starts in Bereishis, it ends with Moses' death, and it basically goes by chronological order, so what did Chazal mean when they said; Ein mukdam u'me'uchar ba'Torah? What they meant was is that in any given situation you can't trust chronological order in the Torah. You never quite know exactly when something happened, because it might just be the Torah put Event A before B. Even though generally the Torah will adhere more or less to chronological order, every once in a while it will switch things.
So you say, well why would it do that? The answer is, because it's not a history book. If it were a history book, the number one law that a history book has to hold by is, I'm going to give you chronological order. That's how [you events 48:11] in the order in which they occurred. But if it's a guidebook, then what is my overall number one imperative? It's to teach you things. So if I can teach you more by taking two events that were not chronological and putting them together so that you see them side by side, and you see how they relate to one another, to give you a view of what this time period looked like, even though they weren't chronologically there, the Torah is going to do that, because it guides you better.
So the Torah will, when it tells you stories, it's going to tell you stories from the perspective of guidebook, not from the perspective of history book. That is the perspective that the Torah is going to adopt. Everything it says it's going to say from that perspective.
So now if I say, well what about science? So here's where it gets tricky. So the Torah does talk about science, it talks about events that happened and science talks about events that happened, like creation. The difference is that the Torah is going to talk about creation from the perspective of guidance; what it is that can guide you in creation. In other words, why does the Torah bother talking to you about creation? Well what do you learn about in creation? What is there in creation that would be important to guide you? Let me ask you that question. Why is it important that you should know anything about creation? What is it - how would that be important in terms of guiding you ethically? So you say it's a matter of fact, it's a matter of science, why do I even need to know it? Let me throw that question out to you. What do you say?
[Response from audience member: (Unclear 49:52)]
The answer is, is that creation - how creation happened is actually pretty important because it's going to give you a view of your place in the cosmos. I mean, that's a pretty important thing to know. How I developed is going to influence what I think I'm doing here. What am I doing in relationship with everything else, whether that's G-d, whether that's the world, whether that's the sun, the moon, and the stars, it's actually going to matter. So the Torah is going to talk to you about creation because it's important to guide you, for you to understand your place in the world. But it's going to talk to you from the perspective of guidebook, not from the perspective of chronological order or science book.
So for example, if you say, well how come the Torah didn't talk about any of the 39 years in the desert and it only talks about year 1 and year 40 and there's no years in between? Answer is the Torah doesn't see anything lasting during those years necessary to guide you. And that basically is going to be the answer to little Jimmy talking to you about dinosaurs, which is G-d didn't see anything particularly important in the Cretaceous period that was necessary for you to know in order to guide you in the twenty-first century, so He left it out. Now, you're interested in knowing what happened in the Cretaceous period anyway, great, that's why G-d created the American Museum of Natural History, go there and you can learn all about it. But if you want to get guided, so the Torah is not going to include it because that is not part of the guidance.
To give you one final example in this. So you say, but Rabbi it's a contradiction! I mean the Torah leaves it out and it's here, and what do you do about these great contradictions between science and the Torah? No! It's all a matter of perspective, it's really all a matter of - imagine for a moment - and you can try this out with little Jimmy. So imagine there's a burglary at your home, a terrible robbery, and you come home and there's shattered glass outside, and there's police tape around your house and you say, what happened officer, what happened? It turns out that your daughter was home and she saw the assailant and she's sobbing to her friend on the cell phone and she's scared and she's shaken up. The guy went through all your precious stuff and you feel violated, it's really terrible.
Anyway, your daughter caught a glimpse of this guy and she's talking to her friend about how intimidated she is and all of that. It turns out the police actually catch the guy a few days later and there's a trial six months later, and the guy is on the stand and the evidence is overwhelming. But imagine he has a very crafty lawyer. So the lawyer gets up to the stand - the defense lawyer - and says, your Honor, the star witness in the case is Samantha over here, age 16, who claims that she saw my client the assailant. She describes him in a police report as a man of medium build, about 5'7", whatever race he was from, and she had a very clear description of him.
But [your Honor 52:58] I'd like to play you a tape of a cell phone conversation that we actually recorded of Samantha sobbing on the phone to her friend immediately after seeing this, and the description that she gives of this fellow is completely at odds with what she wrote in the police report just moments before that. She describes the person as having overwhelming strength and being an incredibly intimidating person. She describes herself as feeling - shaking in her boots at seeing someone - the picture of the man that we're getting here is a completely different picture of a person of medium build and - she's describing someone who is of overwhelming strength and power. I'd like to submit that she's lying.
So if you have an attorney who is worth his salt what will he say, or she say? What they'll do is they'll get up and say, both of these stories are true, but they're being told from different perspectives. When you write a police report you're telling a scientific story, you're writing just the facts. When you're talking to your friend, sobbing in the phone, what you're doing is you're describing how it felt, what did it feel like to you. It felt like there was a guy with overwhelming force who was confronting you. They're not two different - they're the same story, told through different perspectives. You have to understand the genre. I think that's true here with the Torah as well, it's true with Torah and dinosaurs.
Okay, let's move on though in our final moments, I just want to tease for you - and then I'll let you go - how we might take this further to talk about Jimmy's next two crises of faith; evolution and Biblical criticism, and we'll talk about this more next week. What I want to suggest to you is that perspective shifting is important not just to understand the genre of the Torah, but it's actually important to understand this idea of perspective shifting within the Torah itself - which is to say that the Torah itself will make use of perspective shifting as a literary tool now and then. The Torah will sometimes tell you the same story twice from two different perspectives in order to be able to give you a better understanding or to be able to pinpoint the experience more deeply or more richly.
The analogy which I'll give to you here is cell phones. Most of you who have a smartphone probably by now have thrown out your Garmin GPS receiver and you just use either Google Maps or Waze and you're very happy to have your cell phone around as a nice GPS device. Do you know how your cell phone works? How is it that your cell phone always just seems to know exactly where you are? Anyone know? No one knows. How does it do that? It's like magic, how does my cell phone know where I am? It's a phone, how does it know where I am?
The answer basically is triangulation. Your cell phone just happens to be in contact with cell towers, that's how it gets its signal out there. But there are cell towers all over the place - there have to be cell towers all over the place otherwise you constantly lose your signal. So your cell phone is actually in contact with more than one cell tower at a time, which is why you get such a good signal. That happens to be really good in GPS terms too, by the way, that helps your phone understand exactly where you are. Why? Because if I know I'm in contact with cell tower x, so that cell tower can understand that my phone is somewhere along this line between me and the cell tower. But if my cell phone is also in contact with that cell tower, so it also understands I'm somewhere on the line between that cell tower and me over here. If you put those two pieces of information together, you can triangulate my location, you can pinpoint my location. By three cell towers I can actually pinpoint how high I am up as well. So if you put all that all together I get a three-dimensional view of my place in space.
Similarly, you can use the tool of perspective shifting as a literary device - what would happen if the Torah told a story, the same story, from more than one perspective? Maybe what the Torah is trying to do is triangulate that story for you. It's giving you two different perspectives on the same story and helping you understand more deeply what's really happening. So for example, if you have - and this gets to the Biblical criticism issue - if, for example, you have Bamidbar talking about Moshe is not getting into the land for one reason, for hitting the rock, you have Devarim talking about Moshe not getting into the land for a different reason, for the spies or something like that. Then you begin to see these two stories in relation to one another and you begin to filter them out and see how they triangulate, you begin to get a three-dimensional fix on what's happening. You begin to see things in different ways. So in very important stories sometimes you'll find this.
This actually is the key to a famous essay by Rabbi Soloveitchik. Rabbi Soloveitchik deals with the crux of modern Biblical criticism in an interesting way. He says that it's true that Genesis Chapter 1 and Genesis Chapter 2 seem to both tell the story of creation and they tell different stories. But the reason why they tell different stories, Rabbi Soloveitchik wants to argue, is because the accounts are not contradictory, Rabbi Soloveitchik argues, man himself is contradictory. Rabbi Soloveitchik argues in his famous essay in Lonely Man of Faith, that there is an inherent contradiction in the creation that we know as mankind. That there is a war between two parts of man; what he calls homo religiousus - religious man, and majestic man. I'm not going to get into the details of Rabbi Soloveitchik's theory, but he lays out an ingenious theory in which he argues that the reason why I have two accounts of the creation of man in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 is because it's the Torah's way of describing these two different forces at war in man. So the literary device the Torah uses is to have two different creation of man stories, because there's two different ways of viewing the creation of man, both of which are legitimate.
It's a very cool theory, there's only one problem with it, I'd like to suggest with you - or there is at least one problem with it. The problem that I want to put for your consideration is if it's true that there are two different sides of man that are being described in creation 1 and creation 2, then why is it that if you look carefully at creation 1 and creation 2 we don't just have two different creation of man stories? If you look carefully at creation Chapter 1 and creation Chapter 2 we actually have two entirely different creation of the universe stories, of which creation of man is a part. Why would the Torah have to go and give me two entirely different accounts of the creation of the cosmos, which is actually what you have in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, when all that we really should have is two different accounts of the creation of man if you want to tell me about a fundamental problem in the nature of man?
What I'd like to humbly suggest to you next week is an expansion of Rabbi Soloveitchik's theory. That to really understand Rabbi Soloveitchik's theory you have to ask the question why is there two different ways of viewing man? Where does this war inside of man's psyche come from? Why did G-d just willy-nilly decide to create two different men, so to speak, or two different beings in every one of us; the homo religiousus and the majestic man? Where did that come from? There's a reason for that, it didn't come out of nowhere.
The answer is the reason for it is there aren't really two different views of man; what there really are is two different views of creation itself. What the Torah is really doing is describing two legitimate but different - entirely different - ways of looking at creation itself. And based upon those two ways of looking at creation, you will look at the creation of man as a subset of each of those, and you would say creation of man looks this way over here because it's part of this story of creation, and the creation of man looks this way over here because it's part of that story of creation. Each creation story of man is a function of the larger creation story of which it's a part. What you really have is two legitimate ways of looking at creation itself. The Torah is telling you the creation story from two different perspectives in order to triangulate it.
What I want to leave you kind of for homework to think about is what this might mean - and I just want to show you why I think that's true and then we'll talk about the implications of this and what it really means regarding evolution and a lot of other things when we come back next week. But just to give you a little taste of what I'm talking about, if you open up your Chumash for a second and take a look very quickly at the first sentence of each of these creation stories.
Creation story number 2, by the way, begins in Genesis Chapter 2, verse 4; Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz behibaram. And by the way, it's very difficult to read Genesis Chapter 2, I mean here are some of the problems. Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz behibaram - these are the generations of heaven and earth as they were created; B'yom asos Hashem Elokim eretz ve'shamayim - on the day that G-d made heaven and earth. Have you ever heard of something crazier than this?
First of all just the first words; Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz - these are the generations of heaven and earth, what the heck does that mean? Would someone like to explain that to me? These are the generations of Noach, I get what that means; Noach was a guy he can have children. These are the generations of Yitzchak, I get what that means. These are the generations of heaven and earth, how do heaven and earth have generations? What is that even supposed to mean; these are the generations of heaven and earth? Then; These are the generations of heaven and earth as they were created, on the day that G-d created heaven and earth, what a convoluted sentence, how do you understand the whole sentence?
Then, as if that wasn't difficult enough look at the next sentence; V'kol si'ach hasadeh terem yiheye ba'aretz - before there was any vegetation; V'kol eisev hasadeh terem yitzmach - before there was any grasses. Parenthetical; Ki lo himtir Hashem Elokim al ha'aretz, v'adam ayin la'avod et ha'adamah - because G-d hadn't made it rain yet and anyway man wasn't there to work the land and make things grow, so nothing was growing. In that world - and then you have this verse; V'eid ya'aleh min ha'aretz - so there was a mist that came up from the ground; Vehishkah et kol pnei ha'adamah - and it watered all of the face of the earth, and then G-d made man. It just seems like a lot of irrelevant stuff; we learn about this mist, this introduction about no vegetation - and we could start with Pasuk Zayin; Vayitzhar Hashem Elokim et ha'Adam aphar min ha'adamah - G-d created man.
Plus, what's really weird is you've got right in the middle of the Gan Eden story, a few verses later, Pasuk Yud; V'nahar yotzeh m'Eden - by the way, there was a river that went out of Eden; Lehashkos et hagan - to water the garden; U'misham yipareid - and from there it diverged; Vehaya l'arba'ah rashim - and it became four headwaters. One headwater was called Pishon; Hu hasovev et kol eretz ha'Chavilah - that's the one that goes around the Eretz ha'Chavilah. Asher sham ha'zahav - and that's where the gold is, by the way. U'zehav ha'aretz hahi tov - really good gold there in that land; Sham ha'bedolach v'even hashoham - lots of jewels there too. By the way; V'shem ha'nahar ha'sheini Gichon hu hasovev et kol eretz Kush. You have this whole geography lesson with these rivers, like I care? Why do I need that interrupting the whole story of the Garden of Eden? Tell me about the trees, tell me about the Etz Hada'at Tov v'Ra'ah, but don't tell me about the gold and Eretz ha'Chavilah, what is that even doing here?
So Genesis Chapter 2 is very difficult to understand, but it becomes clearer once you begin to see perspective shifting, once you see that there's actually two different stories being told from two different perspectives. And just to see the beginning of those perspectives, compare the first three verses. First three verses of Genesis 1, first three verses of Genesis story 2.
What's the first verse of Genesis 1? Bereishis barah Elokim et ha'shamayim v'et ha'aretz - that's verse 1; in the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth. Very simple verse; it's got a subject, it's got a verb, it's got an object. Who is the subject? G-d, G-d is the creator. What did He do? Verb - He created - Barah - in Pa'al form, He created directly. Object, what did He create? He created the heavens and earth. Got it? Very simple. So G-d is the subject, He created something, what did He create, He created heavens and earth. Now, look at the first verse of story 2, what do you find? Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz - these are the generations of heaven and earth. Now if you just suspend this belief for a moment and just actually listen to what the text is telling you, and I now ask you the question, who is the creator, what would you have to answer? These are the generations of heaven and earth. Listen carefully. These are the generations of heaven and earth, who is the creator? Heavens and earth are the creator. The Torah is conceptualizing heaven and earth as parents that have generations.
Do you understand what is going on here? We're switching object and subject from story 1. In story 1 heaven and earth were the objects of creation; G-d had created them. Story 2 is going to tell you the same story from an equally valid but opposite perspective; don't look at heaven and earth as mere objects of creation, look at them as subjects, as creators themselves. These are the generations of heaven and earth, these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, this is it, the five-year mission, this is the generation - this is what heaven and earth - and by the way what will heaven and earth create? Let's even talk about it. If - let's just play it out. If heaven and earth really are like parents, what would you say interaction between them looks like? Let's talk about this; what would their children be? What would the children of heaven and earth be? Vegetation. How do you get vegetation? Once they interact, heaven and earth. Through what medium?
[Response from audience member: Sunlight and rain.]
Rain and sunlight. Oh very interesting. Now you can actually read the verse.
Eileh toldos ha'shamayim veha'aretz - these are the generations of heaven and earth; heaven and earth who used to be objects now they're subjects. Behibaram - notice that verb now used in reflexive; As they were created. That was the word before; G-d created heaven and earth, no, heaven and earth are the creators, but of course you should remember; Behibaram - they themselves were created - parenthetically - B'yom asos Hashem Elokim eretz ve'shamayim- on the day that G-d created heaven and earth.
So the Torah is saying, look, we're now going to switch perspectives, we're going to talk about this from the perspective of heaven and earth as if they were the creators. Don't forget that actually heaven and earth were also created by G-d in as much; Behibaram - as they were created; B'yom asos Hashem Elokim eretz ve'shamayim. But from here on in, in creation story 2, G-d is going to decidedly be in the backseat and Shamayim and Aretz are going to be in the front seat, as if they are creating everything with the help of G-d midwifing things along. So that's verse 1.
Look at verse 2. Verse 2 in creation story 1 is all about chaos, the way things were before creation really got started. Chaos, in creation story number 1, looks like what? Chaos looks like too much water, very dark. Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu v'choshech al pnei tehom v'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei ha'mayim. There's water everywhere - can't live in water. It's dark - can't live in darkness. That's chaos.
Look at chaos in creation story number 2. Verse "2" in each story is devoted to describing the chaos, what does the chaos look like? The chaos looks like this. Verse "2; V'kol si'ach hasadeh terem yiheye ba'aretz - there was no vegetation because vegetation is going to be the product of heaven and earth. There was no vegetation in the land; V'kol eisev hasadeh terem yitzmach - before there were any grasses. Why? Ki lo himtir Hashem Elokim al ha'aretz - because there hadn't been any rain yet; V'adam ayin la'avod et ha'adamah - there was no man to cultivate agriculture, so everything was barren and it was just a dusty world. And in that world - so imagine that world, a world in which there was no rain, not even trace of rain, do you know what that world would look like? A parched world with just sunlight beating down.
Compare that to the chaos world of story number 1, it's exactly the opposite. Story number 1 is a water world that's completely dark, too much water, very dark. This world, too much land, no water, very light, can't support life. Two entirely different views of creation, both true, from different perspectives.
Now look at verse 3. Verse "3" in each story is the first glimmer of order. The first glimmer of order in world number 1 is - in a dark world that's completely chaotic - Vayomer Elokim yehi or - let light come into the world. What does order look like in world 2? V'eid ya'aleh min ha'aretz - the first thing that happened is a little bit of mist, a little bit of humidity rose up from that dusty ground. That humidity coalesced into clouds, obscured the sun for the first time, a little bit of darkness as the clouds coalesced; Vehishkah et kol pnei ha'adamah - and then came down as rain. And that's the beginning of life.
In world number 1 the key to everything is light, everything is going to be a child of light; light is going to be the producer of everything that happens. In world number 2 the key to everything that happens is going to be water; water is going to be the key. In world number 1 the darkness is obscured by a little bit of light and then order comes into the world. In world number 2 the light and the sunlight is obscured with a little bit of cloud causing rain, and rain and water comes into the world. These are the first three verses.
The Torah has set up two completely different stories, perspective 1 and perspective 2. Two different stories to guide you. If you want to understand your place in the cosmos, your place in the cosmos in world 1, your place in relationship to G-d, your place in relationship to land, your place in relationship to water, your place in relationship to everything in world 1 is going to look a lot different from your place in connection to everything in world 2. And guess what? Both of them are true. And you're going to have to learn as a human being to be able to navigate different relationships to G-d, different relationships to earth, different relationships to water, based upon where they are in relationship to you in the cosmos. It really is a guidebook, a complex guidebook.
But in answer to Jimmy's third question of faith it's not about two different authors, it's about one author weaving a very sophisticated story where things play off of each other. There's not a crazy redactor who took stories that had nothing to do with each other and threw them together in some sort of mishmash, these stories have everything to do with each other, they're playing off of each other in intricate, intricate, different ways. There is an elegant woven whole between the two of these stories, but it's guiding you in two very different ways. When we understand that we'll begin to understand, I think, the Torah's view on evolution as well. I'll see you next week and we'll pick up from there.