In the past posts we have discussed a profound, albeit a troubling statement of Pirke D"Rabbi Eliezer. It appears to allow a duality within the Godhead by saying that, "Before the world was created there was only Hashem and His Name". We saw that a number of attempts at explanation have been made, without, however being very satisfactory. We will now discuss an explanation that is, at least to me, entirely satisfactory and meaningful.
If we look at the statement closely, we can focus on the line "Before the World was Created". What does this mean? Does it mean all the way before, the very, very beginning, that time before there was time? Or, does it mean that in the process of Emanation, and before the stage we call Creation, there was an intermediate "time", when only Hashem and His Name were in existence. Many commentators say, "Yes", we are talking only about a discrete and intermediate stage in the process of emanation. A list all of commentators who say this can be found in the commentary of R. Dovid Luria to the passage in question, in the third chapter of Pirke D'Rabbi Eliezer. They include the Villna Gaon, R Chaim Volozhiner in Nefesh Hachaim 2:2 and is probably based on Sefer Chareidim, and R. Todros Halevi in Otzar Hakavod. The most involved and the longest explanation can be found in Rebbe Rashab's RS'Vov, p. 247-249 (and the entire maamar is devoted to this).
To explicate the profound issues involved, we need to take a step back.
The simplest understanding of this approach, is to say that Emanation proceeded through the steps of Atsilus, Beriah, Yetzira, Asiysa. Atsilus is a state of un-differentiation, that time when Light has moved forth and began to separate from the Divine but individual entities did not yet form. The subsequent step was Beriya, a period of differentiation and separation of different things one from another. Naturally then, the "Name" became distinct from the Godhead just prior to the step of Beriya, or, what is called, "Before the World was Created".
I think one can mine this for more meaning, however.
We are used to thinking that the concept of Emanation is opposed to the concept of Creation. There are some very good reasons to think that . R. Meir Gabbai in Avodas Hakkadosh, Shaar 1, argues that only Emanation fulfils the purpose of making the world. This is because Hashem is hidden. How does one find Him? By projecting forward things of this world up towards their source. That is only possible with the process of Emanation. With emanation every detail that one finds in this world is a projection and a development from the Source. With creation, it is not necessarily so. An infinite and all-powerful Creator could have created our world with only a fraction of his Essence. In that case, human beings could not project from creatures of this world to the true Creator who has made them. Only if the world in all its details has emanated step-by-step and without a break from the Almighty, can a human being in some way retro-engineer an understanding of Hashem from this world.
However, as we discussed in the past, there is a sizable group of opinion that emanation was only of the spiritual world and that when it came time to make the physical world, there was a skip that was a Creation. Spiritual can not become physical and an act of Creation was necessary to make this world.
If so, one can explain that it was specifically before the quantum jump from Emanation to Creation, that a sort of a duality came to exist within the God-Head. What this duality was was simply He and the entire sephirotic apparatus, which, from Kesser to Malchus is deservedly called, "His Name".
To go even deeper, it is known that this world was created according to the Torah, as it says in Zohar (2:161b): “God looked into the Torah and created the world.” Mishlei 3:19-20: By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
What does this mean? One can explain it in one of two different ways.
One is that the Torah served as the blueprint in that every detail in the Torah is reflected in the actual physical world that we see. Another one is that this world was made to be such a world that it's would reflect spiritual values. In other words, there are many possible worlds. In some of them concepts such as loyalty, love, beauty, piety etc will exist and in some of the possible worlds they would not exist. However it does not mean that every physical detail is a direct result of a spiritual detail. It is a kind of an Anthropic Principle – the world was created so as to enable the existence an expression of spirituality within itself.
The first opinion posits that emanation proceeded from spiritual to physical, so that every spiritual detail is expressed in the physical world. This second opinion is that Hashem based the world, in the worlds of Mishlei, "laid its foundation by Wisdom", upon spiritual ideas, but not that every physical detail has a spiritual antecedent.
Peter Wehner wrties about Life's troughs:
George Will has a lovely tribute to his son Jon, who is a Washington Nationals fan who also happens to have Down syndrome.
Apart from his evident love and appreciation for his son, Will takes aim at the “full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby.” He goes on to write about Jon’s gift of serenity. “With an underdeveloped entitlement mentality,” Will writes, Jon has “been equable about life’s sometimes careless allocation of equity. Perhaps this is partly because, given the nature of Down syndrome, neither he nor his parents have any tormenting sense of what might have been. Down syndrome did not alter the trajectory of his life; Jon was Jon from conception on.”
Herer Will is touching on an enormous shift in human expectations that has occurred in modern times – the belief that we are owed, that we are entitled, to certain things, including a life very nearly free of hardship, of pain, and of loss. The reason for this shift is progress. In the West, we’ve seen fantastic gains made in medicine, technology, and standards of living. Early death was once a common feature; according to historian Lawrence Stone, during the Middle Ages, two or more living children were often given the same name because it was so common that at least one of them would die. Today, in America, early death is blessedly rare. We are also far less patient and far less willing to be inconvenienced than ever before. We forget that there was once a life before GPSs and ATMs; before iPhones, iPods, and iPads; before e-mails, Twitter, texting, Skype, Google, ESPN, and flat screen televisions.
We’ve all benefited from these gains in one way or another, and they have added new and comforting dimensions to our daily lives. Families are able to stay in close touch long after children have left home. Almost no one who is not Amish would voluntarily give up these things, and understandably so. But these advancements in material progress can bring their own challenges as well, including how to keep reasonable expectations when we have come to expect lives of comfort and ease.
It is easier than we like to admit that these days being dealt a hard blow in life is viewed as a cosmic injustice. Now this isn’t new; people have been embittered by life since the dawn of civilization. Great novels (like Moby Dick) have been written about such things. But one cannot help but suspect that we have higher expectations of life than past generations and therefore are less able to deal with deprivation and adversity with equanimity. That is why, I think, some of us hold a special place of honor for those who have faced tragedies and particular hardships with courage, without chronic self-pity, and with some measure of grace.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil (Screwtape) reminds the junior devil (Wormwood) that “one of our best weapons [is] contented worldliness.” Lewis – who later in his life absorbed a crushing blow when his wife died of cancer, which forced him to work through his own grief and doubts — then added this:
As long as [human beings live] on earth, periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.
To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy [God] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now, it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.
How we handle the inevitable troughs and the painful troughs and the unequal allocation of troughs is a test of character. They probably wouldn’t admit it, but by that measure, Jon Will and his parents have done pretty well.
To a religious person, especially believing Jew, troughs are not only tests of character, but a God given, loving educational lesson. A trough is a tutoring session. The great Teacher in heaven Heaven has in his Glory and Eminence deigned to descend to make a contact with me, a puny and undeserving human being, for the sole purpose of giving me an opportunity to grow through challenge and suffering. Is this not an act of Love and caring?
11.My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.(Proverbs 3)
How we use it, is of course, up to us. If we choose to carp and complain, blame and descend into depression, we have rejected His embrace. We have dis-appreciated the opportunity and missed the teaching moment. On the other hand, if we chose to plunge into the experience with optimism and faith, we have, whether ultimately successful and not, already utilized the context to higher means.
Of course, this kind of acceptance is easier for those who have repeatedly undergone the process and time after time seen its results. Like everything else in life, those who repeatedly overcome challenges that result in growth, are much better positioned to welcome them. It is much harder for younger person, or one that has been relatively untested. This is why the greater the difficulties faced in life, the more frequent the challenges, and more inpleasant the suffering, the faster one rises, and the quicker one takes up new challenges and confronts them. Experience makes perfect. Therefore, there is no room for the complaint "why me, why repeatedly me?".
That is not to take away from the difficulty of being tested. However, one who learns to face challenges with trust and hope, succeeds in two worlds. He or she finds it much easier to bear every new challenge, and, he or she rises and grows from such experiences.
|Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: I am the Lord, your God.||ב. דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:|
Rashi: Rabbi [Yehudah Hanassi] says: “It is openly known before Him, that they would eventually be scourged by [transgressing the laws of] immoral relations, in the days of Ezra. Therefore, [concerning these laws,] God came to them with the decree: I am the Lord, your God! You should know Who is placing these decrees upon you-the Judge Who exacts retribution (אלֹקִים), but Who is faithful also to pay a reward (ה ) ! ”- [Torath Kohanim 18:138]"
Rashi is saying something very strange! He appears to explain that this verse was written in the Torah not for the generation in which it was given but for generation of Ezra, many centuries later. How do we wrap our heads around a supposition that an entire verse in the Torah was not understandable at the time it was given, but would only be understood at the time of Ezra.
With Hashem's help, as I was mulling this question I was listening to a lecture by Rabbi Asher Kushnir (Toldos Yeshurun) in Russian entitled, "Torah, science and aunt Bella". On Bella, in case you're interested, represents a ype of pseudo-scientific anti-religious critic immediately recognizable to any one familiar with Russian Jewish culture. The speaker is engaging, intelligent, and well informed.
Rabbi Kushnir discusses the question of why would the all-knowing Creator make a world that contains apparently unnecessary or redundant creatures. To explain it, he gives an analogy of a long distance spaceship, that's travels to distant stars. Its mission consists of three stages. First, it has to leave the earth and guide itself toward he destination star. Second it must sustain its inhabitants during the multigenerational journey. Finally it contains equipment and materials that would be necessary for landing and settlement of distant planets.
Does it not stand to reason that the participants of each one of the three stages will think that there spaceship contains matériel that is extraneous and duplicative? Ihose who leave the earth and direct themselves toward the stars will find much during this stage that they do not need. Similarly, those who maintain the ship in the middle of the journey will find equipment from the past and machinery and instruments for the future that they will perceive as not needed. Finally, in the final stage, the third-generation will wonder why they have so many things inside the spaceship that seem to serve no constructive purpose for what they require.
The speaker goes on to relate this to what each generation sees on their earth itself. A telephone or computer would've been totally superfluous a few hundred years ago. On the other hand, much of the natural world seems to us incongruent and extraneous to our modern lives. Many of its phenomena are against or do not speak to the Gestalt of the modern world
If so, the same could be true of the Torah. The Torah can contain phrases or passages that we do not understand but will understand in the future. This is certainly true of prophecies, many of which have not yet come to pass. However, by extension, it also may be true of concepts and thought processes that appear to us to conflict with the world as we see it, but after Redemption, will make perfect sense.