Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Science and Religion - Rav Kook interpreted.

In a letter Rav kook writes:

"In general, this is the principle in the conflict of ideas: That any idea which comes to contradict anything from the Torah must not at first be dealt with by us with opposition. Rather, we must build upon it the palace of the Torah. Thus we are uplifted by it, and for the sake of this uplifting are these ideas revealed. Afterwards, when we are not pressured by anything, we may also object to it [the idea] with a heart full of confidence. There are examples which prove this."

I read an excellent discussion of the letter here:


I find the lecture excellent and worthwhile reading however I cannot grasp the last paragraph and here it is:

Rav Kook cites the same idea, not from the Rambam, but from Kabbala. The Kabbalists describe the process of emanation as a "process", in which one stage prepares for and results in a second; there in an inner causality. This stands in opposition to the impression given by a reading of the first chapter of Genesis. There, God appears over and over again and beginning a new stage, new beginning after new beginning. The second day is not presented as the "result" of the first day, rather, as a new beginning and creation unto itself. Rav Kook, therefore, is only prepared to accept a progressive position in the natural sciences, and is able to view the process of evolution as a gradual revelation of God, because this is exactly the way that the spiritual process of the emanations of the worlds is described by the Kabbala.

The way I understand the "days" in Creation in Rambam is that they describe different chains or sequences of cause and effect. There are parallels chains of cause and effect that sometimes interact at others don't and the result is our reality. Theoretically we should be able to follow those chains back to their beginning. Rav Kook seems to understand that the "days" refer to a pre-physical stage, emanations, and not as physical cause and effect sequences. Here again we have the urge for understanding the unfathomable. Maybe someone can enlighten me?


  1. "Rav Kook seems to understand that the "days" refer to a pre-physical stage, emanations, and not as physical cause and effect sequences."

    If I understand him correctly, he is not saying this. In my opinion, Rav Kook seems to be saying that each day was a separate causal chain (as per Rambam), each of which leads back to the First Cause. Each successive chain is not caused by its predecessor, but only incidentally utilizes the effect arrived at by its predecessor. Similary, evolution wasn't caused by the Big Bang, but without the Big Bang evolution could not have taken place.

    Although I may have misunderstood both Rav Kook and your question, this is my understanding of the matter.

  2. You understood my question. However I do not see your explanation, which is identical to my understanding of rambam, in Rav kook's or rather the person who explained him here, words. Emanation is Shefa, which is not physical but a product of the sechel hapoel. unlike the mekubalim sees Shefa as non linear nor sequetial. (He compares to a kli that overflows on akk sides I think by memory in 2:10)

  3. R. Kook folows the known Kabbalistic approach that interpets each day as another sefirah, going from chessed to malchus. See more about in in R. Bachye and Torah Sheleimah in the geginning of Bareishis.
    It soes not waork on teh casue and effect as in the Morah but as hishtalshelu, or infolding of already pre-existent reality which develops from the root into the final branch. A totally different concept.

  4. Thank you M.levin, it was my understanding too and the point of my post. i have a hard time accepting that concept and struggle with it. i know that kedoshei Elyon thought that way but I personally stayed with Rambam's approach. Lulei demistafina I believe they are wrong.

  5. The kabbalists, like all true mystics, do not draw a clear distinction between the physical and spiritual. Thus, according to sefer yetzirah, saying the real name of a power summons the power and saying the names of physical objects (even living things) summons them into being. When God says Yehi Ohr, the light that results is the actual manifestation of God's utterance. This worldview, which probably dates back to the stone age, is the antithesis of modern rationalism which distinguishes between the idea of a thing and the thing itself.

  6. It is not unfathomable, just very technical. These are the topics in a technical philosophy class.
    It may help you to read about "causality." Emanation is a layman's word.
    Maimonides most of the time follows the Aristotelian four causes to describe the physical world. The Divine can only be a final cause and never a material cause or efficient cause. (our modern sense of the word is the efficient cause).
    [Concerning knowledge and prophecy, Maimonides uses Plotinus and Ibn Sina]

    Rav Kook uses a Procean Neo-Platonic causality where the richest cause, the first cause, as a final cause makes itself known though manifestaion into lower causes.
    Rav Kook modifies that with a temporal
    progression of this richness based on both Ramhal's hishtalshelut and German
    idealistic history.


  7. Technician,

    Could you explain Procean/

    I always try to translate medieval ideas into contemporary modern science. It is not always possible but most of the time i have been succesful. I question if kabbalistic concepts even Rav kook's can be. It is more a question thamn a statement.

  8. It should be
    Proclean, a follower of Procleus
    (not Procean)


  9. Thanks. i just finished reading Seeskin on Creation. it is excellent. He really explains procleus well.

  10. "Emanation is Shefa, which is not physical but a product of the sechel hapoel."

    I do not see causality as inherently being an aspect of the physical world (in fact, I find its truest expression in metaphysics), but perhaps I am mistaken.

    "unlike the mekubalim sees Shefa as non linear nor sequetial."

    I think that linearity and sequentiality are qualities that pertain more to time (which is rooted in human perception) than causality. Hence, the inapplicability of chronological positioning to the Creator - yet the applicability of the description "First Cause" to Him.

    It's kind of hard to grasp, but I believe that the statement "X cause Y, therefore X preceded Y chronologically" is not accurate or necessarily valid - because it is a mismatch of conceptual frameworks, akin to comparing apples and oranges.

  11. >pertain more to time (which is rooted in human perception) than causality

    Not necessarily. The way the medievals saw it is that there was what they called form, which I translate in our language, underlying law(it is not the same but close enough). The law is conceptualized and when actualized there is a sequence. So there is an idea of sequences before it is actualized. it is a concept rather that a physical reality.(see yesodei Hatorah 2:5-6-7.

    also 4:13 [ז] לעולם אין אתה רואה גולם בלא צורה, או צורה בלא גולם. אלא לב האדם--הוא שמחלק הגוף הנמצא בדעתו, ויודע שהוא מחובר מגולם וצורה,

    the same in my mind applies to Shefa. Mekubalim however cross over and actualize this by referring to that as emanation. to me that is ok in medieval science but I dont think it can work nowadays. i hope I made myself clear as this too much for comments especially from the office in between phone calls.

  12. Hey, being that I see your a rationalist, I think you would love this website which i agree with. It is the best jewish website out there. The website is www.mesora.org.

  13. Thanks anonymous. I am a subscriber.

  14. Thats great. I found it years ago when it was relatively new.

  15. The way the medievals saw it is that there was what they called form, which I translate in our language, underlying law(it is not the same but close enough).

    Aristotle referred to this as the essential (abstract) form of a thing, as opposed to an accidental form.

    The law is conceptualized and when actualized there is a sequence.

    As far as I understand, the framework of "potentiality/actuality" is limited to teleology, and not necessarily applicable to a broader discussion of forms. However, working with your approach to the matter...

    So there is an idea of sequences before it is actualized. it is a concept rather that a physical reality.

    Consider the "form" of God, which we describe as the essential form of "existence" (a word which we can not sufficiently define, in my opinion, which is why it is relatively suitable for describing God). While we say that Creation (the sum total of all things created) "exists," and let's assume for the moment that such a statement is true, we recognize that the "existence" of Creation is nothing like the essential "existence" of God, since it is dependent on the "existence" of God - the First Cause. Bringing teleology into play, we assume that all things created are attempting to actualize their existence (in a sense, to make it more real - using religious terminology, "to draw near to God"); God's "existence," however, is - from the get-go - "actualized," without any sequential quality.

    Hence I see the application of teleological terminology, and all the qualities that apply to a framework which utilizes it (such as "sequential" or "chronological"), to a causal framework to be ineffecient.

    Sorry if any of the above was unclear, I'm still not sure I understand your objection.

  16. gil, I think we are talking about two different things.

    I see that Creation or existence has two components- the metaphysical or what we assume God did and the physical which is everything thereafter.

    God is the First Cause although we do not understand how He created. that is part of the unknowable od that Rambam understands as creation Yesh Meayin. however he describes the six days of creation as the plan so to say, in the mind of God, of a physical system of cause and effect. That is there forever and is the meaning of Ess Hasomyim Ve'es ha'aretz - see Moreh 2:30. that they were created together instanteneously. In other words the plan was complete in God's mind if you want to put it in human terms.

    this "planned" system is composed of various lines or chains of cause and effect that bring about the physical development of our universe and existence that are described as days. His understanding is that God willed because causality, the aristoteleian kind, stops at creation and does not cross into before something was created.

    Understanding The fact that all existence needs a First Cause is enough. we don't need to follow and understand the connection so to say. Kabbalah crosses that boundary with the emanation idea. they are trying to connect between god's "plan" or 'idea" and the coming to be of the physical.

    i hope I made myself clear. I don't use proper philosophical terms because i think they are counterproductive.

  17. Man! I'm still not sure I'm getting you, but here goes...*grin*

    From our human understanding, causality is the principle that governs the (meta)physical universe. Therefore, the highest way we can relate to God ("reach out to Him," so to speak) is within this framework of causation - He is the First Cause, and we are the Effect.

    However, we do not understand the "act" of God's Creating, nor do we truly understand anything about God Himself; therefore, the relation to God via causality is one-way, and we have no way frame of perception by which to gain an iota of understanding of how (if) God "relates back" to us.

    The Kabbalists attempt to do this with the idea of "emanation" - atzilut - but such a concept is false as it is impossible for human beings to understand anything from God's "perspective" (including how He "created").

    Is this a correct restatement of your belief, and your objection to the Kabbalists?

    If so, I agree. If not, I'm entirely lost...*grin*

  18. Wow. You should write my post. Perfect. That is exactly what i said except you were so much clearer now. Talk simple to simple minded people. (my grin thing does not work) :-)

  19. Glad to know I finally understood!

    I believe that in his outstanding work against the Zohar, Milkhemet Hashem, Mori Yechiel Qaafach makes the exact point against the Kabbalists that you do - they are attempting to bridge the unbridgeable gap between the finite and the Infinite (so to speak). Such "bridging" is not the concern of true Torah Judaism, which seeks to provide Man with a practical guide to life in this world.

  20. I love The milchemes hashem. I am not mechadesh here generally, just trying to straighten ouit my thoughts. Your comments are great. i hope I can keep you interesred for my own sake.