Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rav Gedalia Nadel A"H on Breishit - The Thinking of a Great Gaon.

Several years ago, when the Slifkin controversy was raging, several blogs discussed Rav Gedalia Nadel’s A”H theories about how to read Breishit. This Shabbat I decided to reread his Sefer and I have to say it was exciting and enlightening. For those unfamiliar with Rav Gedalia, he was a Talmid of the Chazon Ish A”H and at a time Rosh Kolel there, later Rosh Yeshiva in Viznitz. He was a charismatic figure who created a revolution in Viznitz which ended up with his followers breaking away and he being fired. He was a brilliant Gaon and Tzaddik, who at one point, I think during the ’67 war, tried to enlist into the army being rejected because he was too old. He also was a winemaker who tried to make a living from that. He was an iconoclast who voiced his opinions which got him in trouble with the zealots who tried several times to put him in Cherem. Fortunately, the cooler heads, especially the leaders of Kolel Chazon Ish, who knew his greatness and the appreciation the Chazon Ish had for him, prevented that from happening. He used to learn on a daily basis Moreh Hanevuchim with his family and at some point started to give a Shiur in Chumash to a select few. Rav Yitzchak Sheilat of Ma’aleh Adumim used to sometimes attend these Shiurim and wrote up notes which Rav Gedalia approved and eventually published them under the name of “Mitorato Shel R’ Gedalia”. There eventually was a threatened ban against the sefer and a compromise reached where it is not sold in stores and can only be gotten directly from Rav Sheilat. Here are a few gems from this sefer pertinent to the last two Parshyot.

RGN claims that until chapter 5 we are told about what he calls prehistory. History as we know it and the count of years that we currently have starts 130 years before the birth of Seth which is where Chapter 5 starts. The first Adam is not necessarily the name of an individual but rather a description of early man. Cain represents man that was involved with physical survival while Hevel represents the thinker. Shepherds, in their isolation, were usually the philosophers of old. They had lots of time for contemplation. The early stages of humankind had both of these elements in it and this process of development of human societies could have been going on for millennia. People multiplied over that time and spread all over the world. In Chapter 5, the Torah focuses on a group of men who lived in the Fertile Crescent, specifically with an individual referred to as Adam, who had a son Seth and eventually traces his descendants to Noach. RGN notes that until the birth of Seth the Torah describes the different people whose names it lists as inventors of things needed for the physical wellbeing of humankind. Cain built a city, Yaval invented musical instruments and Tubal Cain developed forges and metalworking and so on. On the other hand, from Seth on, the signposts of human advancement were in the spiritual and existential realm[1], man trying to understand his own existence, though at first leaning towards idolatry with Enosh while turning towards God with Chanoch. Human history that interests us starts at that point.

The Flood was a localized affair restricted to the Fertile Crescent, the area in which our story takes place. It was a calamity that befell a specific society and culture. It does not make sense that the rest of the world would suffer because of the happenings in the Fertile Crescent. When the Torah tells us that Noach gathered all the animals into the Ark, it refers to the local fauna. Even then, it does not mean that every single species was put on board, just those that were important. So I guess giraffes, elephants and rhinos did not necessarily make it on-board. When the Torah says that all living things died, it refers to those seen by the survivors, not to the whole world.

RGN has what I believe to be an insightful but obvious, once told, approach to the rainbow. The rainbow is not a new development. It had been around since times immemorial. Whenever it rained the survivors of the Mabul would feel a panicky moment that a new cataclysm is about to occur again. When the sun came out after the rain, a rainbow appeared in the clouds. HKBH told the survivors that whenever the rain ends and you see that rainbow, remember that this disaster was a singularity and as the rainbow confirms and I promised, there would be no flood of such cataclysmic proportions again. The same physical occurrence that until now was little more than just a beautiful phenomenon will from now on be much more meaningful.

I found the following idea appropriate for today – Election Day.

ח וְכוּשׁ, יָלַד אֶת-נִמְרֹד; הוּא הֵחֵל, לִהְיוֹת גִּבֹּר בָּאָרֶץ.

8 And Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth. ט

הוּא-הָיָה גִבֹּר-צַיִד, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה; עַל-כֵּן, יֵאָמַר, כְּנִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה.

9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; wherefore it is said: 'Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.'

י וַתְּהִי רֵאשִׁית מַמְלַכְתּוֹ בָּבֶל, וְאֶרֶךְ וְאַכַּד וְכַלְנֵה, בְּאֶרֶץ, שִׁנְעָר.

10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Note the name Nimrod in Hebrew reflects the idea of rebellion – Mered. Note too that although the verse says, “he began to be a mighty one in the earth” we already had such mighty ones at the end of Breishit before the flood –
הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם, אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם – “the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown”. Furthermore, the words גִבֹּר-צַיִד – mighty hunter can be seen as a metaphor for someone who knows how to ensnare people with words. RGN reads these verses as introducing us to the first politician, Nimrod, who was able to unify people and convince them to organize themselves into nation states. Nimrod successfully introduced the idea of monarchy and politics. He formed a kingdom.

This brings us to the story of the Tower of Bavel.

א וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים.

1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.

“Devarim” stands for ideas and, שָׂפָה is how we express those ideas. Even if at the time there were a variety of languages, the words, though different, expressed similar ideas. There was cultural homogeneity in that area of the world. Nimrod the consummate politician along with the other leaders, decided to institutionalize this homogeneity. The symbol for this culture would be this very high tower a projection of power and might. This would unify the people and be a springboard for further conquest, bringing more under this homogeneous monarchy, a form of popular enslavement. HKBH would not countenance that. The ideas of human freedom and independence willed into creation by HKBH are strong enough to overcome this push for subjugation and enslavement.

As we can see from the above, Rav Gedalia approached the text with an open mind. He read these reports in the Torah as fundamental ideas that describe human nature, man’s relationship with the universe and his search for an understanding of his environment, existence and God.

[1] אָז הוּחַל, לִקְרֹא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה.
וַיּוֹלֶד בִּדְמוּתוֹ, כְּצַלְמוֹ
וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים; וְאֵינֶנּוּ, כִּי-לָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים.
זֶה יְנַחֲמֵנוּ מִמַּעֲשֵׂנוּ, וּמֵעִצְּבוֹן יָדֵינוּ, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר אֵרְרָהּ יְהוָה.


  1. So how do you get the sefer?

  2. i have no idea. it is hard to find.

  3. There is a PDF version (which I have) - but I don't know if it was done with permission of author?

  4. In the links section of the Hebrew wikipedia article on R' Gedalia Nadel there is a link to a free download of a pdf file containing the full text of בתורתו של ר' גדליה. As Wolf points out, there is no information concerning whether this was done with R' Shilat's permission, my suspicion is that his production of the sefer was not a profit making endeavor, and that he genuinely just wants to spread these teachings to as wide an audience as possible, whilst simultaneously trying not to make too many waves...

    Be warned however, the site that is hosting the file has some very shmutzadik advertisements. Perhaps someone who already has the file can find another hosting service to post it on so that others will not needlessly be exposed to obscenity.

  5. why was he considered so controversial?

  6. That is a good question. I guess because he made sense and was rational.

  7. Or maybe because great rabbis genuinely think he was guilty of being מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה

  8. FKM

    No "great Rabbi" saw him as controversial. Zealot followers, Shotim and Reshaim, who believe that stupidity is a virtue, tried to attack him. The "great Rabbis" protected him.

  9. Perhaps the 'great rabbis' were trying to protect R. Nadel, but it would seem that they overstepped their bounds by banning a work of his Torah.

  10. Rav Sheilat did know that his book is on the net, but he had never seen it there, and he hasn't internet at home. Furthermore, no one asked him about it, so there is no permission, but he told me it doesn't matter to him...

    The "gedolim" didn't like Rav Gedalia's open-mind, furthermore, Rav Gedalia had learned in university... But in respect for him, when he was alive no one dared to say anything. But now, they fear the impacts of the book on the charedi public. Because of that, they forced Rav Sheilat to promise he won't re-publish the book for seven years, in order that after seven years people won't believe in the book and the impacts won't be violent at all.

    Rav Sheilat's student.