Sunday, March 22, 2009

God and Materia Prima - Cause and Effect.

There is a fascinatingly cryptic report in Shemot 24:9-11 –

ט וַיַּעַל מֹשֶׁה, וְאַהֲרֹן--נָדָב, וַאֲבִיהוּא, וְשִׁבְעִים, מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel;

י וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר.

10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness.

יא וְאֶל-אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ; וַיֶּחֱזוּ, אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאכְלוּ, וַיִּשְׁתּוּ.

11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand; and they beheld God, and did eat and drink.

After three days of intense theological and philosophical teaching, the defining event at Sinai occurred. All the people were able to apprehend, each according to his ability, the concept of the existence of a unique transcendental God. Most people went back to their daily life and affairs while a select few continued with this speculation, trying to get a better understanding of the relationship between the transcendental God and our physical existence. This type of speculation is metaphorically referred to as going up or rising.

The two words [Alah and Yarad] are also applied to intellectual processes, namely, when we reflect on something beneath ourselves we are said to go down, and when our attention is raised to a subject above us we are said to rise.” (MN1:10)

The first verse above is therefore telling us that after transmitting and writing down the Ten Commandments, repeating them to the people and sealing with them the covenant, Moshe and Aharon led a group of intellectuals in further theological speculation. As we discussed many times, the only way that we humans can apprehend anything about God, is indirectly by studying our existence which we see as effects that were ultimately caused by Him, the First Cause. The idea of a caused effect is described metaphorically as feet.

Another signification of the word [Regel] is "cause"; "And the Lord hath blessed thee, I being the cause" (leragli) (Gen. 30:30), i.e., for my sake; for that which exists for the sake of another thing has the latter for its final cause. Examples of the term used in this sense are numerous. It has that meaning in Genesis 33:14, "Because (leregel) of the cattle that goes before me, and because (leregel) of the children." Consequently, the Hebrew text, of which the literal rendering is: "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives" (Zech. 14:4) can be explained in the following way. "And the things caused by him (raglav) on that day upon the Mount of Olives”, that is to say, the wonders which will then be seen, and of which God will be the Cause or the Maker, will remain permanently."” (MN1:28)

The first part of the second verse, וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, thus means that they followed the trail of cause and effect to arrive back all the way to the first thing caused by HKBH. If I were to put this in practical terms, I would say that they followed how one thing is the cause of another up to the limits of physicality. That in our parlance would include things like energy, gravity, and other physical forces that we know exist by deduction and induction but cannot physically touch. I am not a physicist so I may be a little inexact and I beg forgiveness for that, but I think I am getting the gist of my idea across. Metaphorically, that is referred to as כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר – as the work of the whiteness of the sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness. (Note: Rambam translates לִבְנַת – whiteness while JPS translates stones or bricks thus paved work)

What they (the nobles of the children of Israel) perceived was therefore the Materia prima, whose relation to God is distinctly mentioned, because it is the source of those of his creatures which are subject to genesis and destruction, and has been created by him.” (MN1:28) “This led me to explain the words, "And under his feet as the work of the whiteness of the sapphire" as expressing that the nobles of the children of Israel comprehended in a prophetical vision the nature of the earthly Materia prima.” (MN 2:26).

Though necessary, there is great risk in this type of speculation. Not, as it is feared in the general orthodox community nowadays, because one may stray off the Derech and end up with questions, but rather because one may misinterpret what one apprehends and end up worshipping a figment of the imagination. Without adequate intellectual preparation and care, one may confuse the material and the transcendental. That is the meaning of the next verse which I will discuss in my next post.

I already touched on this here and here.

Note: I am experimenting with shorter but more frequent posts. I am therefore limiting each post to one or two ideas, sometimes leaving the conclusions to other postings. It allows me to expand more in depth on each idea. Let me know if this works better or if you prefer that I revert to longer and more complete posts.

1 comment:

  1. David,
    Write however you prefer.
    I liked the old posts because they were complete and well structured. I also like the shorter posts, because then you write them more frequently. The prefect solution, obviously, is to write really long post very frequently, but we can't always get what we want.