BEREISHIS (Genesis, 1:1-6:8) — “The Evolutionary War”

Who’s right, scientists or the Torah?  On Rosh Hashanah, we began the year 5763. How can we believe that the world is less than six thousand years old when the scientific evidence indicates that it is BILLIONS of years old?

What about fossils?  What about carbon dating?  Can we, as intelligent people, really believe the Adam & Eve story?  What about dinosaurs?  What about all of the evidence of various life forms, leading to the advanced stage of development at which we now stand?  How can we believe in the Garden of Eden instead of Jurassic Park?

In recent years this issue has become a major controversy within the Torah community.  While there have been Sages of Israel over the centuries who have suggested reconciling scientific discovery with our traditions, a number of Torah authorities have come out very strongly endorsing the view that the 5700+ age of the universe should be taken literally.

It is interesting to note that the Talmud (Chagigah 11b) prohibits teaching about Creation to more than one person at a time, and even then only if the student possesses a wise and discerning mind.  Such things shouldn’t be discussed in a public forum.  Obviously, there is a lot more going on here than the simple translation of the verses.

I am not qualified to offer a scholarly solution to this dilemma.  However, I ask you to consider the following:

1- The Great Flood in Noah’s time was more than just 40 days of rain that took a year to drain off.  It was an entire upheaval of Creation.  The sun, moon and stars did not function normally.  (See Genesis, 8:22)  The rain was a destructive force that decimated the earth and reconfigured the surface of the planet.  (The survival of a tar-coated wooden boat was nothing short of miraculous.)  Could such a destructive force, the equivalent of an untold number of Hiroshimas, have made such changes that it is impossible to get a clear reading of the real age of the earth?

2- The truth is that scientific “knowledge” is simply not reliable.  Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact, and today’s science fact will be excellent for wrapping tomorrow’s fish.

Case in point: Bishop Milton Wright was a famous clergyman and orator who lived in the 19th century.  He claimed in a sermon in 1890 that nearly everything G-d had sent man to earth to do had already been accomplished.

Someone in the audience responded that someday people would fly.  The bishop’s now-famous reply was, “If G-d had meant man to fly, He would have given him wings.”

Bishop Wright’s son’s, Wilbur and Orville, disagreed.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, in his 1962 article, “How Old is the Universe?”, advises that “…  A word of caution is in order:  Science is moving fast.  Modern theories of today may be thrown upon the trash-heaps of old fashioned superstitions in a few years.  The scientist of tomorrow may disregard those billions of years without which he seemingly cannot operate today.”

3- This is all irrelevant.  When you’re G-d, you can do what you want.  It is not a contradiction to state that 6,000 years ago, G-d created a world that appeared to be older.  Adam and Eve married and propagated when they were a few hours old.  Had you chopped down trees in the Garden of Eden, they probably would have had several rings in them, suggesting they were many years old.  (A rabbi who runs a Yeshiva in Jerusalem reminded me that when he was a non-religious elementary school student in Tucson, Arizona, his teacher, Rabbi Seplowitz, challenged him with the question, “Did Adam and Eve have belly-buttons?!”)

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Do any of these suggestions REALLY answer the question?  To tell you the truth, I really don’t know.  More importantly, I really don’t CARE.

For those who believe in the Torah, there are no questions. For those who prefer not to believe in the Torah, there are no answers.  At one point G-d responded to Moses’ concerns as to how people would interpret a potentially controversial verse, (see “How Many G-ds Does It Take To Make A World?”), “Whoever wants to misinterpret will misinterpret.”  We can’t answer everyone’s questions, and I’m not sure we even want to.  Rabbi Schwab was quoted as having said, “”Open up to the first page. It says, ‘Be’raishis bara Elokim.‘ (In the beginning, G-d created…)If you can handle that, good, read further.  If not, close the book!”

I am not a scientist.  I am not in a position to even try to take on the critics’ scientific arguments.  But let me tell you what a REAL scientist said.

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, a noted Talmudic scholar and professor of biology at Yeshiva University, put it this way:  Science is something you can prove and duplicate. If you can’t duplicate evolution, you can’t prove evolution.  “The theory of evolution is not science; it’s philosophy and theology.  And WE don’t need anyone to tell US about philosophy!”

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Last week, my family had the opportunity to visit some of the museums at Yale University.  We saw some very interesting things.  We went to the Museum of Natural History and saw reconstructed skeletons of massive animals that supposedly lived a long time ago.  I even saw a Connecticut discovery named, not surprisingly, “Yalesaurus.”

They were big.  And, they were old.  How old?  Don’t know.  Don’t care.  Do they shake my belief in the Torah?  Not in the least.

There was another discovery we made at Yale.  Resting on a glass-enclosed bookshelf, we saw a book written by Rabbi David Kimchi, a great scholar who lived in Narbonne, Provence (in Southern France) where he was born in 1160 and died in 1235.  Rabbi Kimchi, better known as the Radak (from his initials, R.D.K.) composed, among other things, a commentary on the Prophets that is still studied extensively today.  The book on the shelf was printed in 1491.

1491!!!  Over 500 years ago!  Columbus could have seen that book!  But that’s not what’s so amazing.

Had Columbus been caught with that book, he would have been burnt at the stake.  That book has survived the Inquisition, pogroms, and the Holocaust.  The Radak is alive and well as his works continued to be studied.  Now THAT’s impressive … and a lot more significant than an irrelevant pile of bones.

How I would have loved to go into that climate-controlled room and remove that precious treasure from the shelf!  To see with my own eyes the words of that great Torah giant.  Words that were printed half a millennium ago that are a lot more contemporary and relevant than science books from half a year ago!

What stories that book could tell!  Stories of a timeless People learning and living by a timeless Torah.

Dinosaur bones are pre-historic.  Israel, the Torah, and our G-d are super-historic.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

“Let the SON Shine” (2016)

A baby boy is born.

His proud and hopeful parents bring him to the synagogue on the eighth day of his life, whereupon he is surgically and spiritually ushered into the Covenant of Abraham.

A prayer is recited “…May this little one become great. Just as he as entered the Covenant, so too may he enter into the Torah, the Chuppah (marriage canopy) and good deeds.” 

Big plans for this little guy. “May this little one (Kattan in Hebrew) become great (Gadol in Hebrew, literally big).”

A prayer that the Kattan will become Gadol, the little one will grow to become big.  We look forward to seeing this little 6-pounder turn into a strapping 6-footer.

Being a Mohel, I get to eat a lot of bagels & lox, and hear a lot of speeches.  I heard a beautiful explanation of this prayer …

Read more.

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“How Many G-Ds Does It Take To Make A World?” (2009)

Moses was not happy.  There he was, taking dictation from the Author of the Torah, writing each word per G-d’s instructions.  They were up to Genesis, 1:21.  G-d told him to write, ” . . . and G-d said, let Us make man in Our image . . .”

.. OUR image . . . ???

Moses was troubled by G-d referring to Himself in plural.  A major tenet of the Jewish faith is that there is only one G-d, who has no partners.  “Master of the World!  You are giving an opening to heretics!”…

Read more.

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“Be a World Builder” (2008)

…G-d wanted Israel to be His partner in Creation.  But how could this be done?  G-d brought forth all His miraculous powers of creation in bringing the world into being.  What did we do?  Nothing! …

Read more.

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“Kindness, Torah-Style” (2006)

…  Was it really such a charitable act for G-d to feed Adam and Eve?  After all, He created them!  Doesn’t a parent feed and clothe and educate his child, and help him to become self-sufficient?

It was, in a sense, in G-d’s “best interest” to take care of Adam and Eve…

Read more.

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 “The Right Tools” (2005)

It is axiomatic that the right tools make the job much easier to do.  Did you ever try to use a flat screwdriver on a Philips-head screw because you didn’t have what you needed?   It just doesn’t work right.

Before you start a job, it is very important to get what you need.  Yes, you can improvise, and sometimes it will come out ok.  However, the extra time you take to make a quick trip to the hardware store will yield worthwhile dividends…

Go out there and conquer the world.  Negotiate that contract!  Build that better mousetrap!  Heal that patient!  Hit that grand slam home run!

But before you do, make sure you are prepared.  Do your homework.  Sterilize your surgical instruments.  Go to spring training.

One more thing …

Read more.

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“The Loch Ness Succah” (2003)

… A nice, upbeat prayer — a request that in the coming year, G-d will finally send the Messiah, ushering in a utopian era of world peace and mutual understanding.  A time when, as Isaiah says, swords will be made into plowshares, and war will be a defunct concept found only in history books.

But what if the Messiah doesn’t come?  What if next year isn’t perfect?  Would it not be appropriate to add a caveat to the above prayer?  How about something like, “Okay, G-d, I hope you send the Messiah.  But, if You decide not to, may it be Your will that my family all be together in good health to celebrate Sukkos together.”

Might it not make sense to have a “back-up plan”?  Why should we go for broke? …

Read more.

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“The Evolutionary War” (2002) 

Who’s right, scientists or the Torah?  On Rosh Hashanah, we began the year 5763. How can we believe that the world is less than six thousand years old when the scientific evidence indicates that it is BILLIONS of years old?

What about fossils?  What about carbon dating?  Can we, as intelligent people, really believe the Adam & Eve story?  What about dinosaurs?  What about all of the evidence of various life forms, leading to the advanced stage of development at which we now stand?  How can we believe in the Garden of Eden instead of Jurassic Park? …

Read more.

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“Cry ‘Uncle'” (2001)

… What could have caused such strife, such animosity that would lead Cain to destroy one seventh of the human race? …

Read more.

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 “‘Big Mac’ Strikes Out In the Garden of Eden” (2000)

… My son showed me an article last week (Total Baseball Weekly — October 18-24, 2000 — no link available) about some baseball fans that approached home run superstar Mark McGuire and asked him for his autograph.  Big Mac “graciously” offered to give his autograph to whomever would be kind enough to go to Starbucks and fetch him a cup of coffee.

…  Without his fans footing the bill, he would have to go out and get a real job and buy his own coffee.  Here is a man who has a lot to learn about appreciation.

Too bad.  He should have read this week’s Torah Portion …

Read more.

This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2016 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 3, 2002 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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