Follow by Email

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Long and Winding Road to P'shat -- Part Two

Any thoughtful student of the Torah is confronted with myriad problems. Even if we can get through some sort of cursory reading of, say, the first chapter of B'reishit, we are then confronted with blatant contradictions to that narrative in the second chapter! One moment you think that male and female were created simultaneously into a world with a whole ecosystem and the next (chapter) you see that a male is created before any female or any trees, for that matter.

This is one screwy story, you might say.

Further perusal of the Torah will yield numerous anomalies including contradictions in the particulars of various commandments, many obscure passages and quite a bit of repetition.

In short, a rather messy book.

If you take the critical approach you'll say that these discrepancies reflect a multiplicity of authors whose stories and versions are stitched together over time. This basic approach leads to the Documentary Hypothesis—and a very fancy hypothesis it is!

Also, to my mind, somewhat dull.

But more than that, it doesn't do a very good job of explaining how we end up with this variegated text. It's all well and good to say that various texts got edited together but then why would anyone put together a text that is so full of problems sometimes even within the same paragraph?

This hypothesis seems to assume that if God had written a book it wouldn't be so messy.

This begs the question: If God wrote a book, what would it look like?

Let's step back a moment. Let's say that God created the Universe. I am not going to try to prove that – but accept if you will that premise for the moment.

Now let's look at the Universe. Is everything neat and tidy? Not quite. In fact, just as an example, physicists are still looking for a Theory for Everything because, in fact, lots of observable and theoretical phenomena don't really line up so well. Quantum physics doesn't abide by Newton's rules, for example (I say this as a physics layperson but relying on books like Dancing Wu-Li Masters, recommended by my late Uncle Bob who was a fully fledged and well recognized nuclear physicist).

When humans make stuff we like to think we can make everything 'perfect.' But does that really reflect the way God works? Of course, we can't know that for sure (She still ain't tellin'!) but my senses tell me that this universe is full of contradiction and inconsistency.

Back to the Flatlander's point of view. Recall that the toughest part of understanding the cube might be that the two lines which are farthest apart in the two dimensional representation are actually the same line in the three dimensional cube.

Maybe it is precisely those parts of the Torah which seemingly contradict or don't fit in with each other very well that point to deeper meanings on other planes?

This is essentially the rabbinic approach.

When one puts his or her mind to it, and struggles with the text, one can actually, albeit usually briefly, hold the contradictory passages simultaneously and see something beyond.

Next up: P'shat and D'rash


  1. In my view physics will never "get there".. It is chasing ideas that will not resolve. Big Bang theory is for the chop, given info I have recently been given, this seems inevitable. To be replaced by what? Multiverses? Cyclical big bangs that are a very very long measure of a pulsating, breathing "universe"!? But no one gets anywhere with these ideas. About the best that anyone could come up with, as far as I am concerned, is a created universe by means of an expanding, developing,human imagination. No one can get beyond year dot (where did it come from?) therefore, the G`d killers must shut up. On this basis, literal Torah is equal to, if not above, any other explanation.Just as much as the acceptance that subatomic particles have "expressions" that we do not understand.Why would the apparently "understandable" be true above the "not understandable"?

  2. Shel: exciting! Can't wait to hear the rest.
    @eyehearer: You're already providing answers, while this is a long and winding road.

  3. @Judeur--Thanks! Stay tuned.

    @eyehearer--Indeed but I am not going to get into a discussion about physics per se. I don't have the background or the inclination. I am fascinated by what I read and had several stimulating discussions with my late uncle. I just bring the reference here in the context of a view I am developing regarding understanding the Torah as per judeur's comments.