‘Where There is a Will’ Parashat Bereishit 5781

One of the questions that I am often asked is, “How does a rocket scientist align modern science with the story of creation as it appears in the Torah?” While Orthodox Jewish scientists over the years have tried to do just this[1], there are sufficient inconsistencies between scripture and accepted science to raise some eyebrows. How should an intellectually honest G-d fearing rocket scientist proceed?

The key lies in determining what kind of book the Torah is. That is to say, if we wanted to find the Torah in a book store, in which section of the store would we look? Some books are easier to locate than others. For instance, a person looking for a good way to barbeque a hamburger would be best off looking in the Cooking Section, even though he could probably find a book about the long-term storage and preparation of beef in medieval Spain in the History Section. The Torah, on the other hand, would be equally at home in a number of sections.

It discusses the creation of the world, so perhaps it belongs in the Science and Technology Section. It contains 613 commandments, so perhaps it belongs in the Law Section. It tells the story of the Jewish people from Abraham to Moshe, so perhaps it belongs in the History Section. It contains countless references to man’s relationship with G-d, so perhaps it belongs in the Philosophy Section. Once we decide in which section to search for the Torah, we are still not done. If we were to look for the Torah in the Science and Technology Section, on which shelf would we look? The Biology shelf? The Physics Shelf? Jeremy England, writing in “The Partly Predictable World[2]”, touches upon this question and notes that “Biology and physics constitute two distinct languages for talking scientifically about the same world. For example, a biologist might happen upon a single-celled organism and try to determine which nutrients in its environment have an effect on whether the cell will grow and divide into two cells. A physicist, in contrast, would more likely determine how the cell exerts a force on its surroundings so it can move around”. Where in the book store should we look for the Torah?

We begin our quest for an answer with Rashi, the most famous of the medieval commentators, who lived in France in the eleventh century. Rashi is bothered by the way the Torah begins, with a lengthy description of the creation of the universe. Rashi notes, “Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah that is the Law Book of Israel should have commenced with the verse [Shemot 12:2] ‘This month shall be for you the first of the months’, which is the first commandment given to Israel. What is the reason, then, that it commences with the account of the Creation? Because of the thought expressed in the text [Psalms 111:6] ‘He declared to His people the strength of His works (i.e. He gave an account of the work of Creation), in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations.’ For should the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are thieves because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan’, Israel may reply to them, ‘All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He deemed proper. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us’”

Rabbi Mordechai Breuer[3], who lived in Israel in the previous century, dissects Rashi’s answer. According to Rabbi Breuer, Rashi states from the outset that the Torah is not to be found in the Philosophy Section in the bookstore. We do not need the Torah to tell us that there exists an Almighty G-d[4]. G-d’s omnipotence is axiomatic and obvious. Rather, Rashi’s original assumption is that the Torah is found in the Law Section and should therefore begin with the first commandment addressed to the Jewish People, the consecration of the New Moon. This assumption, continues Rashi, is incorrect. The Torah is actually located in the History Section. As such, it needed to prove the historical connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.  The Torah accomplishes this by showing that G-d created the world, so that as its creator, He could give any land – such as the Land of Israel – to whichever nation He chose – such as the Jewish People. The only question is if the Torah is a book of history, why does it contain so many laws?

Here Rabbi Breuer breaks new ground. The Torah is not merely a book of history – it is a book of history as influenced by the Will of G-d. Consider the connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel that Rashi is so eager to highlight. This relationship is a tenuous one, indeed. The Torah repeatedly reminds the Jewish People that they will live comfortably in the Land of Israel only as long as they keep G-d’s commandments, only as long as they bend to G-d’s will. If they disobey, then the land will vomit them out and this has happened twice. One of the ways in which the Land of Israel reacts to man’s deeds is via rain. The Torah predicts [Devarim 11:13-16] “If you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day… I will grant the rain for your land in season… Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them… For G-d’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain”. Rain, a chaotic physical system that is exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions, also bows to the Will of G-d. In order to accurately predict the weather, it is necessary to know the humidity, the temperature, and the barometric pressure at every point in the world with infinite accuracy. This has been described as the “Butterfly Effect” – the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in China can cause a monsoon in Brazil. Only G-d, who has infinite knowledge, can truly know what the weather will bring. In the words of Yaakov Gordin[5], “The more ethical the world becomes, the better nature behaves”. And if man needs help defining the “Will of G-d”, the Torah gives him six hundred and thirteen commandments to help him out.

The ultimate proof to Rabbi Breuer’s thesis lies in the Book of Jeremiah [27:5-6]. G-d is commanding Jeremiah to warn the nations of the earth that Babylonia is destined to rule the world and so they must willingly submit to the Babylonians:  “It is I who made the earth, and the men and beasts who are on the earth, by My great might and My outstretched arm; and I give it to whomever I deem proper. I herewith deliver all these lands to My servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon”. The language used by Rashi in Bereishit – G-d creating the world and giving the land to whom He “deemed proper” – unmistakably mirrors the language used by Jeremiah. These verses in Jeremiah are Rashi’s source. The story of the creation of the world comes to teach us the secret of history: G-d created the world and by doing so, He acquired all rights thereof. He can do with it as He wills[6].

Now we can return to our original question: How can we align modern science with the Torah’s story of creation? It should be clear that as the Torah is not found in the Science and Technology Section of the bookstore, no alignment is required or is even possible. Paraphrasing Jeremy England, the Torah and science speak in two different languages. This does not mean, Heaven forbid, that the Torah is disconnected or shies away from science. The Torah is deeply concerned with science. The Torah wants us to look for G-d’s hand in nature, not only in when nature miraculously disobeys the laws of science, but particularly when it abides by them. The Torah wants us to be ever cognizant that nature, like everything else in the universe, is a reflection of G-d’s will.

Shabbat Shalom and stay healthy.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5781

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, David ben Chaya, and Iris bat Chana.

[1] Gerald Schroeder and Natan Aviezer, in particular.

[2] See https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/jeremy-england/partly-predictable-world/

[3] Rabbi Breuer was the great-grandson of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a person quoted regularly in these shiurim. Rabbi Breuer translated his great grandfather’s commentary on the Torah from German to Hebrew.

[4] The Ramban asserts that this is precisely why the Torah begins with the story of creation.

[5] Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou) considers Gordin, who was a philosopher, “his Rabbi”.

[6] When I first saw the verses in Jeremiah during a shiur given by Rabbi Menachem Liebtag, I was completely blown away. Every Zionist knows the first Rashi in the Torah. We all know that G-d, as owner and proprietor of the universe, axiomatically gifted the Land of Israel to the Jewish People. But until I saw the verse in Jeremiah, I never thought that gift could ever be reversed. It was sobering.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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