Monday, August 03, 2009

God-granted power, and why it is not kefirah to believe in the water cycle

In parshat Eikev, in Devarim 8:18:
יח וְזָכַרְתָּ, אֶת-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ, לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל: לְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה. {פ}18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day.{P}

Note the idea that Hashem is the one to give you power to get wealth. So even if you obtain wealth, you were able to do so only because Hashem granted you the power to do so.

This is essentially what Ibn Ezra says, that the intent is that if it enters your mind to say "it was my power and strength," recall you granted you the strength.

And Avi Ezer expands upon this, noting that when he hears one of the deniers of the fairth saying that this is the natural order, he asked them who created the natural order and who set its foundations?

If I might tie this in with some interesting current events, the Nigerian Taliban has been in the news recently, clashing with army forces. They have some "interesting" beliefs. They naturally don't agree with Darwinian evolution; but they also believe in a flat earth, and think it downright heretical to believe in the water cycle:

"There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam," he said.

"Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.

"Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism."

Perhaps these crazies are basing themselves on the following verse from the Koran:

[30.48] Allah is he Who sends forth the winds so they raise a cloud, then He spreads it forth in the sky as He pleases, and He breaks it up so that you see the rain coming forth from inside it; then when He causes it to fall upon whom He pleases of His servants, lo! they are joyful

Or perhaps this verse:

"And We send the fecundating winds, then cause water to descend from the sky, therewith providing you with water in abundance."

But it can be a creation of God simply by Hashem having set into motion the natural process that produces rain. Indeed, I would say that Kohelet (1:7) acknowledges the water cycle:

ז כָּל-הַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים אֶל-הַיָּם, וְהַיָּם אֵינֶנּוּ מָלֵא; אֶל-מְקוֹם, שֶׁהַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים--שָׁם הֵם שָׁבִים, לָלָכֶת.7 All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again.

Still, it is somewhat difficult to posit such limited, hands-off control of the water cycle with other Biblical statements about Hashem's direct control of water. I can give clear psukim from Shema in which rains in their proper time are rewards for following Hashem's commandments, and the opposite for the opposite behavior, the verses are always open to interpretation. (Also, I want an excuse to examine this other pasuk.) Let us rather see Ibn Ezra and Avi Ezer again, from this same parsha. The pasuk in Eikev, in Devarim 11:10, reads:

י כִּי הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ--לֹא כְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִוא, אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִשָּׁם: אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, וְהִשְׁקִיתָ בְרַגְלְךָ כְּגַן הַיָּרָק.10 For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou didst sow thy seed, and didst water it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs;

Rashi explains the end of the pasuk as referring to the land of Egypt (and I think this is likely peshat):

[like the land of Egypt…] which you watered by foot: The land of Egypt required bringing water from the Nile by foot in order to water it; you had to rise from your sleep and toil. And only the low-lying areas were watered [i.e., were irrigated by the Nile], but not the high land, so you had to carry up water from the lower to the higher areas. But this [land, namely Canaan] “absorbs water from the rains of heaven.” While you sleep in your bed, the Holy One, blessed is He, waters both low and high areas, both areas that are exposed and those that are not, all at once [Sifrei] והשקית ברגלך: ארץ מצרים היתה צריכה להביא מים מנילוס ברגלך ולהשקותה וצריך אתה לנדד משנתך ולעמול, והנמוך שותה ולא הגבוה, ואתה מעלה המים מן הנמוך לגבוה. אבל זו (פסוק יא) למטר השמים תשתה מים אתה ישן על מטתך, והקב"ה משקה נמוך וגבוה, גלוי ושאינו גלוי, כאחת:
like a vegetable garden: which does not have enough water from rain, and one has to water it by foot, [carrying water] upon one’s shoulder. כגן הירק: שאין די לו בגשמים ומשקין אותו ברגל ובכתף:

But Ibn Ezra has an fascinating peshat in which he makes the second half of the pasuk refer to Eretz Yisrael. He writes that there is thus another reason that you are required to keep His commandments. Israel is not like Egypt. It requires special Divine Providence, for Hashem to cast his eye on it. The end of the pasuk is thus a mashal, an allegory. It is not (like Rashi) the people watering it by foot, but rather Hashem who is doing so by seeing its needs and providing it.

Avi Ezer expands on this idea (d"h hinei taam acher): There are two reasons to the matter. One it that you require there great Providence, since the land is made of hills and valleys (see next pasuk, namely pasuk 11) and constantly requires rain; even though from Hashem's perspective, it is all a plain (because one would not say that it is more difficult for Him), in a place of sakana (lit. danger), it is different. Therefore, take heed. And furthermore, the eyes of Hashem your God are upon it (see pasuk 12), and there is no comparison between one who serves Hashem from far off to one who serves in the palace. And even though all is equal from the perspective of Heaven, we still find greater care taken, and holiness, in a holy place. And the chord of purity could be speedily severed, chas veshalom, and it would be for destruction, as in {Shemot 24:11}:
יא וְאֶל-אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ; וַיֶּחֱזוּ, אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, וַיֹּאכְלוּ, וַיִּשְׁתּוּ. {ס}11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand; and they beheld God, and did eat and drink. {S}
and {Vayikra 10:1}
א וַיִּקְחוּ בְנֵי-אַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ, וַיִּתְּנוּ בָהֵן אֵשׁ, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלֶיהָ, קְטֹרֶת; וַיַּקְרִיבוּ לִפְנֵי ה', אֵשׁ זָרָה--אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוָּה, אֹתָם.1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them.
That ends the quote from Avi Ezer. The point of all this, however, is to tie the watering of the land by rain to the performance of mitzvot. And indeed, in the allegory, it is like Hashem is watering the land Himself. How can this be, if rain simply falls al derech hateva, via the water cycle.

There is an obvious answer. That there is of course derech hateva, which is why certain arid areas, are "harder" to water via rain. This is perhaps the idea of makom sakana -- there is need for Hashgacha well out of the ordinary course of matters, because al derech hateva perhaps there would not be enough rain. Or else even if it would be al derech hateva, since Hashem's eyes are constantly on Eretz Yisrael, he takes it out of the typical natural order, for good or for bad. How? Perhaps by miracles entirely outside of the natural order, or perhaps by controlling the many imperceptible factors which lead to rain or lack thereof. The weather is a chaotic system, and while weather satellites and meteorologists do a fairly decent job at telling us the likely weather for the day, and probabilities of weather patterns over the next few days, so many things go into it that they cannot be 100% accurate.

So while we perhaps scoffed at the Nigerian Taliban -- and well we should -- from a traditional Jewish perspective we also believe that Hashem controls the rain, in some way.

If we are willing to say this in terms of rain, that we believe in the functioning of a water cycle, then just perhaps we can say the same for evolution, as a process by which Hashem directed the development of the world and the species.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The gemara in Tannistalks about the water cycle

joshwaxman said...

also eruvin 45b.
kt,
josh

Daniel said...

"essentially... Ibn Ezra says, that the intent is that if it enters your mind to say "it was my power and strength," recall [Who] granted you the strength."

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i'll fix the typo.
kt,
josh

juda said...

reb joshi always thought the passuk that we lain in haftorah of a tanis tzibur is hinting to the water cycle "for just as the water and snow come down from heaven, and to there they do not return only once they have sacieted the land and cauesed it to give biirth and sprout forth... so the words that go out of my mouth will not return to me empty"

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